The young girl who became just a ‘thing’ in death

A crowdfunding page raised more than $15,000 for Ms Beilby’s funeral, with her family pledging the funds to support vulnerable teenagers.

Photo: GoFundMe

There was no nationwide vigil, attended by tens of thousands of people, for Larissa Beilby. There was no national outcry or dozens of feminist opinion pieces about her murder. Her death made headlines all over the country, but it wasn’t called the “Larissa Beilby murder”. She was “the barrel murder” and referred to as a “body in the barrel”.

A 16-year-old girl is dead and in death, she became a thing, not a person.

At least one woman is killed in Australia every week. Three women were killed just this weekend, three men are in police custody and none of them are likely to attract the universal grief we saw in response to the horrific murders of Jill Meagher and Eurydice Dixon. The reason for this seems to be encapsulated in one phrase common to all those other murders: “the alleged male killer was known to the victim”.

It’s not that people don’t care about women who are killed by men who are “known to them”. Obviously, they do. There are thousands of people in Australia dedicating their lives to helping women hurt by men “known to them”. But the public response is very different when a woman is killed by a man she didn’t know. We have a visceral reaction when the monster myth comes to fruition and a woman is taken off the street by a stranger. This is the fear everyone understands, and our reactions are both very simple and very complex.

Simple, because it’s an immediately identifiable fear. The monster on the street has no emotional complexities. He’s the antagonist of countless television shows and movies, so we instantly recognise him as an object of terror. He has no family or friends in common with the victim and no history with her to humanise him. He is a safe object of revulsion for other men because almost all of them do firmly and truthfully say they couldn’t even ever comprehend doing such a thing.

It’s also simple because there appears to be an easy way to prevent it. If we don’t walk home alone at night, we’ll be safe. If men ask their wives, sisters, daughters and girlfriends to call them for a lift or find an escort home, they’ll be safe. The monster in the dark is terrifying but avoidable.

The complexity comes from the world women have been walking through their entire lives, where such monsters are not avoidable.

I remember catching an almost empty tram home after a late practice at school one night. A man got on, came over and sat directly opposite me and stared at me. He didn’t say anything or do anything, he just sat too close. And stared. I was too scared to get off the tram in case he followed me and too scared to stay on the tram under that malevolent gaze. Eventually, I couldn’t cope and started to cry. He laughed softly and got off at the next stop. I was miles from home and ended up staying on the tram until it got to the terminus and came all the way back to my stop. I was 13 years old.

What I know now is that the man on the tram wasn’t staring at me. He was staring at my fear. Rubbing himself against the raw power of reducing a girl-child to shivering tears with nothing more than a mere look.

After Eurydice’s murder, I sat with a group of people in their 30s and 40s, watching men, good men, struggling to understand as women told them stories like this. Told them it wasn’t just one terrifying incident but a lifetime of them. Men leering on trams and trains, groping in bars, cafes and workplaces.

Threatening responses to placatory attempts to say no to unwanted conversations. Taxi drivers, bar staff, police, tram conductors, men driving by in cars, waiting at bus stops, standing in ticket queues, walking their dogs, standing outside for a cigarette. All the women I was listening to had not just one but dozens of stories and all of them commenced before they were women. Men creating and staring at their fear. They were 11,12,13 years old the first time it happened. Women of colour, women with disabilities, women who are, as Hannah Gadsby said with such devastating truth, the “not normals” had even more gut-wrenching reminders of all the reasons they have to be afraid.

This is the fear and the lived experience of being a woman in the world and it’s not just those women, it’s about all women. Nearly nine out of ten Australian women report their first experience of street harassment occurred before they were 17 years old. Almost 70 per cent say it happened before they were 15 and almost three quarters have had one or more men follow them in a fashion that made them feel unsafe.

We can tell women their fears are irrational, that they are far more likely to be killed by a man “known to them” than a stranger on the street, that they are 73 times more likely to die in a car accident than to be killed by a man they don’t know and NOT ALL MEN and stop demonising men because that just makes things worse and maybe all these things are true but they are utterly meaningless in the face of fears deliberately created and nurtured by men who stride unchecked through our world.

What happened to Larissa Beilby, allegedly at the hands of a man known well to her, doesn’t strike sparks off the same fears as what happened to Eurydice Dixon or Jill Meagher.

Larissa Beilby’s Murder

Even if some of the men we know may hurt us, most of them will not. We don’t see the reflection of the men who kill women they know in the eyes of every man we work with or drink with or watch football with or keep company with.

Eurydice and Jill’s murders were quite different. They felt like the inevitable reality of all those implied & inferred threats, which why our reaction was so visceral.

Henry Sapiecha

Nihad told of the brutality she had endured when she was kidnapped by Islamic State and sold into sexual slavery.HER STORY.

‘Australia will be my first home and my last home’: Nihad’s new life begins

London: Twelve months ago Nihad Barakat al-Awsi’s eyes were heavy with sadness.

Sharing her story with Fairfax Media, Nihad told of the brutality she had endured when she was kidnapped by Islamic State and sold into sexual slavery.  She has never again seen the baby boy, Issa, she gave birth to at just 15, and probably never will. She spoke of a sadness so deep she feared the trauma would be ever present in her mind.

Today, Nihad’s face is a happier picture. Three weeks ago she received a call that would change her life. Her application for Australia’s protection & residency had been accepted.

“I will go and I will change everything; I will start a new life there. I will remove it all from my mind,” the 19-year old said from Iraq.

Nihad Barakat al-Awsi will start a new life in Australia.

Later this week, Nihad – one of 18 children – will board a flight to Australia with two brothers and a sister, ready to close the door on their grossly troubled Iraqi lives. It will be a day of mixed emotions & feelings because it means saying goodbye to her parents, who want to stay in Iraq with the remaining family members.

Two of her brothers were forced into Islamic State training camps, while two sisters and another brother were murdered in the terror group’s attempted genocide of the Yazidis.

But Nihad is looking forward to her new life. She dreams of speaking English fluently and becoming a teacher.

“When I reach Australia I just want to learn English and become a teacher,” she said. ”This is the only purpose I have – to become a teacher.”

‘I will go and I will change everything. I will start a new life there.’

Liberal senator Zed Seselja, who met Nihad in London last year while serving as the assistant minister for social services and multicultural affairs, said there was “absolutely no doubt” Nihad would achieve her dreams in Australia,  and be welcomed & resettled by her new community.

“Like all refugees who are resettled in Australia, Nihad and her siblings will receive 500 hours of intensive English language lessons and can apply for more if needed, so she’ll have a great opportunity to pick up English,” he said.

He said refugees are offered housing assistance and help to enrol in education or training courses or look for work. They also receive a basic care or welcome package when they arrive into Australia.

Senator Seselja said only a tiny minority would begrudge the taxpayer-funded services provided to those fleeing harm and persecution.

“We’ve resettled a few hundred Yazidis and several thousand from Iraq and Syria in the last few years,” he said. “Most people I speak to want Australia to be a generous nation and are welcoming of refugees.”

Senator Seselja said Australia also offered support to victims of trauma and torture and this would be provided in Nihad’s case.

Since her escape from Islamic State, Nihad has received support from doctors and psychologists in Iraq. Her case inspired the AMAR Foundation, a London-based charity, to set up its Escaping Darkness program, which funds psychological support services for many thousands of Yazidi women who were traded as sex slaves by Islamic State.

Australia accepted 17,555 refugees in 2015-16 under the humanitarian program, with the highest number (4358) from Iraq. This year Australia will accept 18,750 people fleeing persecution in their country.

When Nihad arrives she will live in Toowoomba, which is home to quite a sizeable Yazidi community, including some of Nihad’s relatives. Nihad is looking forward to seeing her relatives again but also wants to become part of the Australian community.

“I don’t want to come just to see the Yazidis; I want to change my life, I want to change everything,” she said. “Australia will become my first home and my last one.”

Senator Seselja said Nihad’s desires to live an Australian life was common.

“I’ve seen that from so many people who come, not just refugees but from migrants, and it’s wonderful that they can come and want to integrate,” he said. ”I think that’s a great attitude to bring with them.”

But as Nihad looks forward to embracing life in Queensland, she will not entirely close the door on Iraq and the horror she has lived from that August day in 2014 when a cry rang out that dramatically changed her life: “IS are coming.”

About 10,000 Yazidis are estimated to have been slaughtered or kidnapped in the few days that followed. Thousands have never been seen or heard of again. Sinjar is now a rubble and nearly 50 mass graves have been uncovered.

“When I go to Australia I wish to help my people in Iraq because they need us,” she said.

Henry Sapiecha

An open letter to men from a difficult woman-Her story

Firstly, many of you are lovely. And I thank those of you who leave supportive comments on my Facebook page, or who engage in respectful and thoughtful debate. I very much enjoy interacting with you all. Please keep hanging around. Maybe you can share my site with your followers & others on facebook.?

But to the rest of you contemplating writing to me, I have a few simple guidelines. If your message falls into one of the below categories, please refrain from pressing send:

Personal attacks

It is fine to disagree with my point of view. My kids do it all the time! But if you wish to voice your disagreement, you will need to use words that convey your thesis in a logical methodical manner, and provide compelling supporting arguments.

Words such as “Your article contains factual errors A, B, and C,” or “You stated X but I can demonstrate with Y and Z that X is invalid,” do exactly that.

Writer Kerri Sackville.

Photo: Nic Walker


To mansplain is to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending way. It is predicated on the belief that a man knows more than a woman, even about her own lived experience.

If you are a genuine expert on a topic about which I have written (and, if I am writing about women’s lived experience, being an expert includes ‘being a woman’), please feel free to comment. If not, refrain.

Speculation about my credibility

“No-one is interested.”

This is factually incorrect. Clearly you are interested, or you wouldn’t have read the article and taken the time to respond.

“Who the f–k cares what you think?”

Well, clearly you do. I know this because you are writing to me.

“Are you even a real journo?”

Well, the people responsible for the content of this publication (the “editors”) have paid me to write, so technically, yes, I am a real journo.

“Women do bad things too!”

Sometimes I write about certain poor behaviors exhibited by men. This does not mean I believe that women are perfect, or that women don’t do bad things too. It just means that I am writing about certain poor behaviors exhibited by men. If you want to write your own article about women’s bad behaviors, please do. Just do not send it to me. It’s irrelevant to my article.


Just because I write about certain poor behaviors exhibited by men, doesn’t mean I believe that all men exhibit these poor behaviors. You do not need to inform me. #Notallmen, I know.


Some of my articles run alongside a nice photo of me. I could have chosen a photo in which I look terrible (for example, one taken first thing in the morning, or whilst wearing a mud mask) but I prefer a pleasant photo.

Having said that, I do not need you to tell me how ‘sexy’ or ‘hot’ or ‘f—able’ I am in that pleasant photo. I am aware that it is a pleasant photo. Furthermore, I am a writer. I am trying to engage people with my words. When you flatter my appearance, you demean my work. Perhaps that is your intention. See point number 1.


When I was married I wrote about marriage. When I was anxious I wrote about anxiety. Now that I am single and dating, I write about being single and dating.

This does not mean that I accept propositions from random strangers on the internet. And if I did accept propositions from random strangers on the internet, they would have to be a hell of a lot better than,

“Hey I think you’re really hot so you should date me.”

Threats of violence

Most go straight to trash. The rest go to the police.

Thanking you in advance for your consideration.

With very best wishes,

Kerri (Nutty Left Feminist and Difficult Woman)

Kerri Sackville is appearing on a panel about ‘Difficult Women’ at Melbourne Jewish Book Week on Monday 7 May.

Just love your style Kerri. I love mentally strong, intelligent beautiful women.

This site is devoted to women like you.Keep up the great work Kerri Sackville

Henry Sapiecha

I’m a 28-year veteran of the global healthcare company Abbott, where I’m responsible for the company’s engineering, regulatory, and quality assurance functions in over 150 countries

I started my career at Abbott in 1989 and have held a number of senior positions, including senior manufacturing engineer, production manager, and engineering manager.

In 2012, I began the Abbott’s high school STEM internship program, targeting underrepresented students. A high school engineering internship changed the trajectory of my life when I was 17, and I am passionate about helping young people, especially girls and minorities, realize their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) dreams. To date, almost 90 young people have taken part and 97 percent are pursuing a STEM degree or have a STEM job.

This is as personal as it gets.

The fact that only one in seven engineers is a woman. That only one in 50 is an African-American female. The fact that I, as an African-American female engineer am 10 times rarer than a woman in Congress.

As a young woman, my mom and my grandfather encouraged me to study math and science, and today I work at Abbott’s as its top engineer. My granddad only made it formally through eighth grade, but he and my family valued education. My mom went to school herself whilst raising five kids.

That’s what made the difference when an opportunity of a lifetime came my way. I was 17, working for $1.76-an-hour at Jack in the Box to cover expenses for extra-curricular programs at school, when IBM came to my inner-city Dallas school, looking for a student who could intern there for the summer.

The support of a few key teachers, a guidance counselor, and my family made the decision to work for IBM that summer a reality. What followed was another internship and eventually a degree – and a career. That internship changed the direction of my life.

This coming weekend, I’m sharing this story and taking this issue head on with thousands of students at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington D.C., along with my colleague, Abbott neuroscientist Beth McQuiston. I know the power of words, and of stories, and hope these girls walk away knowing that no matter their ZIP code, no matter the color of the skin or their gender or their socioeconomic status – they, too, can be an engineer one day.

As much as I am thankful for the opportunity to share this vision, I also know I am just one person. As one of very few African-American female engineers, I have an obligation to do something to help close a real gap of women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. It’s good for our company and its future, but it’s also just the right thing to do for society and the future of innovation.

A shortage of diverse perspectives means the teams creating the next life-changing technologies in our societies are not as equipped as they otherwise would be. How can we innovate for a diverse world if we don’t have diverse innovators?

