This year I am celebrating International Women’s Day whilst travelling at a conference in Australia. I’m attending the Learning Analytics and Knowledge conference in Sydney and am enjoying spending time with many wonderful women colleagues and their stimulating ideas.
The conference is being held in the SMC Conference Centre, which sounds entirely bland and innocuous. I was rather surprised then upon arrival to discover that “SMC” means Sydney Masonic Center. Our conference is being held in a Freemason’s hall, and not a historic one. There is a collection of recent pictures of white men wearing gold chains on the walls, glossy magazines, and even a helpful leaflet that explains why, by virtue of simply being a woman, I cannot be a Freemason.
It is a strange experience to be at a conference where there is highly visible and vocal leadership emphasising the importance of diversity and inclusivity, and recognition of the importance of International Women’s Day from panelists and from the President of SoLAR (Stephanie Teasley), yet be confronted visibly with the signs and symbols of structural exclusion whilst I drink my conference coffee. Part of me feels that there is no better place to be visibly celebrating #IWD18, and part of me still feels weird.
I’m also keeping tabs on activities back home in Scotland. #IWD18 falls on one of the UCU strike days and many of my colleagues are out on strike, protesting to save our pension schemes. As is sadly often the case, the proposed changes to the pension scheme have a disproportionately negative effect on women. Melissa and Lorna have both written blog posts for the occasion. Since my conference trip had been planned for some time, I felt there was little point in my striking as the effect of withdrawing my labour wouldn’t be disruptive and would simply save my institution the cost of my salary. Instead I am attending my conference and using that salary to make payments into the strike fund in the hope that it will afford other colleagues the ability to strike.
One of the highlights of #IWD back home is our Wikipedia editathon where we write biographies for notable women missing from Wikipedia. I’m sad not to be there, but of course I can edit Wikipedia from anywhere in the world because the internet and open knowledge, so I’ve found myself an exciting Australian gal (I have discovered that in Australia there have been 11,317 notable men, but only 1,591 notable women*). Turns out I’ve picked well. I’m working on a Wikipedia biography** for Muriel Agnes Heagney – feminist, trade unionist, and lifetime campaigner for equal pay. In researching her I have also discovered that she was a strong supporter of International Women’s Day in Australia in the 1930’s.
Well-known feminists and labor movement activists associated themselves with IWD during these years, including: Jessie Street (United Associations of Women), Ruby Rich (Federation of Women Voters), Kate Dwyer (labor movement activist), Muriel Heagney (founder of the Council of Action for Equal Pay in 1937), Eileen Powell (first woman industrial advocate), Nerida Cohen (at the time NSW’s only woman barrister), and others already mentioned. (A history of International Women’s Day in words and images)
It hasn’t escaped my attention that I’ve chosen to write about an Australian of European descent. The SMC Conference centre, along with most of Sydney, occupies Gadigal land. I am considering some very complex questions about just exactly what solidarity means today.
*according to the Australian Dictionary of National Biography.
**currently in Wikipedia Draft space here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft:Muriel_Agnes_Heagney
(Picture taken by me. No rights reserved.)