When brown or black women can be used for political capital the new Minister for Women finds her feminist voice. Not so when it comes to cases like Abyan’s, writes Lamisse Hamouda.
Isn’t it great we no longer have a man for the Minister for Women? Sure, Tony Abbott’s reign lavished us with memes at the former Prime Minister’s expense, but his self-indulgent self-appointment to the portfolio was ultimately pretty offensive. Lucky for us his right-wing – I mean right-hand woman – who patiently supported him as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, has now ascended to the throne.
A visit to the new Minister for Women’s website reveals her top priorities; getting more women into senior positions and supporting women who run small businesses. Senator Michaelia Cash, it seems, is a bit too preoccupied upholding the holy values of ‘leaning in’.
Prior to her ascension, Cash publicly endorsed two campaigns; a campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM), another to end forced and underage marriage. While she qualifies that forced and underage marriage “is not confined to any one race, religion or culture”, this disingenuous statement does nothing to disguise the fact both issues are commonly associated with particular communities. The type of community that Abyan* would belong to.
Capitalising on white saviour status to propel her career, Cash takes her government wand and sprinkles money on various organisations; a ‘National Education Toolkit for the FGM Awareness Best Practice Guide’ and a FGM website, and $500,000 for “education, awareness-raising and advice to people at risk of forced marriage”.
And she’s been on this mission for a while.
Back in 2012, she wrote an opinion piece outlining how “When migrants come to Australia, they bring with them a system of beliefs, and for those who come with the belief that practicing what amounts to the torture and disabling of young women is okay, it is incumbent on us to help families to overcome the belief that it is necessary or acceptable.”
In easily recognised neo-imperial rhetoric, politics continues to be played out over black and brown bodies. Removed of agency, spaces are created to interfere, to subjugate and alienate. In the scheme of issues within migrant communities, FGM is completely overshadowed by mental health, domestic violence and economic disadvantages. Why worry about that though? FGM creates way snappier sound-bites.
While a member for a community supposedly of concern to our Minister for Women, Cash remains conspicuously silent over Abyan. When it comes to exploiting difficult issues in minority communities, the government is ready to wave their white-saviour campaign flag and create ‘toolkits’ that will helpfully collect dust in offices. Yet, when faced with Abyan – a Somali refugee, a woman, and a victim of rape – the government finds $130,000 at a time they are stripping community services to hire a jet and fly her away.
It’s all too easy to point the finger at the human rights abuses of other countries and we’ve perfected our practices of cognitive dissonance in Australia. Abyan left an unstable and fragile country, wracked by years of civil war and corruption.
And yet she states: “I cannot go back to where this happened to me; I cannot go to where I was raped. What happened to me there [in Nauru]is what caused me to run away from Somalia. What happened to me in Somalia is what happened to me there [in Nauru].”
The comparisons in this statement envelop the Australian government as complicit in her suffering. While Cash is ready to exploit sensitive issues, she develops a case of laryngitis when a suffering black woman shows up on her political doorstep. While Peter Dutton finds too many words and Malcolm Turnbull mutters a few things, it seems Cash may as well silently hand her portfolio back to a man.
I don’t expect much from the white neoliberal feminism upheld by Michealia Cash; she’d much rather see the power of her white male counterparts maintained than support Abyan’s plight. But beating on the door of a member of the Liberal Party, irrespective of gender, is a lost cause.
The treatment of Abyan ought to have been a watershed moment for bringing the human rights abuses of the Australian government to light, but then so should have the deaths of Reza Berati and Khoyadar Amini. As the Australian government continues to squirm, point fingers and struggle its out way of taking responsibility, it sinks us all deeper into the quicksand of human rights abuses.
*Abyan is the pseudonym.