The reason STEM recruitment and retention is broken when it comes to attracting and holding on to women and minorities, I think, is they don’t see enough people who look like them in their fields, a signal to them that maybe this field isn’t for them – maybe they weren’t meant to succeed here.

To be sure, the fix to that is not straight forward as it may seem. But one thing parents, schools and companies need to do is invest in these young people early, so they see STEM as a viable career option.

Only 10 percent of girls say their parents encourage them to pursue engineering, for instance. That is way too low.

STEM is not hard and boring – it can be intuitive and exciting. Abbott invests in a high school STEM internship program that reaches students as young as 15, empowering them to work on real business problems and giving them a taste of what it’s really like to work in the field, transforming abstract concepts into tangible career options. Outside of the high school internship, since 2006, Abbott has worked with more than 700 schools and community organizations to inspire more than 285,000 students interested in STEM.

We also need to be quick to speak up for good STEM work and education policy. Like I wrote in The Hill, we need Ph.Ds. and inventors, yes – but we also need people with technical skills to work in labs, build prototypes, write code and fill the many, many other STEM-related jobs of the future.

If you work at another company and you’re still with me, I am here for you. I know it isn’t easy to get something like a high school STEM internship off the ground, but I’ve done it. I am willing to share my blueprints. This is bigger than me, and bigger than Abbott. This is about someday, living in a world where diversity of people, ideas and thoughts are equally balanced in creating life-changing technologies that will further advance innovation, technology – and life as we know it.

Henry Sapiecha

22 Things people once believed about women’s bodies

People used to believe a lot of things that now seem completely bizarre to us, thanks to modern science. Most people today would scoff at someone saying the earth is flat or that everything in the universe revolves around it, even though that’s what most people believed just a few centuries ago. People today also know that bloodletting is not a good healthcare practice, that there is no secret process with which to create the philosopher’s stone, and that smoking is terrible for your health.

Some of the strangest beliefs, however, revolved around some truly outlandish things about women and their bodies. Many of these beliefs stemmed from superstition and the patriarchal concept of women being naturally inferior to men. While science still hasn’t proven all the mysteries of the universe, it has definitely debunked all of these old-fashioned theories!

1…Menstruating women can kill swarms of bees

Ancient Roman author, philosopher, and naturalist Pliny the Elder compiled an encyclopedia, titled Natural History, in which he devoted a section to the various “powers” that menstruating women allegedly possess.

As Pliny believed, a woman on her period is a force to be reckoned with. Side effects of a woman’s time of the month include cursing plants in her path, dimming the “brightness of mirrors,” driving dogs crazy, and killing swarms of bees. According to his writings, iron would rust, ivory would lose its polish, and steel blades would be made blunt. If a woman’s menstrual fluid somehow was exposed to lightning during a thunderstorm, the storm would be driven away by the power of the woman’s flow.

It is scary to think about living in a time when the female body was so misunderstood. While women today have it much better than they did in the past, things are still far from perfect.

A recent global study showed that three out of four women believe their country has unequal rights. Nearly half of the women in the world say that they do not personally feel they have equal status to men. One in five people still believe that women are inferior to men.

We might live in a more enlightened time, but there is still work to be done.

2…Women have fewer teeth than men

It wasn’t just the ancient Romans who held unflattering views of women. The ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, has had a huge impact on Western philosophy. While hailed as a great thinker and teacher, his views on women were more than a little problematic.

For a man regarded as a scientist, Aristotle had some pretty unscientific views about women. A woman was believed by Aristotle to be an “incomplete” version of a man, and even had fewer teeth than their male counterparts.

According to Aristotle’s social hierarchy, women were ranked higher than slaves, but below men. In Politics, the philosopher argued that men are superior as they possess “intellectual virtue in completeness.” Women, according to Aristotle, were meant to serve men because they were physically and intellectually inferior to them.

3…Women have wandering wombs 

Another ancient Greek, the physician Hippocrates, deserves the credit for identifying the “disorder” of hysteria. The term “hysteria” was a catch-all phrase that described pretty much anything that went awry with a woman’s mental or physical health. The cause? A “wandering uterus.”

For centuries, people believed that a woman’s womb roamed all over her body like a living parasite. Aristotle used the diagnosis of hysteria to further discredit women. Yet another ancient Greek, Aretaeus of Cappadocia said that the womb is “closely resembling an animal” and “moves itself hither and thither.” Even after people understood more about the human body and its functions, hysteria continued to be used as a diagnosis.

4…Women don’t have sexual urges 

The idea of hysteria persisted through the Victorian Age. Sex during this time was such a taboo topic that it seems like people went out of their way to deny that it was anything but a mechanical process. While men might indulge their sexual urges, such desires in women were considered to be low class. Sex was a burden that women were meant to endure, not enjoy. A popular (though fictional) anecdote has Queen Victoria advising one of her daughters that on her wedding night she should “lie back and think of England.”

Sexual impulses were so repressed, that women went to the doctor to be relieved of their “hysteria.” Symptoms included erotic fantasies, irritability, and wetness between the legs. Doctors would manually stimulate the woman’s clitoris to induce “paroxysm.” This treatment for hysteria led to the invention of the vibrator. Despite all of this, no one involved admitted that women had sexual needs and that doctors were not providing a needed medical treatment, but were, instead, giving women orgasms.

5…Self-pleasure leads to being flat-chested

In the Victorian era, masturbation was a huge no-no. Some of the myths about touching yourself down there are still spread as old wives’ tales. People today don’t really believe that the practice will drive you insane, or make you grow hair on your hands, though these rumors still persist.

But back in the Victorian era, however, people thought that stimulating oneself was not only immoral but could lead to developmental delays, such as girls being flat-chested. John Cowan wrote in The Science of a New Life that “girls who have followed masturbating habits…show usually strong indications of it in the failure of their glandular development. Such persons are apt to be flat-breasted, or, as we term it, flat-chested.”

Myths about the harms of solo-sex were so pervasive that people went to great lengths to prevent their children from touching their private parts. Devices were marketed to prevent masturbation, and doctors even performed clitoridectomies on young girls to prevent the practice.

6…Reading makes women infertile 

In contrast to modern women who tend to outnumber men in universities in much of the world, it was once thought that women who read too much would be rendered infertile. This theory was widely spread by a Harvard professor named Edward H. Clarke who wrote in Sex in Education, or A Fair Chance For The Girls that, while women are capable of learning, too much book learning could lead to infertility and irritability. Clarke recommended that girls receive limited schooling so as not to damage their health or baby-making abilities.

Thankfully, well-educated women took it upon themselves to disprove Clarke’s theories. An 1885 study by Annie Howes, of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, and an 1887 paper by Mary Putnam Jacobi, debunked Clarke’s treatise.

7…Viewing ugly things while pregnant makes ugly babies

In the 18th century, many people thought that the things a woman thought could affect what her baby looked like. In The Pregnant Imagination, Fetal Rights, and Women’s Bodies: A Historical Inquiry, Julia Epstein writes that there was a debate over whether or not “imaginative activity in the minds of pregnant women could explain birthmarks and birth malformations.”

Many people thought that a woman could directly influence the appearance of her child and that looking at unattractive things could cause the child to be born, well, unattractive. It was widely recommended that women avoid “unwholesome” things, lest they deform their developing child.

8…A woman on her period is unclean

The idea that a woman on her period is somehow unclean dates back to antiquity. According to the book of Leviticus in the Bible, not only was a woman on her period unclean, but so was everything she wore and touched. The thirteenth century De Secretis Mulierum (The Secrets of Women) was written by a man claiming to be a monk, Albertus Magnus. According to Magnus, “Menstrual matter is extremely venomous” and a woman on her period gives off “fumes” which can poison children.

These ideas persisted in Western culture through the 20th century, well past the point you’d think people would have dismissed such clearly irrational thinking. In the 1920s, a doctor named Bela Schick described “menotoxin,” an alleged “menstrual toxin” that was secreted in a menstruating woman’s sweat and had the power to cause flowers to wilt. Other “studies” claimed that menotoxin in breast milk caused colic in infants and that a woman who was “menotoxic” during pregnancy gave her baby asthma.

9…Tampons can make women lose their virginity

This myth is still getting some traction, even though there is no truth to it. When Tampax was introduced in the 1930s, many people thought that they shouldn’t be used by young girls. The main fear of moral conservatives was that inserting a tampon would result in the loss of virginity.

Consumer Reports released an article in the 1940s telling people that it was okay for virgins to use tampons. In case there’s still any confusion, the only thing that can make someone lose their virginity is actually having sex.

10…Only willing women can get pregnant 

This myth is particularly terrifying, in that many people still believe it. In 2012, Missouri Congressman Todd Akin claimed that rape victims can’t get pregnant since in a “legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”

Akin isn’t the only modern politician to have expressed that idea. In 1995, North Carolina state representative Henry Aldridge, said that women “who are truly raped” cannot conceive a child as “the juices don’t flow” and “the body functions don’t work.” In 1998, Republican Senate candidate Fay Boozman said that stress of assault will trigger a biochemical response in rape victims that makes conception next to impossible. Pennsylvania state legislator Stephen Freind claimed in 1988 that the odds of a rape victim becoming pregnant were “one in millions and millions and millions.”

The impossibility of rape leading to conception has been used as a legal defense since at least the 13th century. Vanessa Heggie, a historian at the University of Birmingham, wrote in a blog piece for The Guardian that Fleta, a British legal text from that time period, says “without a woman’s consent she could not conceive.”

11…Women’s brains are smaller and less capable

Women fought a long and arduous battle to win the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1920 that women in the United States were allowed to cast a ballot, and Switzerland’s women couldn’t vote until 1971.

One of the reasons given for not allowing women to vote was that their smaller brains made them mentally inferior to men. Members of anti-suffragist movements such as the National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage (NAOWS) claimed that women did not have the capacity to understand politics and therefore should not be given the right to vote. This idea was so accepted that even women believed it and joined anti-suffragist groups, lending some credibility to a claim on a pamphlet issued by the NAOWS that most women had no interest on how the country was run.

Women’s brains function just as well as men’s brains. They are physically smaller on average, but this correlates to body size and has no impact on intelligence.

12…Female virgins can cure men with venereal diseases

A long-held belief that some people still have faith in is the idea that sleeping with a virgin will cure a person of a disease. There is, of course, no credence to this belief, but it has resulted in the abuse of countless young women throughout history.

People in England and the United States believed well into the twentieth century that sleeping with a young virgin would cure them of syphilis and other venereal diseases. The virgin’s pure and untouched state was somehow thought to have restorative properties that would be transferred to the afflicted man. Even more alarming is the fact that many of the men who sought out young girls for such purposes believed that the disease would be cured in him but passed on to the girl.

In modern times, there are still men who believe in this myth. Men afflicted with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa along with parts of India and Thailand have reportedly sought out young girls in search of this “cure.”

13…Infertility is all the woman’s fault

Women in ancient Egypt were generally viewed as equal to men, but that doesn’t mean that their society understood how women’s bodies worked. Ancient Egyptians were particularly perplexed by what made a woman fertile and assumed that a couple’s ability to conceive rested solely on the woman. It was thought that women with wide hips and large breasts were more fertile than those with narrow hips and flatter chests.

In order to test a woman’s fertility, a clove of garlic or an onion would be placed inside a woman’s vagina. That belief was that if the woman was, fertile her uterus would be linked to her alimentary canal and her breath would smell like garlic or onion the next day. If the smell of garlic or onion didn’t travel to her mouth, then the woman was blocked and would not be able to conceive. This particular fertility test was also utilized by the ancient Greeks.

14…Exercise is dangerous for women 

Strenuous activity was thought to be dangerous for women as it could harm their reproductive parts. It was the general consensus of the Berlin Medical Association in the 19th century that the “ailing health” of women during menstruation and pregnancy was proof that they were the weaker (and therefore inferior) gender.

One 19th century German doctor strongly advised against girls jump-roping as “it made the feet flat, damaged the lungs, and caused twisting of the bowels as well as chronic headaches.” A director of a 19th century gymnastics teachers training institute agreed that women should avoid “exercise which requires sudden and jerking movements… on account of the particular position of the female reproductive organs.”

15..Breast milk is coagulated menstrual blood 

From ancient times through the Middle Ages, most people thought that breastfed babies were being given blood. The dominant belief in these times was that breast milk and menstrual blood are the same substance, but that breast milk “had been heated, coagulated, and whitened by hot air.” This bizarre idea persisted for centuries and was taught by prominent philosophers including Aristotle and Galen, and can also be found in the Jewish Talmud.

16…The uterus has seven cells 

Before people understood the science behind reproduction, they believed that a baby’s sex depended on which chamber of the uterus it was carried in. It was commonly believed that the uterus had seven chambers or cells, with the right three developing males and the left three developing females. If a baby developed in the center cell, it would be intersex, having both male and female features. The concept of the seven-chambered uterus reigned throughout the Middle Ages and persisted long after anatomical dissection proved that there is only one space in the uterus.

Renaissance thinkers eventually replaced the debunked myth with even more ridiculous notions. They believed that the father’s sperm turned the mother’s menstrual blood into milk which also formed the fetus. In order to ensure male offspring, women were encouraged to eat “hot” foods, while foods such as fish and fruit (characterized as “humid” and “cold”) were to be avoided as they could form a female child. It was also thought that sex (provided it was gentle enough not to harm the baby) could help to develop a baby boy due to the exposure to a male presence.

17…Menstrual blood has special powers 

Menstruation has long been one of the most mysterious and misunderstood aspects of the human body. Many believed that menstrual blood has special powers; the 12th century mystic Hildegard of Bingen believed that it could be used to cure leprosy. In ancient Egypt, menstrual blood was thought to have healing properties and was used in the production of medicines. It was also used in an ointment which served to protect babies from evil powers. Indigenous South Americans believed that menstrual blood was the source from which “all mankind was created,” a belief that was also present in Mesopotamia.

18…Pregnancy mood swings are caused by an “irritable” uterus

Pregnancy can be marked by mood swings, thanks to all the hormones coursing through your body. In the 18th and 19th centuries, though, people thought that changes in mood were because “the event of conception stimulated the womb, creating an excitability which in turn affected other organs.”

Thomas Denman, a prominent physician, said that the uterus was prone to “extreme irritability.” The other organs were thought to be so in-tune with the uterus that they would experience sympathy pains, causing morning sickness and the swelling of the breasts. The uterus was thought to also affect a woman’s emotions because “of this general and perpetual irritation,” causing a woman carrying a child to be “sometimes rendered less gentle and patient than is consistent with their usual character.”

19...Female flesh is “spongier” than a man’s

In ancient times, it was thought that women had porous skin, which prevented them from becoming as strong as men. Proof of this could supposedly be found in the breasts, as a woman’s body could hold more moisture than a man’s causing the breasts to swell and grow. It was also believed that when a person was on the verge of madness, blood would collect in the breasts. Since women could hold more blood in their breasts, they were therefore considered to be more likely to be irrational than men.

Men were believed to use up more of the fluids they consumed through physical activity while women instead retained moisture in their “spongy” flesh. Excess fluid would collect in the body and eventually be discharged as menstrual blood. This theory was used to promote the idea that women’s bodies are biologically inferior to men’s.

20…Bad personalities are the fault of the ovaries

If a woman had a bad personality, it was all chalked up to malfunctioning reproductive organs. In the 18th century, it was commonly thought that a woman’s personality was “dominated by her ovaries,” and that “female disorders” could be treated by simply removing them.

Women were frequently subjected to operations to remove their ovaries (and sometimes their clitoris) in order to treat gynecological symptoms. Such operations were also performed for the purpose of “controlling psychological disorders.” Ovaries were removed “for relief of…nervous (psychological) symptoms, menstrual dysfunction, and convulsions.” Ovariotomies were performed on tens of thousands of women in this time period.

At the time, epilepsy was thought to be caused by masturbation, therefore the removal of the clitoris was thought to “cure” the affliction. Clitordectomies were also used to treat “disorders” such as nymphomania and epilepsy. While ovariotomy was discredited as a treatment for psychological disorders by 1906, clitoridectomy was an accepted practice in the United States as late as 1948.

21…Menstrual blood is evil leaving the body

In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was believed that menstrual blood accumulated in the body became “corrupted” and would “attain a malignant and venomous quality.” Menstruation, therefore, was “a monthly purging of those evil humours.”

Women who entered menopause and no longer menstruated each month were thought to be potentially harboring these “evil humours” which were “capable of adding to that complex of female wickedness which could turn aging women into witches.” Because of this, older women were often viewed with suspicion; most of the women accused of witchcraft in Europe during this time were past the age of menopause.

22…We still have work to do

It is scary to think about living in a time when the female body was so misunderstood. While women today have it much better than they did in the past, things are still far from perfect.

A recent global study showed that three out of four women believe their country has unequal rights. Nearly half of the women in the world say that they do not personally feel they have equal status to men. One in five people still believe that women are inferior to men.

We might live in a more enlightened time, but there is still work to be done.

Henry Sapiecha

‘We will stop the next war’: Watch Women march for Israeli-Palestinian peace

About 5000 Israeli and Palestinian women, calling for peace, have marched through a desert landscape down to the Jordan River where they erected a ‘peace tent’.

Thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women have trekked through a biblical desert landscape, converging on the shores of the Jordan River in a march for peace.

The women, many of them dressed in white, descended through the arid hills leading to the river, where they erected a “peace tent” named for Hagar and Sarah, scriptural mothers of Ishmael and Isaac, the half-brother patriarchs of Muslims and Jews.

“We are women from the right, the left, Jews and Arabs, from the cities and the periphery and we have decided that we will stop the next war,” said Marilyn Smadja, one of the founders of the organising group, Women Wage Peace.

Israeli and Palestinian women march in the desert near Beit HaArava in the Jordan Valley, Israel, near to Jericho, in the West Bank, 08 October 2017.

The organisation was established after the 50-day Gaza war of 2014 when more than 2100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

About 5000 women participated in Sunday’s march, organisers said.

It began last month at several locations across Israel and will culminate in a rally later in the day outside the Jerusalem residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian and Israeli women take phone photographs of thousands of women taking part in a Peace march in the desert near Beit HaArava in the Jordan Valley

The march comes at a time when many analysts see little hope for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is 82 and unpopular, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads what is seen as the most right-wing government in his country’s history.

In 2015, Women Wage Peace members fasted in relays over 50 days, the length of the 2014 war between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

“The men who have power believe only in war, but with the strength of women we can bring something else, something new,” said Amira Zidan, an Arab Israeli mother of one of the organisation’s founders.

Sunday’s arrival in Jerusalem coincides with the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which commemorates the Jews’ journey through the Sinai after their exodus from Egypt.

Earlier Sunday, thousands of Jews gathered at Jerusalem’s Western Wall for a priestly blessing held during the holiday each year.

Henry Sapiecha

This 17th-Century “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” Probably Wasn’t About Women, or Coffee

It probably wasn’t written by angry, sex-deprived wives–although stranger things have happened
In the late 1600s, London coffeehouses were a preferred hangout for political men and writers.

“Unlike the tavern, the alehouse or the inn,” writes historian Brian Cowan, the coffeehouse “was a novel institution.” Although coffee-oriented gathering places had been common in the Arab world for hundreds of years, coffee was a new arrival to Britain in the 1600s. The first coffee-houses opened in the 1650s. By 1663, writes Matthew Green for The Telegraph, there were 82 coffeehouses in central London. Part of the reason, he writes, was their novelty. But with this rise came a backlash: In a hilarious pamphlet published in 1674, a group of women came out against the “newfangled, abominable, heathenish liquor called coffee.”

It’s difficult to tell if the writers of the The Women’s Petition Against Coffee were actually women, writes historian Steve Pincus, or if they were representing what women actually thought about coffeehouses. More likely, he writes, the satires were written in order to help make coffeehouses unpopular as they were perceived as sites of political unrest. (Charles II tried to ban the establishments in a year later.)

In the Women’s Petition, the supposed wives of coffee-drinkers bemoaned the fact that coffee-drinking was such an intellectual, effeminate pastime that it had rendered their husbands impotent and “as unfruitful as those deserts whence that unhappy berry is said to be brought.” (Coffee-growing lands are generally very rich and fertile.)

“For can any woman of sense or spirit endure with patience,” they wrote, “that when…she approaches the nuptial bed, expecting a man that … should answer the vigour of her flames, she on the contrary should only meet a bedful of bones, and hug a meager useless corpse?”

The women’s petition also complained that coffee made men too talkative: “they sup muddy water, and murmur insignificant notes till half a dozen of them out-babble an equal number of us at gossipping,” the anonymous authors write.

The writers of The Mens Answer to the Womens Petition Against Coffee, tongue firmly in cheek, noted that far from making them impotent, coffee actually made them better husbands by “drying up” the “Crude Flatulent Humours” that caused them to fart in bed. Besides, they added, “the Coffee house is the Citizens Academy,” the writers pleaded, “where he learns more Wit than ever his Grannum taught him.”

It was just this facet of the coffeehouse that Charles II was afraid of. By this time, coffeehouses had been around in England for a few decades. Spreading from London, Pincus writes, the institution had made it as far as Scotland. During these decades, the British monarchy had been deposed during the English Civil War when Charles I was executed in 1649, and restored when Charles II was placed on the throne in 1660. It was a time when politics was a huge and touchy subject for everyone in English society, and the new king–mindful of what happened to his father–was eager to promote a return to old ways. Coffeehouses, to the king and his supporters, represented a new form of sociability that rose up in the years when England had no king, and should be stamped out. But in the 1600s, as today, it takes a lot to separate anyone from their coffee.

There was probably never a genuine war of the sexes around coffee houses. For women, historian Markman Ellis writes, coffeehouses offered a business opportunity. While it is true, as the satirists of the time wrote, that sex workers used coffeehouses to solicit work, they were far from the only women there. A number of coffeehouses were run by women, he writes, often widows, and women worked in them as servers or in other capacities.

Historians differ in their opinions as to whether women attended coffeehouses as customers–for instance, while Ellis does not believe they did, Pincus writes “there is little warrant for the claim that women were excluded from coffeehouses.” Although there may have been no hard-and-fast rule excluding women, obstacles such as public perception that linked women in coffee houses with sex work may have helped keep women from attending coffeehouses as guests in the same number as men.   However, as Pincus writes, the fact that women could and sometimes did attend these places just shows how much they were places of exchange between people of different backgrounds, leading to the creative and transgressive spread of ideas by these caffeine junkies.

Henry Sapiecha

Empowering women in advertising – ‘SheSays’ launches awards

SheSays-Jane-Steph-Kara image www.goodgirlsgo.com6

Global networking group SheSays is launching a new awards program in Australia to recognise the best female talent in the advertising industry.

The SheSays Awards are open from now until 13 October aimed at women across Australia. They will be judged by a panel of male and female industry figures including Isobar CEO Konrad Spilva, Venus founder Bec Brideson, Isobar creative director Carmela Soares, Reactive creative director Prue Jones and BWM creative directors Jon Foye, Denny Handlin and Amy Hollier.

Other judges include Hardhat Digital creative director Beth Walsh, MASS founder Tim Kotsiakos and Charles Grenfell group creative director Emma Hill, and AdNews editor Rosie Baker.

SheSays Melbourne director Kara Jenkins says the awards aim to challenge and inspire women in the industry.

“Through the SheSays Awards we want to empower women in the creative marketing industries to be more confident and therefore more ambitious,” Jenkins says.

“We’re challenging women to think about their current position in the industry, and where they want it to be in the future. We’re publicly recognising the future and current female leaders who we hope will be role models for all women within the industry to aspire to.”

The inaugural awards have three categories including an Industry Award which recognises a female creative that has shown to have played a key role in producing an idea which has no limits.

One is a Woman of the Year Award which recognises a woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the creative industries.

To shine a light on the next generation of creative women, the program also includes a Student Award for a female creative or creative team (which includes at least one female) who produces an idea in response to a student brief, which involves creating a campaign for SheSays.

Melbourne’s RMIT University has partnered with SheSays for the Student Award, providing a venue for the awards night and exhibiting student work.

Winners will receive an awards trophy and a hand crafted necklace created especially for SheSays by London-based jewellery designer Clarice Rice Thomas.

In addition, the winner of the Student Award will be offered a two-week placement at Isobar.

Spilva says Isobar is excited to be part of the first awards program.

“We’ve been a supporter of SheSays since it’s launch in Melbourne and we’re excited to be one of the official partners of the upcoming SheSays Awards,” Spilva says. “These awards can make a genuine difference through encouraging women in our industry to share their great work.”

The Award Night will be held in Melbourne on Thursday 17 November from 6pm, with tickets on sale closer to the event.


Henry Sapiecha

Abortion is usually a lonely experience – that’s why I openly talk about mine

Technically, I wasn’t alone when I had my abortion. There was a doctor at my feet. A nurse at my head. She offered to hold my hand, but I dug my fingernails into my palms instead – hoping one type of pain might distract from another. I wasn’t alone, but in so many ways, I was.

An hour later, I returned to the waiting room. My not-quite-boyfriend’s chin was folded against his chest. I poked his shoulder and motioned toward the door.

woman-sits-on-window-edge image

It may take two people to get pregnant, but only one will feel the physical effects. 

“Let’s go,” I said.

I tried to slip my arm through his as we walked through the parking lot on that frigid Chicago morning, but he was stiff and unresponsive. I pulled back and held my elbows tight instead.

I’ll never know what was going through his mind during those moments that are still so vivid for me: the morning I choked out the words “I’m pregnant” on the phone; the day I showed him a Post-it note where a nurse had scribbled a due date that I tried to forget; the night we drank too much wine because it didn’t matter if I drank – I wasn’t keeping it. (I still felt guilty and cried.)

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him, either. But his experience is his, and mine is mine, and they parted ways shortly after that walk through the cold parking lot.

Eighty-three percent of women who have abortions are unmarried. Which makes sense. For most single women, I imagine that having a child is more daunting than for married ones.

No matter a woman’s marital status, though, abortion can be a lonely experience. It may take two people to get pregnant, but only one will feel the physical effects. Only one can ultimately make the decision of how to handle what’s happening with her body. Thankfully, we still have that decision to make, despite those who try to take it away.

The stigma surrounding abortion further isolates those of us who’ve been through it. It’s not something we’re supposed to talk about. We grieve quietly. Or we don’t. But we don’t dare tell anyone that we didn’t feel grief. We’re expected to agonise over the decision, even though for many, it’s a no-brainer. And while I did feel anxious and sad going through mine, I know that that’s not true for everyone.

I didn’t tell many people about my abortion, and I told even fewer about the emotional turmoil I experienced around it.

The man who got me pregnant and I spent about eight months together. At the time, I thought he was passionate. Looking back, manipulative is a better word. There were insults and accusations that shouldn’t come from the mouth of someone who claims to love you. Through unfounded assumptions about me and random men, he’d often make me apologise for things that never happened. His jealous temper might have stemmed from his intimate awareness of how easy it is to lie. He’d had another girlfriend all along.

About a week after the cold walk through the parking lot, he left his phone at my apartment and the screen lit up with evidence as I scrolled through his texts: “I love you”; “I’ll be home soon, babe”; and “What should I make for dinner?” A seemingly happy relationship formed between work and meals and errands. I could see myself slotted in between an occasional “Where are you?” and “Come home.” But otherwise, their life together seemed shockingly whole.

I was ashamed for not seeing the truth sooner, for letting him control me through my insecurities for so long. And it was terrifying to suddenly lose the one person who had been there through the decision to end my pregnancy, to end our pregnancy. Part of me wanted to shut the phone and pretend I didn’t know.

When I confronted him and ended things, relief became the dominating emotion. I’d made the right decision. And I was freed from a future that scared me even more than being alone.

I began sharing my experience by journaling through tears and with shaky hands. And then I kept writing, through an increasing level of clarity and self-forgiveness. Writing became my therapy. Eventually, it struck me that other women probably needed to share their stories as badly as I did. I began to talk about my abortion with friends, and discovered more and more women who had stories to share, too. Those who didn’t were still open and supportive when hearing mine.

These stories were complicated to tell, but it’s not so complicated to listen. The #ShoutYourAbortion campaign has tapped into this desire to share our stories. Through the hashtag and downloadable posters, women are reclaiming the conversation by refusing to be silent about their decision to end their pregnancies.

These stories can be legally powerful, too. In the recent Supreme Court case that struck down Texas’ abortion restrictions, 200 women filed friend-of-the-court briefs, names attached, describing their abortion experiences.

Ultimately, I healed by myself, without the help of a partner. Hearing other women’s stories over the years helped me realise that I was strong enough to get through it without him. I hope this one will serve a similar purpose for someone else. I hope she knows that she’s strong enough on her own – and that she’s not alone.

The Washington Post 


Henry Sapiecha


A visit to the gynecologist taught me something about perfection

blue-mini-skirt-lady sitting-on-bed image

“Contrary to my long-held beliefs, doing an imperfectly fine job isn’t shameful or embarrassing.”

In my gynaecologist’s dimly lit examination room, I told her she was perfect. “I think you’re perfect”. It sort of slipped out, involuntarily and awkwardly. She bit her lip and replied, “I’m imperfect but trying my best”. I nodded, “Yes, of course.” We dropped the subject.

I’m very fond of my gynaecologist. She is kind, professional and intelligent, with a great bedside manner. When she had walked in a moment earlier, she’d begun telling me about a patient who gave her a nasty review online. She seemed troubled by it and I felt compelled to make her feel better.

A day later, I remembered my “perfect” comment and recounted the incident to a friend. “Did you boop her on the nose after you’d said it?” he teased. We giggled into our glasses of wine. It was a funny story and one easily forgotten, but I continued to mull over the exchange – it bothered me that I had chosen the word ‘perfect’.

Perfect isn’t a word I use to describe others or myself often, the reason being that I’m generally opposed to it. It’s an inutile descriptive because clearly, nobody is perfect. The dictionary definition is “excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement”, as well as “exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose”. No person is beyond improvement or “exactly” anything, yet it’s a compliment given to people and things regularly, without much thought.

A few years ago, I became aware of a hidden desire to be perfect, a tendency that had been disguising itself since childhood. This is never something I would have dared say out loud or even admit to myself because – for obvious reasons – it seems so pretentious. I hate it when people say they’re perfectionists.

Yet, it was the best way to describe the overwhelming pressure I’d put on myself to be the best that I could be. While in and of itself perfection isn’t a necessarily destructive goal, the way it had manifested in my life was more inhibiting than motivational. I had become so afraid of being sub-par that I’d begun subconsciously setting the bar low. I was “exactly fitting the need in a certain situation”, but I had been careful to make sure that “situation” was always within my capabilities and not further. It was safer than pursuing something seemingly unattainable and falling short. Mediocrity terrified me but I was embodying it.

Researcher and author Dr Brene Brown has made a living out of trying to dismantle this kind of thought behaviour. “I’ve failed miserably, many times,” says Brown in one of her TED talks. “I don’t think the world understands that, because of shame.” She explains that striving for perfection is motivated by the belief that it will help us avoid or minimise feelings of shame and judgement. Daring ourselves to try something we may not be great at makes us vulnerable and many of us choose to avoid the emotional risk, exposure and uncertainty.

The simple decision to distance myself from ‘perfection’ sparked a change within me; within a few months, I had changed jobs and switched careers. I dared to start my own projects; those things, hidden and locked away, that I had fantasised about doing one day. I was moving with new momentum and embracing it; and at the core of this transition were new expectations, that were far more realistic but just as terrifying. I’d raised the bar, but I might never reach it.

In her book Stroke of Insight, neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor recounts her experience of having a stroke and her subsequent recovery. At 37, doctors removed a blood clot the size of a golf ball from her brain. When she awoke from surgery, she had barely any memory of her previous life and the person she had been. In spite of all the challenges that came with her rehabilitation, Taylor says that ultimately, she was grateful for the opportunity to press the reset button. It meant that she was able to inadvertently let go of many of the things that had held her back up to that moment. Past insecurities, resentments or self-expectations – dismissed. What rare freedom.

In an attempt to press my own reset button, I have decided to eliminate the word perfect from my vocabulary. It is not a standard by which I wish to judge myself, my work or those around me. The most rewarding part of this journey has a been embracing imperfection. Contrary to my long-held beliefs, doing an okay job isn’t shameful or embarrassing. It’s liberating. I’ve come to interpret perfection as wholly restricting: beyond improvement actually means being opposed to it – and resistant to growth.

Learning to let go of perfection is a process, and occasionally, I’ll still stumble upon the word, sometimes unexpectedly, like when talking to my gynecologist. As soon as I’d said it, I realised how pointless it was. But my doctor had already figured it out and we moved on to something more important.


Henry Sapiecha


With this dowry I now own your son: Indian brides turn tables

indian bride has a dowry & owns the groom image

“Ask nicely, and I might let you use my things,” says this bride in a video made for the government campaign Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save your Daughter, Teach your Daughter) in India. Photo: Supplied

New Delhi: India’s efforts to stop baby girls being aborted are seeing the circulation of some surprisingly hard-hitting videos that are turning the tables on men, using the issue of dowry to turn them into pathetic “objects”.

Having to give a dowry to daughters is the single most powerful reason that Indian parents prefer boys. The dowry – cash, fridges, jewellery, TVs, scooters, furniture, sewing machines, cooking utensils – can bankrupt families but without it, no daughter will ever find a husband.

In one video, made for the government campaign Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save your Daughter, Teach your Daughter), a young bride is shown about to go for a ride on a scooter with her husband. The woman’s father-in-law tells her contemptuously that she had better think again because he needs the scooter to do his chores.

“Monthly instalments are only for objects,” says this bride to her mother-in-law in response to suggestions how dowry payments should continue, in a videos for Save your Daughter, Teach your Daughter campaign. Photo: Supplied

The bride retorts: “I’m the one who paid the quoted price. I gave you the scooter as part of the dowry I brought so I own the scooter and your son. Ask nicely, and I might let you use my things.”

The second video, too, alters the usual image of a new bride in her in-laws’ home, namely, tense, eager to please, everyone’s doormat. It shows her in the kitchen with her mother-in-law who is goading her into asking her parents for a new fridge.

The bride says her parents only recently gave a sewing machine. “What is this? Do I have to give monthly instalments or what?” asks the young woman. The mother-in-law’s reply is why not?

The wife answers: “Well, monthly instalments are only for objects, so if you expect monthly instalments from me, that means your son is an object I can use as I wish”.

The videos were funded by business consultant Sunil Alagh in Mumbai.  He says he wanted to contribute to the government’s campaign to empower women but not with a preachy sermon on the evils of dowry that everyone has heard before.

“I was at a friend’s house where the servant told me that a girl in his village had told her prospective father-in-law that if he wanted a dowry from her, he had better accept that he was selling his son to her. It was brilliant, I knew I had to use that line,” said Mr Alagh.

The two videos, produced by Red Carpet Entertainment, have attracted two million views on Facebook, more than 225,000 hits on YouTube and are being shown at all INOX cinemas in India. They have also generated intense debate because Indians are accustomed to homily-laden education campaigns, not videos which savage traditions in this fashion.

Reactions have ranged from praise to criticism that the videos implicitly accept the practice of dowry instead of questioning it. “All the ad is doing is discouraging audiences from finding an educated bride for their family … because education, apparently, transforms a woman into the quip-hurling bitch who’s out to isolate her husband from his parents, according to this advertisement,” wrote Rohan Venkataramakrishnan on the current affairs website Scroll.

For New Delhi economist Anuradha Bhasin, such criticism is absurd. “They are clever and funny. While the setting is traditional [mother-in-law hectoring the daughter-in-law], the daughter-in-law is educated and knows her rights. And equating a dowry with the buying of a son is fantastic,” she said.

The practice of dowry has etched the preference for boys deep in the psyche. Last month, some doctors practising the traditional Indian system of medicine known as ayurveda were arrested in Bhopal during a herbal fair for selling herbs that ensured women would conceive baby boys.

Last February, India’s most famous yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, came under attack for selling an ayurvedic potion to infertile couples that “guarantees” a male child.

With female foeticide still rampant, the sex ratio has fallen from 927 girls per 1000 boys in 2001 to 918 girls for every 1000 boys in 2011.

In launching the Save your Daughter, Teach your Daughter campaign in January, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited members of the public to devise their own ways of promoting women’s empowerment.

Mr Alagh is one of many Indians who have tried to do something innovative to change attitudes. Another was Sunil Jaglan, a father in Haryana who organised a “Selfie with Daughter” campaign on social media, which Mr Modi promptly helped promote on his own Twitter account.


Henry Sapiecha

Indian teenager becomes a rapist’s nightmare

Rape is common in Indian villages because the men responsible don’t face consequences. That could now be changing.

Bitiya, who agreed to be photographed with her face covered, in her village image

Bitiya, who agreed to be photographed with her face covered, in her village. Photo: Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times

For as long as anyone can remember, upper-caste men in a village in northern India preyed on young girls. The rapes continued because there was no risk: the girls were destroyed, but the men faced no repercussions.

Now that might be changing in the area, partly because of the courage of one teenage girl who is fighting back. Indian law does not permit naming of rape victims, so she requested she be called Bitiya, and she is a rapist’s nightmare. This isn’t one more tragedy of sexual victimisation but rather a portrait of an indomitable teenager whose willingness to take on the system inspires us and helps protect other Indian girls.

I want them in jail, then everyone watching will know that people can get punished for this.


I see in Bitiya a lesson for the world about the importance of ending the impunity that so often surrounds sexual violence.

The young rape victim pushing to see her attackers punished wants other Indian girls to be able to live free of the fear of sexual violence.

Bitiya, who is from the bottom of the caste system, is fuzzy about her age, but thinks she was 13 in 2012 when four upper-caste village men grabbed her as she worked in a field, stripped her and raped her. They filmed the assault and warned her that if she told anyone, they would release the video and also kill her brother, so Bitiya initially kept quiet.

Six weeks later, Bitiya’s father saw a 15-year-old boy watching a pornographic video and was aghast to see his daughter in it. The men were selling the video in a local store for a dollar a copy.

Bitiya is crying in the video and is held down by the men, so her family accepted she was blameless. Her father went to the police to file a report.

The police weren’t interested in following up, but the village elders were. They decided Bitiya, an excellent student, should be barred from the public school.

“They said I was the wrong kind of girl and it would affect other girls,” Bitiya said. “I felt very bad about that.”

Eventually, public pressure forced the school to take her back, but the village elders continue to block the family from receiving government food rations, apparently as punishment for speaking out.

In the background hovers caste. Bitiya is a Dalit, once considered untouchable, at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Civil society scrutiny belatedly led to the arrest of four men, who were then released on bail. The case has been dragging on since, and Bitiya’s father died of a heart attack after one particularly brutal court hearing. The family also fears members of upper castes will kill Bitiya’s 16-year-old brother, so he mostly stays home,  which means he cannot work, leaving the family struggling to afford food.

The rape suspects offered a $20,000 settlement if Bitiya’s family would drop the case, bringing the money in cash to her home with its dirt floor. Bitiya had never seen so much cash – but scoffs that she would not accept twice as much.

“I want them in jail,” Bitiya says, “then everyone watching will know that people can get punished for this.”

“I never felt tempted,” her grandfather adds.

Bitiya says she does not feel disgraced, because the dishonour lies in raping rather than in being raped. And the resolve that she and her family display is having an impact. The rape suspects had to sell land to pay bail, and everybody in the area now understands that raping girls might actually carry consequences. So while there were many rapes in the village before Bitiya’s, none are believed to have occurred since.

Madhavi Kuckreja​, a longtime women’s activist who is helping Bitiya, says the case reflects a measure of progress against sexual violence.

“There has been a breaking of the silence,” Kuckreja says. “People are speaking up and filing cases.”

Kuckreja notes that the cost of sexual violence is a paralysinging fear that affects all women and girls. Fearful parents “protect” daughters from sexual violence and boys in ways that impede the girls’ ability to get an education, use the internet or cellphones, or get a good job. For every girl who is raped, Kuckreja says, many thousands lose opportunities and mobility because of fear of such violence.

That holds back women, but also all of India. The International Monetary Fund says India’s economy is stunted by the lack of women in the formal economy.

In one village, I asked a large group of men about rape. They insisted they honour women and deplore rape – and then added that the best solution after a rape is for the girl to be married to the rapist, to smooth over upset feelings.

“If he raped her, he probably likes her,” Shiv Govind, 18, explained.

I’m supporting Bitiya and strong girls like her to change those attitudes and end the impunity that oppresses women and impoverishes nations.

Nicholas Kristof is a New York Times columnist. (5)

Henry Sapiecha

The Knowing Women Video-2: Selling to women

Women are responsible for 70-80% of household purchase decisions, not just FMCGs but cars and financial products, observes Bauer Media Sales Director Tony Kendall.

“In the last couple of years marketers are starting to wake up to the fact this powerful demographic cannot be ignored.”

Hearst Brands Australia general manager Marina Go says there are many different ways for women to interact with clients’ brands, across a multitude of platforms these days “and we have to be responsive to all those”.

“Getting women at the right moment with an advertiser’s brand is probably the biggest challenge I see for us,” admits Bauer Media head of digital commercial strategy Monique Harris.

The Australian Women’s Weekly’s editor-in-chief Helen McCabe has witnessed a dramatic change in how The Weekly relates to its clients compared to when she first started.

“It’s a much closer relationship now.”

It’s one appreciated by Harvey Norman’s Page.

Whether it’s print or digital, “all the different ways you can get to people is encompassed in the Bauer title…it’s seamless”. (8)

Henry Sapiecha

The most dangerous time for women. Story 5 of 5 Gee Bailey


Leaving an abusive relationship is the time a woman or her children are most likely to be seriously harmed or murdered by their partner.

According to the Domestic Violence Prevention centre, most women will, on average, attempt to leave an abusive relationship between five and seven times before successfully and permanently doing so. Between 25% to 31% of murders in Australia involve either spouses or sexual partners.

Here women across the country share with Guardian Australia how they left an abusive relationship, the support that helped them to regain control, and the help that was lacking when they needed it most.

Gee Bailey abuse victim image

Gee Bailey

I hear people in the media say to ‘just leave’ and they cannot understand why you can’t walk out that door. But what they don’t realise is that when you look outside of that front door, it is black. You can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, you don’t know what’s going to happen to you.

Gee Bailey

Gee Bailey is an artist, author, domestic violence advocate and senior manager. Since leaving an abusive relationship almost eight years ago, she says she feels calmer, happier, safer and in more control of her life. She says deciding to leave an abusive relationship can be a complicated and fraught process, and that having non-judgmental support is key to women regaining control.

I’m not a religious person, but leaving an abusive relationship is like being reborn.

When I did leave, it was a very bad way to leave. I didn’t know that at the time. I decided to leave after he stood over me one night and was yelling at me about ridiculous things, and I snapped, like an elastic band went off in my head. He physically attacked me. I ran into bathroom, locked the door, and this noise came out of me like an animal. I never knew I could make that noise. I thought, I can’t do that any more, and I decided to leave the next day. He was coming home late the next night, so I decided to write him a letter and tell him I can’t do it anymore, and that I was leaving the next day. He didn’t do anything until he saw me physically packing, and then he put me through a glassed picture, threw me on the bed and tried to strangle me.

‘Something I hold dear is a piece of sculpture I bought just at the time I split from my ex-husband. It’s of a mother holding her child high in the air and it reminds me that no matter what went on during that terrible time my son and I could get through any difficulty together.’

I didn’t know I’d been in an abusive relationship until I went to a solicitor after that incident, and told her that I didn’t know what to do. She told me to take out an intervention order, and I didn’t even know what that was. She said: “You’re in an abusive relationship. You need to see the Eastern Domestic Violence Outreach Service.” They’re a safe house, and when I went there for emergency accommodation they gave me a case manager.

That case manager listened to me and for the next 18 months, while I going through the courts, she stayed by my side and walked me through step-by-step. In the court we tried mediation, and it didn’t work, so we went to the family court. She drove me to and from court and sat by me to support me. There’s nothing personal in what the judges, solicitors and barristers do, but sitting there with someone by my side made me feel like I was personally supported, while I was having to prove to the court that I was a good mother.

I refuse to hold on to what happened and let it rule my life. I also want to make sure my son is safe and not distressed, he’s now nine but when we left he was one-and-a-half. I’ve learned so much and that’s why I speak out as an advocate. I want to empower women and say: “You’re going to be OK, you’re going to get through this.”

I think one of the things that made it difficult for me was not realising I was in an abusive relationship, because my mother had put up with so much from my father, I thought it was just what you did, that you stayed there and kept trying.

You have to be retrained in what’s normal and what’s not normal. You literally have to retrain your brain on what is right and not right. What is acceptable and not acceptable in a relationship.

Gee Bailey

I hear people in the media say “just leave” and they cannot understand why you can’t walk out that door. But what they don’t realise is that when you look outside of that front door, it is black. You can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, you don’t know what’s going to happen to you.

But what I would say to women is that there is an enormous support network out there, and you will not be alone. You’ve got to focus on the way you leave, and get everything organised as much as you can beforehand. But even if you can’t and you have to leave suddenly and at the last moment, there is support. You’ve just got to stay focussed and some days will, be so black you can’t see ahead. But you’ve got to try and stay on course and get a support network around you that will help you do that.

There was a period when I thought: “I have to go back to him.” I had this gut wrenching feeling, it’s horrible, that I just couldn’t live without him no matter how badly he treated me. That’s something I had to get over. Sometimes you have good days and sometimes you have shocking days where it’s hard to get out of bed. You’ve got to keep going and you do. It gets better and it’s better than what will happen if you stay. I think you just have to say: “OK, this might be the crappiest thing I’m going to do, but it’s going to get better.” And it will.

There were challenges during the process. He didn’t care about lawyers or courts or police or money or accommodation. But I remember every time I tried to apply for a rental property it would be all fine until they asked if I was looking with my husband and when I told them I was a single mother, doors would close. I remember when I was in a Centrelink and got a single parent pension, and people standing behind me would talk behind my back, like “What the hell is she doing here?” Because I was dressed well and so forth, and that hurts. My ex went through three different solicitors, but I didn’t have any money. Legal aid said they couldn’t help because both mine and my husband’s names were on the mortgage, and because the house was worth about $1m, they thought I didn’t need money, even though I had nothing.

But they gave me a list of solicitors to try and the one I went to allowed me to pay a little bit off each month and then what I got from court when the case was settled, I used to pay the rest. I also joined a support group of women who were abused in relationships because it was like I had to be retrained in life. You have to be retrained in what’s normal and what’s not normal. You literally have to retrain your brain on what is right and not right. What is acceptable and not acceptable in a relationship.

My life has changed enormously since I left. I’m a different person. I’m a lot calmer. I’m successfully raising my son, virtually by myself. I never thought I could have done that in the past. I hold down a senior management role in a business. I’m an artist. Eight years ago if someone would have told me I’d be selling art pieces, and that I would be helping other women in domestic violence situations I would have said they had a screw loose. I’m in a completely different world now, and it’s wonderful. (6)

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) the national 24/7 counselling helpline for family violence.

The Men’s Referral Service (MRS) provides anonymous and confidential telephone counselling, information and referrals to men to help them take action to stop using violent and controlling behaviour 1300 766 491.


Reporter: Melissa Davey


Henry Sapiecha

The most dangerous time for women. Story 4of 5 Kim Gentle


Leaving an abusive relationship is the time a woman or her children are most likely to be seriously harmed or murdered by their partner.

According to the Domestic Violence Prevention centre, most women will, on average, attempt to leave an abusive relationship between five and seven times before successfully and permanently doing so. Between 25% to 31% of murders in Australia involve either spouses or sexual partners.

Here women across the country share with Guardian Australia how they left an abusive relationship, the support that helped them to regain control, and the help that was lacking when they needed it most.

Kim Gentle abuse victim image

Kim Gentle

The police knew that I was seeing this man but they couldn’t step in because of the laws. During the court case a detective came up and apologised and he had tears in his eyes, because it was recorded in police documents that it was only a matter of time before he killed someone.

Kim Gentle

Kim Gentle runs horse workshops for troubled Indigenous youth in Port Hedland, where she teaches them to care for and interact with the animals, and learn to give and receive trust. She is now expanding the program and hopes to bring adults with addiction problems into the program. She began the horse therapy clinics after leaving a violent relationship as a way of healing herself, and others. She is also an author of children’s books. She was one of three women to successfully prosecute the same abuser.

I was with him for six months. It happened very quickly. I had a top career in children’s publishing and made very successful breakthroughs, and was looking at going over to New York when I met this lovely guy. And at first, he did everything I wanted, but then little cracks started to appear. It probably took about three months to realise it was a relationship I had to get out of.

I kicked him out and I came home that night and I went to bed. And then I heard noises and I thought something’s upstairs, something’s not right. I went upstairs and he was hiding in the spare bedroom. So he stayed upstairs I stayed downstairs with my dog and prayed all night he wouldn’t hurt me and then the next morning I had to go to Sydney for a conference.

As I was leaving he said: “Do you mind if I take your dog for a walk, it’s the last time I’ll get to see her.” I said “That’s fine.” So I get to the conference and I get a phone call from him saying that I have to come home, the dog’s gone missing. And he said to me: “You loved her more than you loved me.” And I just knew something wasn’t right. He threw her off a cliff and into the ocean. He killed her. I knew I had to get out.

But there was all this other abuse. He made a big scene at my work, so I had to leave my job, and then I became financially dependent on him and I had to buy a car for us because I lost my company car, and he made me buy a manual knowing that I can’t drive a manual. Earlier on in the relationship little things happened, like I’d go to grab my swipe-card to go to work and it would be missing until the next day. Something like my car keys would go missing and then a couple of days later it would be my birth control pills. Just all these little things that would start building over time.

We were in the car one day and I was on a conference call, on speakerphone to a work colleague, and my ex-partner sort of took over the conversation. And then when I hung up he was like: “I don’t like you talking to all these male colleagues and people that you have to deal with.” And then he started going through my phone at night when I was asleep and contacting and writing down numbers of my male friends and calling them without me knowing and telling them not to have contact with me.

It got to a stage with him where it was either he was going to kill me or I was going to kill him because I thought that was the only way I could get out. Then I thought, why should I go to jail for killing a predator. So I tried to kill myself. That’s the rationale that abuse drives you to. You don’t know what is right or wrong anymore. I lost all perception of that. I wasn’t allowed out in public and if I did go out with him, I had to walk behind him and I had to look at the ground. If I so much looked at another person we’d get home and I’d get bashed. Horrific bashings.

I had no family living nearby. Some of my family had suspicions, especially my sister down in New South Wales, but it was very hard. She was scared as well, he had threatened her and she had two young children. My family knew a little about some of his behavioural issues because of things he’d said and done but they didn’t know the full extent. They just had noticed it was hard to contact me, and if they spoke to me on the phone he was always there. They started piecing things together. They didn’t think it made sense that I’d lost my job because they knew how passionate I was about it and how much I had loved it, but it was hard for them to piece it together without direct contact to me, and I only had a few friends who had direct contact with me.

He actually suffocated me on my birthday. I stopped breathing and it was pretty horrific. I remember seeing stars, dots in my eyes. I survived. I managed to somehow phone friends in Melbourne, and we actually had to talk in code, they gave me some code to speak to them in so as not to raise alarm bells because he was standing right next to me.

My friends managed to track down my brothers and some of my sisters, and then my family spent time plotting how they were going to get me out of this situation. They phoned the police, they phoned the crisis counselling team, and it turns out they couldn’t come and take me because then they could be done with abduction, so it had to be my decision. My brother had a lot to do with junior rugby league, so he said he was coming to where I was living at the time on the NSW central coast to run a rugby clinic, and that he would take me out for coffee belatedly for my birthday.

My brother turned up and I jumped in the car. My then partner came running up to my car, and my brother said: “I’m not here to see you. I’m here to see my sister.” We drove off, and when we got down to the end of the road, my brother said: “OK, one of your sisters is flying up from Melbourne. I’ve got my best mate and my wife and another friend at a cafe down the road, and we’re going to have a coffee. Now you’ve got two choices — leave with us now, or go to the police once everyone is together and we get you a cup of coffee and settled down, and we will support you.”

‘Something I hold dear. My dad’s best friend’s farm – my second childhood home from the age of 12+ when my father passed away. With me, my oldest sister and her dog Buster, my boots and my hat.’

‘Me. Rocky River, Tenterfield region – high country New South Wales. This is where I prepared myself mentally to face my ex-partner in court eight months after I was rescued in 2001.’

I knew that if I didn’t stand up against him in court I would never be safe, because he would hunt me down. because that’s what he does, it turned out he had a history of it. Due to the way the judicial system works there was information that wasn’t allowed to be disclosed to me. The police knew that I was seeing this man but they couldn’t step in because of the laws. During the court case a detective came up and apologised and he had tears in his eyes, because it was recorded in police documents that it was only a matter of time before he killed someone, but they’re not allowed to disclose that, even to help possible next victims. “I’m so sorry about what has happened, we were so scared for you but couldn’t do anything” he said.

I spent nearly eight hours in the police station when I gave my statement, and then I had to go back to the house with about six plain-clothed and a couple of uniformed police and they all had their vests on and they were fully loaded up with rifles. No one was home, and police said: “Get in the house, you’ve got 15 minutes, grab what you need and get out of there.” I just remember I was in there grabbing my things and all of a sudden the house was empty and quiet. I just panicked. It turns out my brother spotted my partner’s car and alerted the police and everyone had just taken off and left me in the house.

The police arrested him and took him away. I was asked to stay for the hearing in the court the following day. I just wanted to leave with my family the next morning, I didn’t really want to have to hang around. The case wasn’t heard until the last session the next day in the afternoon, so I had to spend all morning and all afternoon in court waiting for this case. But I knew he was locked up and he didn’t have bail so I knew I was safe.

But I still felt like he was controlling my life. lt was like being on a really fast roller coaster. Up and down and the whole time your head is just literally spinning and you’re just trying to hit the stop button or a pause or a slow down button, just so you can seek some clarity. I couldn’t think for myself. My brothers and sisters would say Kim, it’s hot, you don’t need to wear that. They literally had to tell me what to wear, and say, “No it’s OK, you can do that.” I didn’t know right from wrong, I didn’t know what I was doing anymore. I lost all confidence, respect and trust within myself. He appealed and for about two years we went in and out of the court system in NSW. I was also in huge debt as he forced me to take out a bank loan, it was horrific, he placed a loaded gun in my mouth, and forced me to sign. I ended up paying it all off myself because getting the bank to overturn it was too hard.

I kept moving houses between all my families and luckily where I went back to was a very small community and our family was very well respected, we’d all been born and bred there, and I knew the community would look after me if he had of come into town and asked for me. So that’s virtually where I hid for the next two years while I underwent treatment to reprogram my brain and start putting my life back together.

‘Pepper, my “Grey Goose” who had been with me for many years. Together we overcame many hurdles and have brought much joy to local Indigenous youth.’

A couple of times we were going to court and I had to be kept in the room upstairs for my own safety and I thought, hang on, I’m the supposed victim — I hate that word — he’s the offender, shouldn’t he be kept aside? He knew the court and the legal system and he abused it, he milked it for all it was worth. So you know, he’d go away when the trial was coming up and he’d say he was away on work and things like that so it would get adjourned. It was exhausting. You prepare your headspace for the court battle and you teach yourself to look at what happened as a movie in black and white, and break it down, and you have got to take a lot of the emotion out so you can hold it together. He is now in jail, I was one of three women to successfully prosecute him.

One thing about the court system I really don’t like is having to face the accused in the court room. Having them sitting there, smirking and smiling and pulling faces. It’s tough. It’s tough on anyone. But I think really the legal system needs to look at that, especially if they are trying to get the most accurate information out of the victims. How do you face these people that have done horrendous things to you in a courtroom while you’re trying to give evidence? It’s just wrong.

After I left my abusive relationship, the doctor wanted to put me on an antidepressant and I said: “I’m not taking them, because it only masks what I’m going through.” I just decided that I wanted to get back into riding horses again. I was searching for my good spot in my head, and one of my good spots was when I was a child and I was riding horses out in the bush, out in the high country. So something inside me told me I needed to find that good spot again to give myself some relaxation and time, where I’m not stressed about everything that happened and worrying about the future and how to put my life back together.

What I do is use horses as the tool to deal with mental health issues. They’re just amazing animals. The medical profession might not like me for saying this but horses are one of the best psychologists out there, because they are non-verbal. When you work with horses, you work with confidence, trust and respect, and that’s something that’s missing from people these days. My love is the Indigenous community, they are the most naturally talented people when it comes to horses. I go down to the shops in Hedland here and see so many kids out of school, and we just don’t understand them. So I decided to dedicate my life now to helping to bridge the gap thanks to the power of the horse.

I had one girl I’ve been mentoring and she’s sitting down there one day and I nearly tripped over myself when I saw she had this pony, which we call the cranky pony because it kicks and bites, with its head right in her lap. This young girl looked at me and said: “It’s all right Kim, we get each other.” I stopped and thought about it and this pony was raised without a mother who rejected her at birth, and this young girl had also been rejected by most of her family. Those two just connected like magic.

When I’m feeling a lot of pressure, I’ve actually learned to be a horse and step back from it, and re-circle. I reassess and I go to my safe place, which is picturing myself out in the mountain driving and then I come back and look at the threat, and you look at it in a totally different light.

You know, we read about all the statistics about domestic violence and deaths, but we haven’t even tapped into what’s happening in the Indigenous community. (5)

Henry Sapiecha

The most dangerous time for women. Story 3of 5 Kay Schubach


Leaving an abusive relationship is the time a woman or her children are most likely to be seriously harmed or murdered by their partner.

According to the Domestic Violence Prevention centre, most women will, on average, attempt to leave an abusive relationship between five and seven times before successfully and permanently doing so. Between 25% to 31% of murders in Australia involve either spouses or sexual partners.

Here women across the country share with Guardian Australia how they left an abusive relationship, the support that helped them to regain control, and the help that was lacking when they needed it most.

Kay Schubach abuse victim image

Kay Schubach

It’s seriously like being in the scariest movie you’ve ever been in when you’re being threatened in your own home. There’s nowhere to go, there’s no escape. It’s hard to explain.

Kay Schubach

Kay Schubach is an ambassador for Domestic Violence NSW and a fundraiser for White Ribbon. She is author of the book, Perfect Stranger, about her experience of being in an abusive relationship. It took just eight weeks for her relationship with her ex-partner, who is now in jail, to escalate to a point where he tried to kill her. Schubach says once distance was placed between her and her abuser, she was able to see him for what he really was and reclaim her life.

About 10 years ago, I met a very, very, charming, sophisticated, sexy man, and I really fell for him hook, line and sinker. Part of why I fell for him so heavily and so quickly was because I was just turning 40, and I was really, really eager to have a child. When we spoke about that, he promised me that we’d have a family together and he built up this great fairy tale and it just seemed too good to be true and in fact it was.

Very, very quickly he got his hooks into my life and very, very quickly it turned from absolutely amazing and whirlwind, and then cracks started to appear and he became very emotionally abusive and very critical and more and more frightening. In the end, I knew very quickly, actually within two months, I felt my life was threatened and I was seeking help from the police, and it escalated very quickly.

It’s a kind of classic scenario. Of course at the time, you don’t realise it. You’re in love, it’s a new relationship, your pheromones are going crazy. We were whirling and twirling, he was very, very charming, and it turns out he’s got a grandiose personality disorder and narcissism. And you know, the molecules would change in the air when he walked in, and people would gravitate towards him. He had this personal power that was incredible and everyone was fooled. A-listers, personalities, QCs, everyone was fooled. I was a bit like a bunny in the spotlight. He was so dynamic that one minute, you’re on top of the world but then next minute, there’d be a flash and he’d become very critical of me and all of a sudden, I’d have done something wrong.

‘Mum and Dad: my incredible parents, still in love after 65 years.’

Then keys would go missing and just little things like that, so I started to feel quite unsteady and unstable and always blaming myself. He became very jealous and obsessive and accusatory if I got a phone call from anyone, he was critical of my friends, my family, and in the end he didn’t want me to see any of my friends so very quickly I was isolated. He made life at work very difficult, he was calling maybe 70 times a day and in the end, I lost my job. I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I thought I was going mad.

I kept thinking right up until the point where he actually smothered me in my apartment that I could fix it and I was really bewildered by what was happening and I was really ashamed to talk to any of my friends. I’d left a relationship to be with him. So I’d already alienated a few people and I’d put so much on the line to be with him that I was very embarrassed to admit this was going horribly, horribly wrong. My parents and family live interstate so they weren’t by my side so much.

In the end, I actually had tickets to go down to Melbourne which I’d had for a long time to see my girlfriends, and he did everything I could to stop me from going because he knew that I’d get away from him and have some clarity and that other people would have influence over me. He put sugar in my petrol tank, he threatened to burn my apartment, he threatened to throw all my things out the window if I left. But I did go.

I saw my sister-in-law in Melbourne and I finally confessed things were going badly and I was very, very stressed in my relationship and that I was probably going to lose my job. I was also pregnant to him by this stage, though I lost the baby, and I wasn’t feeling well, I was completely turned upside down. My sister-in-law grabbed me by the shoulders and said: “Kay, you can do this. Solve it like you would solve a problem at work, and go to work on this. Get the removalists in, change the lease, change the locks, call the police and get some help. Just do it.” The light bulb went off in my head, and I felt: “I have to do this or I’m going to die.” It sounds like really dramatic now, but it’s seriously like being in the scariest movie you’ve ever been in when you’re being threatened in your own home. There’s nowhere to go, there’s no escape. It’s hard to explain.

‘The emerald city. Off to visit my parents. I love photographing Sydney.’

‘On Channel 7’s Daily Edition. Speaking about domestic violence empowers me, knowing I’m helping change public perception of who it affects.’

He was always in my ear, the phone was going a hundred times a day when I wasn’t with him. He was always confusing my thoughts, telling me I was wrong and making it up and also, my self esteem had eroded so quickly. So even just having a couple of days away from him was a real breath of fresh air, and having that clear calm voice of a family member was really amazing.

When I was at the airport I called the real-estate agent and said “I need to break the lease.” I called the police and said, “I’m going to move out and I need help, and I need you to be there when I do it, it’s a really dangerous time for me.” I called the removalist vans and booked a storage unit. I didn’t know what my long-term plan was, but I knew it was critical to get out of there.

When I started to, you know, wriggle out from his control, that’s a very, very dangerous time and that’s when domestic violence is about power and control and when you start to change that dynamic, you know you can really, really raise a lot of problems. So you have to be very, very careful. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got someone around you if you’re at that point, make sure the police know that that’s what you’re doing or someone knows that’s what you’re doing. Have spare keys, have some money somewhere, try and get another phone if you can, even have some clothes at the drycleaner, a little emergency bag to take somewhere, even know the number for a taxi in case you lose your phone. There’s lots of things you need to think about doing, but if you have to leave the house with nothing when you go, you have to have a fire plan.

I would say you must reach out and talk about your fears even if it’s obliquely with girlfriends, just say things aren’t right at home. Bring it up and then at least if someone’s raised a bit of a flag with a girlfriend, if you have to make a call and then hang up really quickly, they might just understand that you’ve got a problem and reach out. Don’t let fear, embarrassment and shame stand in the way.

Kay Schubach

I moved down to a friend’s house down on the south coast and I physically put distance behind us. He was really cajoling and coaxing on the phone, and trying to find out where I was. It’s so hard to resist that, it’s a very hard time to leave something that you’ve built and to just walk away from that. It really takes all the resolve that you have.

On average, a woman will put up with 37 cases of abuse, of being hit or being violated in some way, before they leave, and we’re only just realising that‘s what happens. We’re sometimes not very supportive of people in domestic violence situations. We don’t understand the dynamics, and it’s a big learning curve for all of the community to understand that it’s a very, very difficult thing to break those ties.

Your relationship is kind of sacrosanct, and you want to hang on to that at all costs. You’ve invested a lot, even if it’s dysfunctional. You may have lived together, you’ve extended love, you’ve extended trust. You might have children, you might have a shared life. It might be for two months in my case, or it might be for 20 years, so you’ve got a huge investment there. That’s very hard to walk away from.

The other thing that happens in domestic violence cases that’s very, very common is your self esteem gets eroded. In my case, that happened very quickly but sometimes it’s a long, slow erosion. I’ve seen incredibly strong, beautiful, forthright women get completely … they disintegrate into a shell of themselves. They don’t even know who they are anymore. They have trouble getting out of the house, they have trouble putting on makeup, getting dressed. They’ve just lost all sense of themselves.

There’s a real sense of stigma and shame and embarrassment about speaking out about this, so we’ve got to make it more accessible so that people understand that this is a problem, this is happening to a lot of women and across all sectors, all races, all demographics, all suburbs, all ages. (3)<<<< CLICK ON THE PIC

Henry Sapiecha

‘Targie the supercat. So dear to me.’

‘This house near Bordeaux, belonging to my friends, is where I recovered from cancer and wrote my book.’

I would say you must reach out and talk about your fears even if its obliquely with girlfriends, just say things aren’t right at home. Bring it up and then at least if someone’s raised a bit of a flag with a girlfriend, if you have to make a call and then hang up really quickly, they might just understand that you’ve got a problem and reach out. Don’t let fear, embarrassment and shame stand in the way. And if someone says to you look I’m worried you know there are people who are looking out for you so do understand that people are there for your sake.

Also the police were great for me as well. When I did actually put my hand up and go to the police station they realised the gravity of the situation and I felt that they reached out, grabbed my hand and were not going to let go until they knew I was safe.

Every time I speak that empowers me, and helps me explain what happened in my mind to myself. I know that I’m doing good for other women and hoping to enact on social change so we can change this social paradigm, it’s very cathartic and empowering. I am in a really good place and the work that I do to give back … that’s really important, giving back.

I think we need to help empower women who are recovering from domestic violence. Women have so much to contribute and sometimes they just need a hand to get into that position. All women have got it — it’s just a matter of not being encumbered by violence and fear.


The most dangerous time for women. Story 2of 5 Faliana Lee


Leaving an abusive relationship is the time a woman or her children are most likely to be seriously harmed or murdered by their partner.

According to the Domestic Violence Prevention centre, most women will, on average, attempt to leave an abusive relationship between five and seven times before successfully and permanently doing so. Between 25% to 31% of murders in Australia involve either spouses or sexual partners.

Here women across the country share with Guardian Australia how they left an abusive relationship, the support that helped them to regain control, and the help that was lacking when they needed it most.

Faliana Lee abuse victim image

Faliana Lee

We want to make amends for the relationship to move forward, but the fact is, we are never moving forward. I don’t know how many times I tried to change myself to make things work. I was in a loop, and it was never ending, and eventually you lose a sense of your own identity. So when I left the relationship, I couldn’t even cry. I found grieving very difficult.

Faliana Lee

Faliana Lee is the author of Carving A Piece of Heaven, which documents her leaving story after almost two decades of being physically and emotionally abused. Lee now works voluntarily as an advocate for Womens Health East, to lobby the government for policies to speed up recovery for victims.

I was in a violent relationship for 18 years. At the beginning of the marriage, the first half of the first year, there weren’t any episodes of violence or abuse. After half a year, things started to happen.

Initially, it was things like, we’d have to travel to Sydney but for the whole trip I wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet. Violence and abuse is a form of control. He actually would not hide abuse from the children, sometimes he would have outbursts in front of them and, somehow, I still believed it was better for me to stay for the good of the children, not knowing that for children who witness the abuse it’s as if they experience it themselves.

When you’re in the relationship for a long time, you lose your identity. You believe in the lies you were told. We don’t believe in our ability to live an independent life.

You don’t get much sense of freedom and, on average, it takes a woman seven times to leave a relationship for good. I lost the support of my own family, and friends. It’s about trying to form a new circle of friends around you for support.

The emotional abuse gradually became more intense, and then the physical abuse set in. One of the things abusers tend to do is to isolate us from the community as well, so it’s harder for us to seek help in many ways and over time, we believe in their lies.

‘Sanctuary at St Kilda beach. The smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves as they approach the shore calm me down when I have a problem relaxing.’

‘I’ve read my Bible almost every night since I was young. It brings me comfort knowing God cares for me no matter how big is the storm.’

And then, there is the shame factor in the whole abuse. So we find it very hard to open up to anyone. I did have friends at work, a colleague, she was in that type of situation before but then she realised what was happening to me, because over time, it will get so stressful that you develop the physical symptoms, even though you try to ignore it.

Eventually, your body will accumulate enough stress that it manifests itself in physical symptoms. I suffered from excessive bleeding and chronic fatigue, and when that happened, my colleague picked it up because she was in a similar situation before. She was trying to offer me support but it’s very hard for some of us to open up even with people who identify with you, with your suffering, and with your feelings. So I didn’t take the support. I tried to find [a] way to solve the problem on my own. But you’ll never be able to do it alone. Eventually, the stress meant I was forced to leave my job as a tax accountant.

I think before I made the final decision to leave my partner permanently, I attempted four [times]. After each scenario, when he showed remorse and the children wanted to go back home, then you sort of felt like that is the way to move forward but unfortunately like, you look back at what happened … the situation doesn’t improve over time. I think what made my final decision to leave permanent is because my life was threatened and prior to that, there were times where I had conversations with my older son where I said I would stay, as long as it was safe to do so. But if my life was ever threatened, then we had to leave.

And there are things people can see, if you pay attention to us. Sometimes like, there will be times that we seem to struggle emotionally no matter how bravely we want to put ourselves forward. No matter how hard we try to hide our bruises, there could be visible signs that we’ve been abused.

Faliana Lee

We were actually kicked out by my ex from home in the middle of the night. He went to the kids room, woke them up in the middle of the night, and we were kicked out of our home. I think [it was because] earlier that evening, I had a conversation with him because our Christian counselling session was coming up and usually what happened before a counselling session was, he would work me up to a stage that when I went to the counsellors office he would act like the calm and the more trustworthy partner in the relationship and I would be more hysterical, so to speak.

Somehow, he always got the counsellor to side with him. So I think I found it very difficult to cope anymore, so I refused [to go to the counselling session] and [mentioned] the fact that I was thinking of leaving. All was well until we went to bed, and all of a sudden he pushed me off the bed and then he said I had to leave.

During the time when you leave, the abuser will try to make it [seem] as if you have overreacted so they will give you excuses and say, like, it’s because you act that way I responded that way, you know, and it’s not really a big matter. But in your eyes at that time because you are all emotional you feel really bad about the situation. That’s why many women find it hard to resist the urge [to go back] because we always feel it’s our fault, [that] we are partially to blame.

We want to make amends for the relationship to move forward, but the fact is, we are never moving forward. I don’t know how many times I tried to change myself to make things work. I was in a loop, and it was never ending, and eventually you lose a sense of your own identity. So when I left the relationship, I couldn’t even cry. I found grieving very difficult.

My message to women out there who are struggling, I would say to seek help. No one can understand your situation if they are not professionals, they can’t offer you a safe way to leave. Without outside help, there’s no way you can turn the tide around in your favour and improve your situation. It’s very hard for those in a relationship to continue this struggle on their own, so whether you decide to leave or not, phone the helpline or phone a support group. I think that way you don’t feel isolated.

‘The night blooming cereus is a cactus flower that blooms at night and withers the next morning. That reminds me time is short, we should not dwell in the past.’

‘Refuge at the botanic gardens. I love the gum tree. I often climb the tree and rest my head on its branches.’

And there are things people can see, if you pay attention to us. Sometimes like, there will be times that we seem to struggle emotionally no matter how bravely we want to put ourselves forward. No matter how hard we try to hide our bruises, there could be visible signs that we’ve been abused. Recording the date of the episode, if you find yourself suspicious [that someone is being abused] may help us down the track.

Even though I’m completely recovered, there will be days without any trigger at all when something will come up, that emotion will come up. Even though we are out of the relationship, our system is still engaged with that feeling, so it’s really hard at the start to actually try to focus on the present. Even without consciously doing it, my thoughts will either go into the past or worry about the future. You have to learn ways to heal yourself, meditation, exercise, trying to spend time with your friends or finding a new group of friends who are supportive, find a counsellor, if your counsellor is not working with you, don’t be hesitant to change to someone who will be supportive.

One of the things you get from complete recovery is you get your identity back and you have a sense of freedom, and what that allows me to do is use my time more efficiently. So last year I finished my book, I ran as an upper-house candidate in the state election in Victoria. Without recovery, I wouldn’t have been able to do all that. I think that is what recovery is all about. (9)

Henry Sapiecha

The most dangerous time for women. Story 1of 5 Roia Atmar


Leaving an abusive relationship is the time a woman or her children are most likely to be seriously harmed or murdered by their partner.

According to the Domestic Violence Prevention centre, most women will, on average, attempt to leave an abusive relationship between five and seven times before successfully and permanently doing so. Between 25% to 31% of murders in Australia involve either spouses or sexual partners.

Here women across the country share with Guardian Australia how they left an abusive relationship, the support that helped them to regain control, and the help that was lacking when they needed it most.

Roia Atmar abuse victim image

Roia Atmar

I had no idea police would get involved and care, or anybody else would care. If I knew I had the option, I would have left a long time ago. That was one of the main reasons I did not attempt leaving him. When I found out I could leave, it was after he tried to kill me and I was in hospital.

Roia Atmar

Roia Atmar has a fulfilling job with the Patricia Giles centre in Western Australia, which provides emergency accommodation and support to women and children. Almost 20 years ago, Roia was hospitalised for three months after her then husband doused her in turpentine and set her on fire. She suffered horrific injuries – but it was in the hospital that she realised for the first time she could leave her abuser, thanks to the vigilance of staff and the support of her family. She says she received excellent support from police and social workers, and that it is possible to find happiness after abuse.

My family never knew about the abuse until I was in hospital because my ex would portray me as the best thing on the planet that happened to him, that he loved and adored me and we had a perfect family – so that’s what everybody thought. And he never left me alone with anyone, so I couldn’t talk to them. I was also quite outspoken as a child, so people thought if something was wrong, I would speak up.

We were married for about five years. He was quite controlling from the moment we met, but the abuse really started after I had my first child, and it just escalated from there and got worse.

I had no idea I had the option of leaving. I got married at 14, and came to Australia [from Afghanistan] about three days later, so I had no family or friends here. The only people I was allowed contact with was his family. I wasn’t allowed to go to school and have a job, and the story he was feeding me and the children was he could do anything he wanted to us, because he was the one working, the husband, and paying the bills, even though we were on Centrelink.

I had no idea police would get involved and care, or anybody else would care. If I knew I had the option, I would have left a long time ago. That was one of the main reasons I did not attempt leaving him. When I found out I could leave, it was after he tried to kill me and I was in hospital.

But when I did find out, I made up my mind and never, ever went back.

I was in hospital when my family thought something wasn’t right. By this time my mother, brother and uncle were living in Australia. They spoke with a hospital social worker, who told them the story my then husband was telling them about how I was burned. He told hospital staff that my scarf had caught on fire while I was warming myself, as I’m a Muslim. What he actually did was pour turpentine on me and set me on fire.

We asked the domestic violence survivors interviewed for this project to tell us their ‘safe places’ – places, memories or mementoes that made them feel secure

‘For my places I wanted to say in Perth and Australia as a whole. My photos are of the High Court and Kings Park. The court is I guess about law and order and how the system has been great to us and taken care of us. And Kings Park, as in Perth, being our home.’ Roia Atmar

My family got the hospital social worker to come and talk to me, but when he talked to me, my ex was there. He was there all the time, and he would only leave the hospital after I fell asleep, even though he had his own room in another unit. He would speak for me if anyone asked me questions. He lied, telling them he had to be in the room according to our religion.

The social worker told him he only wanted to talk to me about my children, and he would come to talk to him as well, and eventually convinced him to leave my room. But he was watching me through the window. Luckily, the social worker realised, and he got up, shut the blinds, and then asked me if I needed help.

I said even if I did need help, there was nothing he could do. I told him if my husband became suspicious he would kill me, or get someone from his family to take my kids back to Afghanistan and I would never see them again. The social worker told me he would get the police to talk to me and tell me exactly what my rights were.

A police officer came and explained what a restraining order was and how police could help me go through the family courts, and arrange for my mother to take care of the children while I was in hospital. I didn’t believe her. I didn’t know there was such thing as a family court to help people like me.

Then my mum rang and said, “I have your kids”. It was the first time I realised: “Oh God, somebody cares, the police really are helping me.” My mum told me to tell her exactly what happened, and when I told her, she didn’t go to my ex to get his side of the story, she trusted what I said and told me how we were going to make a plan together and what she would do then and there to help me.

It was then I decided I was not going back, ever. I gave my statement to police and we had an intervention order taken out against him, and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, though he was eligible for parole after five.

For a while, my family and I did move to another state, but I realised I didn’t want my daughters especially to think that we had done something wrong, that we were being forced to move. Western Australia was home to me, it had been since I was 14, so we came back. I have a restraining order still in place and a lot of security in my house.

A lot of partner homicides happen when women try to leave, and it’s not an easy decision to make. I would encourage women to put a lot of support in place and make a safe plan for themselves before they leave, and find out what agencies are there to help them.

But I think the responsibility falls on the community as a whole, not just refuge staff or social workers or police. We must believe women. She knows the situation best. Understanding and trusting women is one of the most important things society can offer to create safety for a woman and help make her decision to leave that bit easier.

I now celebrate where I am at in life, I’ve accomplished all the things that I wanted to, and I’m very proud of all I have done since I left my ex, and I am very proud of my children and our family. I feel safe now, and I feel secure. (8)

Henry Sapiecha

Feminism is not a dirty word-Equality is the preferred norm for humanity

trish about feminissim image

IT’S FASCINATING to watch people’s reactions to the word feminism. Even with reading the opening sentence of this column, I bet I’ve already had a couple of eye rolls. Which is almost the entire reason for it to be such an interesting, and often frustrating subject.

This week I’ve read a few articles discussing the topic of feminism, and it’s people’s response to it that always has me intrigued.

What exactly is feminism? I’ve studied the subject as part of criminology, but I still can’t determine what is the difference between a feminist and an individual who just believes in us being equal?

I am a woman, so of course I’m going to be an advocate of women’s rights.

I’ve also worked in two very different environments, from policing to writing romance novels. They couldn’t be on further ends of the spectrum when it comes to a gender predominant industry. So I feel like I’m qualified enough to say that from my experience, I’ve seen that women can do things just as well as men can, and vice versa. I’ve worked under some high-ranking female commanders, and know some incredible male romance writers, both have achieved huge success in their field. We are actually all able to achieve the same things in life, regardless of our chromosome make-up. So does this make me a feminist or is it just that I have a basic understanding of equality?

Even the brilliant director George Miller, when asked about having strong female heroines in his latest Mad Max movie, danced around the topic of feminism without completely admitting to being pro-women. Despite it being an extremely clever concept, he brushed off the premise by saying that it wasn’t really intended to be a feminist movie, and it just kind of happened that way. Why is it so difficult to just say “why not?”

American singer Taylor Swift has also made some bold statements about feminism in a Maxim magazine article, after being named as the top talent in women for 2015. Her comments seem years ahead of her tender age, but are so poignant to the subject.

It’s all too easy to look away and accept things for what they are, but there’s no room for progress if society continues to ignore facts about double standards.

As my husband always points out to me, his beloved sci-fi novels always have the female commanders of the future referred to as “sir”, just the same as the men are. Let’s hope this is a prediction of future society.




Henry Sapiecha

Women march in Washington D.C. in defence of abortion rights.

Purvi Patel has been jailed over charges of feticide and neglect after what she said was a miscarriage.

Why Purvi Patel’s imprisonment matters for all women

Purvi Patel has been jailed over charges of feticide and neglect after what she said was a miscarriage.

After the fallout from Indiana’s new legislation allowing discrimination against gay people, you’d think the American state would be looking to redeem itself in the public eye. But no, that would require just a little more humanity than it seems the folks in power over there have to give. I mean, why exercise understanding and compassion when you can be intolerant and hateful?

In keeping with that spectacular recommendation, Indiana this week emerged as the first American state to send a woman to jail for “an attempted self-abortion”. During the trial, prosecutors argued 33-year-old Purvi Patel had ordered drugs online to help facilitate a miscarriage and had taken them towards the end of her second trimester. They then contended that Patel had given birth to a live fetus before abandoning it in a dumpster.

Women march in Washington D.C. in 2004, in defence of abortion rights. A decade on, the issue burns as brightly as ever.

Women march in Washington D.C. in 2004, in defence of abortion rights. A decade on, the issue burns as brightly as ever.

Despite the unreliability of much of the state’s evidence (a toxicologist testified there was no trace of abortifacient drugs found in Patel’s system), it took jurors less than five hours to find Patel guilty of the contradictory crimes of ‘feticide’ and ‘neglect of a child’. On Monday, she was sentenced to 30 years in jail. Ten of those years have been suspended, meaning she now faces an incarceration period of 20 years.

There are a number of issues going on here, not least of which is that reproductive health care laws in the United States are informed by terrifying misogyny and classism. Patel is not the first woman to be jailed for what essentially amounts to a miscarriage and it’s doubtful she’ll be the last. As legislative bodies around the country introduce more and more restrictive laws around the whys, hows and whens women are entitled to seek terminations, cases like Patel’s will become more commonplace. And, as has always been the case in a social system where money and privilege opens doors, it will be marginalised women who bear the full brunt of such horrendous discrimination and dictatorial patriarchy.

Let’s be honest. Throughout history, it has never been the rich, white women who’ve been sent to jail for ending pregnancies they either didn’t want or had thrust upon them. Women of colour, poor women, disabled women, immigrant women – these are the people who will be confined to jail cells because they have even fewer options for support and medical assistance available to them in a system already predisposed to discard them.

As Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), said in commentary published in Think Progress, “What this prosecution makes clear is that not only is abortion being recriminalised in America, but that the women themselves – not just the people who perform abortions on them – can be arrested, investigated, prosecuted and sent to jail for 20 or more years.”

But, in an almost dystopian execution of laws purely designed to reinforce a conservative notion of women as incubators with secondary personhood, this grotesque bastardisation of the judicial system has already been used to punish women for having miscarriages or stillbirths. Before Patel there was Rennie Gibbs, who was just 16-years-old when she delivered a stillborn baby before being arrested on charges of murder. She faced life in prison before a judge dismissed the charges against her. Before that, there was Amanda Kimbrough. Kimbrough’s fourth child was born prematurely in 2008 and tragically died 19 minutes after birth. While still grieving her child’s loss, Kimbrough was arrested and charged with ‘chemical endangerment’. Prosecutors contended that Kimbrough, like Rennie, had caused harm to her child by consuming drugs during her pregnancy, a claim Kimbrough disputed. And, back in Indiana, in 2011 Chinese immigrant Bei Bei Shuai was arrested and imprisoned for more than year after an attempted suicide resulted in the death of a fetus she was carrying while sparing her own life.

When presented with the question of punitive justice, anti-choice protestors have largely argued against punishment for childbearers. Opposition to abortion is not, they have stressed, about punishing vulnerable people but about criminalising what they call the ‘abortion industry’. But, despite fetal homicide laws (which exist in at least 38 US states and which we are at dangerous risk of being introduced into parts of Australia) ostensibly being designed to protect unborn fetuses from third party assaults on childbearers (particularly from violent partners), their execution has been rather more terrifying. According to NAPW, by 2011 in South Carolina there had been 300 childbearers arrested as a result of fetal homicide laws. In contrast, only one man had been charged.

Listen. We will never stop the practice of terminating unwanted pregnancies. As long as there are people who can become pregnant, there will be people who seek to end those pregnancies. Criminalising the fundamental rights of women (and men with biologically female bodies) to control their own reproductive systems is an act that cannot be tolerated in a society that claims to oppose totalitarianism. There is no shortage of irony in the fact that the vast majority of people opposed to reproductive freedoms are critical of government intervention in so-called ‘private’ matters like socialised healthcare and religion in schools.

There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Comprehensive, widespread access to abortion saves women’s lives. The rarity of their occurrence is a caveat that gets thrown around by people whose public opinions are constrained by political concerns. Every person of childbearing capability has the right to determine their own reproductive choices.

Abortions should be safe, legal, widely accessible and, most importantly, nobody else’s business. And until women like Purvi Patel are free, none of us will be.

So what happens when your kids walk in on you & you’re sprung

Tracey Spicer: "We'd avoided sex for a year for fear of being sprung. (Actually, that's not true. We were just too buggered to be bothered, most of the time.)"

Tracey Spicer: “We’d avoided sex for a year for fear of being sprung. (Actually, that’s not true. We were just too buggered to be bothered, most of the time.)”

As a child, there’s nothing more disgusting than learning about sex. I’m reminded of this while watching a hilarious video of parents asking kids, “So, where do babies come from?”

A five-year-old boy points to his Mum’s lap, saying, “There’s some kind of hole here, like an ig-a-loo.” When asked about how her aunty had a baby, one young girl declares, “It came out of her butt.”

A third, when prompted with, “You know the place between Mummy’s legs?” answers confidently, “Oh, the van-gina!”

Soon there’s a panoply of parents umming and ahhing about a “special dance” they do “under the sheets” with “no clothes on”. “That’s really disgusting, you know,” says a boy, crinkling his nose. Others bury their faces in their hands, or cover their ears, when they discover how the penis gets into the vagina.

We were forced to fast-track The Talk after our five-year-old daughter walked in on us. To be fair, we’d avoided sex for a year for fear of being sprung. (Actually, that’s not true. We were just too buggered to be bothered, most of the time.)

It happened during a family holiday in a small cabin on the NSW Central Coast. (You know, near The Entrance, yuk yuk. Benny Hill, eat your heart out.) Hubby and I thought the kids were watching cartoons, until we heard a small squeak. Yep, we’d forgotten to lock the bedroom door.

“Oh, I’m sure she didn’t see anything,” hubby reasoned. “And if she did, she wouldn’t have known what it was.” Wrong. Within minutes, Grace was in the room, giggling: “Hee-hee, you had scissor legs, Mummy. Was Daddy squashing you?”

“Er, no, darling, we were just having a cuddle,” I answered. “Do you want some chocolate?”

Gotta love distraction.

Sadly, the seed had been planted (in her mind, not my belly, I mean). So, on another holiday several years later, with the kids aged seven and nine, we decided to have The Talk.

There’s none of this “When a man and a woman love each other very much…” because, hey, it’s 2015, not 1915. And there are no euphemisms, like “pocket” for vagina or “thingy” for penis. And we don’t delve into details from the Kama Sutra.

It’s somewhat of a science lesson, involving sperm fertilising an egg, which implants in the uterus, forming an embryo. In order to do this, the penis must enter the vagina. Fortunately, they seem satisfied. Unlike me, when I misconceived my parents’ explanation.

I had it in my head that the man deposits his sperm on the bed and the woman sits on it. Kinda like a bird with its eggs. For years, I refused to sit on any man’s bed for fear of being impregnated. Thus began a series of unfortunate events, culminating in my first sexual experience at the age of 17.

As I was unable to sit on Eamonn’s bed – for obvious reasons – our early dates were destined to be in the back seat of a 1966 Toyota Corolla. Still, I managed to convince young Eamonn to come to my house one afternoon for a private viewing of the movie, The Blue Lagoon.

As Brooke Shields’ character, Emmeline, says to Richard, “You’re always staring at my buppies”, I made my move. Mimicking something I’d heard at school, I asked, “So, how about a root?” in a way I hoped was both sassy and sexy. (I am the queen of romance. Just ask my husband.)

I shan’t soil your minds with images of the spectacle that followed.

I suspect my children will face a similar fate. After all, whose first time is a bed of roses? But at least they’ll be able to use the appropriate terms, rather than, “Hey Mum, just taking my van-gina for a spin!”

I’m re-reading the classics at the moment. (Yes, I am a nerd. *Adjusts glasses*.) The latest is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë or, should I say, Mr Ellis Bell, because female authors weren’t taken seriously at the time. The novel challenges the strict Victorian standards for women, exploring their egregious disempowerment, and I love the main character, Catherine, a “shape-shifting, Gothic demon”, according to feminist author Ellen Moers. Gotta love a woman like that.

Aside from my usual diet of ABC TV’s 7.30 and Four Corners (see nerd confession, above), I’m waiting for the new series of Game of Thrones and House of Cards. Despite being middle-aged suburbanites, my hubby and I have taken to binge-watching these shows. Frankly, they’re our heroin. In fact, the kids have been known to berate us in the morning with, “You’re overtired because you stayed up all night watching that show about boobies” in the case of the former. I hasten to add that we enjoy the political machinations in both series, not just the boobies.

To continue my frabjous* frolic in old and new media at Sky News, Fairfax, The Hoopla and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. But my abiding passion is convening Women in Media, a networking and mentoring group aimed at amplifying female voices in the industry.

*One of my favourite words, a blend of fair, fabulous and joyous, from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.


Henry Sapiecha

Stop putting female content in the corner

Sarah Homewood, AdNews journalist

Social media lit up this week with the news that much-loved female news and opinion site The Hoopla was closing. This was promptly followed by the news that News Corp was launching its own female-focused news website.

Hoopla co-founder Wendy Harmer said that international players coming into the market with endless funds was what put her out of business. The players she’s referring to are the likes of Mail Online recently hiring a Femail editor for the Australian market, News now entering the fray, and further afield to the US, startups eyeing Australia, as Neil Ackand, Sound Alliance CEO alluded to in his feature in the 20 Feb issue of AdNews.

However there are many local players without a global brand name and back account, doing swimmingly off the female dollar. Mia Freedman’s Mamamia empire is an example, as well as Fairfax’s The Daily Life.

I would argue, though, that it’s oversaturation rather than global players, which led to The Hoopla closing its doors.

Publishers are more likely to pile into female-focused content – and you can see why. Women are big bucks to advertisers and publishers. It might make commercial sense to separate female-based content, and male-focussed content, for that matter, but is it what’s best for the audience?

After high school, and except in public bathrooms – excluding trendy clubs that think unisex toilets are a good idea – there is rarely a situation when men and women are separated. It doesn’t make sense. So why separate content?

Other than the commercial benefits, I honestly can’t wrap my head around it.

Publishers still do what the first edition of The Australian did 50 years ago – it had a women’s interest section called “Mainly for Women”. I struggle to spot the difference.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the content. I read The Daily Life and am a subscriber to the Mamamia newsletter, I am a young female in the demographic that these publishers and their advertisers want to target.

What would make me more more engaged with a publisher’s content and want to spend money with their advertisers is if I logged onto a home page and saw content that speaks to me. Publishers will rush to say: “We do that already.” And some do. But then why do all major publishers host their female-focused content on separate parts of the site?

I don’t believe there is any such thing as a women’s (or a man’s) issue, they’re all people issues. So if publishers want to talk to – and profit from – female audiences, treat them like people and don’t hide them a in a far corner of your website.

Did we learn nothing from Dirty Dancing?


Henry Sapiecha

Sex bias case will embolden women despite verdict in this silicone valley saga

Experts: Sex bias case will embolden women despite verdict

llen Pao, center, walks to Civic Center Courthouse in San Francisco, Friday, March 27, 2015. The jury are due back in court on Friday in Pao’s lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Pao says the firm discriminated against her because she was a woman and then retaliated by denying her a promotion and firing her when she complained about gender bias. Kleiner Perkins denies the allegations. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A long legal battle over accusations that a prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm demeaned women and held them to a different standard than their male colleagues became a flashpoint in the ongoing discussion about gender inequity at elite technology and venture capital firms.

Though Ellen Pao lost her lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Silicon Valley observers say her case and the attention it received will embolden women in the industry and continue to spur firms to examine their practices and cultures for gender bias.

“This case has been a real wake up call for the technology industry in general and the venture capital community in particular,” said Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford University who teaches gender equity law.

The jury of six men and six women rejected all of Pao’s claims against Kleiner Perkins on Friday, determining the firm did not discriminate against her because she is a woman and did not retaliate against her by failing to promote her and firing her after she filed a sex discrimination complaint.

In making their case during the five-week trial, Pao’s attorneys presented a long list of alleged indignities to which their client was subjected: an all-male dinner at the home of Vice President Al Gore; a book of erotic poetry from a partner; being asked to take notes like a secretary at a meeting; being cut out of emails and meetings by a male colleague with whom she broke off an affair; and talk about pornography aboard a private plane.


But the heart of their argument was that Pao was an accomplished junior partner who was passed over for a promotion and fired because the firm used different standards to judge men and women.

Kleiner Perkins’ attorney, Lynne Hermle, countered that Pao failed as an investor at the company and sued to get a big payout as she was being shown the door. They used emails and testimony from the firm’s partners to dispute Pao’s claims and paint her as a chronic complainer who twisted facts and circumstances in her lawsuit and had a history of conflicts with colleagues that contributed to the decision to let her go.

Rhode and other experts say Kleiner Perkins and the venture capital industry in general did not come out looking good even though they won the case.

“Venture capital firms recognize it’s not appropriate to be out in the streets celebrating,” said Freada Kapor Klein, founder of the Level Playing Field Institute, a nonprofit that aims to boost minority representation in science, technology, engineering and math fields. “They don’t have the moral high ground.”

Even before the Pao trial started, a succession of employment statistics released during the past 10 months brought the technology industry’s lack of diversity into sharper focus.

Women hold just 15 percent to 20 percent of the technology jobs at Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo, according to company disclosures. The data were mortifying for an industry that has positioned itself as a meritocracy where intelligence and ingenuity are supposed to be more important than appearances or connections.

The venture capital industry is even more male-dominated, with a study released last year by Babson College in Massachusetts finding that women filled just 6 percent of partner-level positions at 139 venture capital firms in 2013, down from 10 percent in 1999.

Klein said before the verdict she was contacted by more than a dozen venture capital and technology companies asking how they could improve the environment as a result of the Pao case. She expects some firms will be “smug” after the verdict and do little to change for fear of being dragged through the mud while others will step up.

The attention surrounding the case makes it more likely other women who believe they have been discriminated against will go to court, said David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc., a human resources consulting and contracting firm. Two women who formerly worked at Facebook and Twitter filed gender discrimination cases against the companies during the Pao trial. One of Pao’s attorneys, Therese Lawless, is representing the plaintiff in the Facebook lawsuit.

At the very least, Pao’s suit will prompt more women to open up about their experiences in the workplace, said Nicole Sanchez, founder of Vaya Consulting, which tries to help Silicon Valley companies increase diversity.

“I do see a trend now in the name of Ellen Pao,” Sanchez said, pointing to the Twitter hashtag, “ThankYouEllenPao” that popped up as the verdict came in. “Women in technology are telling their stories.”


Henry Sapiecha

Monica Lewinsky: The price of shame her story on video as she speaks out

Published on 20 Mar 2015

In 1998, says Monica Lewinsky, “I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” Today, the kind of online public shaming she went through has become a constant. In a brave talk, she takes a look at our “culture of humiliation,” in which online shame equals dollar signs — and demands a different way.


Henry Sapiecha

WOMEN WITH AMBITIONS HAVE FLAT HEADS Dame Stephanie Shirley says in this video presentation

Stephanie Shirley is the most successful tech entrepreneur you never heard of. In the 1960s, she founded a pioneering all-woman software company in the UK, which was ultimately valued at $3 billion, making millionaires of 70 of her team members. In this frank and often hilarious talk, she explains why she went by “Steve,” how she upended the expectations of the time, and shares some sure-fire ways to identify ambitious women …

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Henry Sapiecha