Youth activist, Lottie speaks up about sexism and discrimination for International Day of the Girl!
On Friday 11 October, youth activist, Lottie Frohmader made a presentation via Skype to Save the Children for International Day of the Girl Child.
Lottie is a young woman living in Hobart, who identifies as having a psychosocial disability and is passionate about fighting the injustices that still face young women and girls in 2019.
I would first like to say thank you to Cashelle and all the staff at Save the Children for inviting me to speak on this very special day, International Day of the Girl. This day serves as a reminder for all of us to recognise the accomplishments of the girls around us and all over the world, and to acknowledge just how far we’ve come in the fight for gender equality and human rights. However, amidst celebration, it is also a reminder of how far we’ve yet to go, and the continued fight for equality which awaits us.
We’ve undoubtedly made significant progress, thanks to the pioneering feminists who have come before us – such as Audre Lorde, who advocated against injustice in all its forms, and Tarana Burke, who founded the MeToo movement in order to eradicate sexual assault and harassment and to promote, as she writes, “empowerment through empathy” (Burke, cited in Murray, 2017)
I really resonate with Tarana’s words – for I think that through storytelling and by empathising with someone else, we can foster positive and meaningful change. So I thought, as a girl, I would tell you one of my experiences where I first became aware of how gender inequality manifests, and how even in Australia, our patriarchal society and its male-centric ways of thinking perpetuates injustice and oppression towards allpeople.
So little 12 year old me could not wait to start high school. I was so excited to make new friends, have a locker, and study new subjects that piqued my interest. And all this and more came true! I was lucky enough to attend an amazing school, with wonderful teachers and countless opportunities which enabled me to reach my full potential. However, as I became increasingly aware of the attitudes around me and views held by some of my peers, my initial excitement subsided. My once-glowing hope waned and grew dull. And this happened because I witnessed something. Every single day, I heard a large number of the boys in my year, and the boys in the years above make offensive and inappropriate jokes, oftentimes making light of rape and gender-based violence. I was also exposed to sexist, racist, homophobic, and ableist slurs, which they would use to accompany their ‘jokes’. When I would confront them about it, I would be called a “special snowflake” or a “SJW – a social justice warrior” who just got “easily offended” and couldn’t take a joke. But to me, they were more than just ‘jokes’. I considered them a form of discrimination. And this “harmless locker-room talk” is exactly what leads to the silencing of girls and ultimately the normalisation of oppression. At first I was disheartened and embarrassed – my attempts to stop their behaviour had all been fruitless. But I knew that giving up was not an option. As human rights activist Desmond Tutu writes, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” (Tutu, cited in Parsa, 2018).
So I wrote a letter to my principal. I ended up meeting with him to discuss the behaviour I had been witnessing. I told him about the ramifications of the language some of peers had been using – not just for me, or for other students at my school, but also on a wider scale. I implored him, as well as my other teachers, to establish programs which educated students on the importance of equality and respecting the fundamental human rights of all people. I can’t say for certain whether my actions made a significant difference. But what I can say, is that since then, my school has established several community service initiatives – many of which I am currently partaking in – which allow students to interact with people of different backgrounds and abilities. For education, and once again empathy, is the key to foster change and to eradicate injustice.
I have to say that my spark, my hope, my internal inferno that blazed on my first day of high school has since been reignited. And this is because I’m in awe of the insight, the resilience, and the compassion demonstrated by the young women and girls of my generation. To name a few, Malala Yousafzai, an advocate for girls’ right to education, even after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate change activist who began the school strike for climate movement. Autumn Peltier, a 15-year-old Indigenous Canadian girl who urges for access to clean drinking water. And Alex Dacy, a disability advocate who campaigns for disabled people’s rights to bodily autonomy, self-actualisation, and agency. I couldn’t be more thankful to have these young women and girls – many of whom are my age – to look up to.
In the 16 years I’ve been alive, I’ve witnessed a considerable shift in feminist thinking. Feminism and advocating for the rights of women and girls is no longer just about egalitarianism. It isn’t just the political, social, and economic equality of the sexes – it’s more than that. In 1989, American lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw devised the term “intersectionality” to describe how different forms of discrimination intersect and how all oppression is connected (Crenshaw, 1989, p. 141). Feminist discourse and advocacy must be grounded in the notion that gender intersects with race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, class, age, economic status, and ability. At its core, a feminism that isn’t inclusive, isn’t feminism at all (Maguire, 2019, p. 9).
As well as having intersectionality at its focus, I define feminism as a ‘collective undoing’. An undoing of the social, political, economic, and attitudinal structures which oppress all people – specifically marginalised women and girls. Because I occupy a position of privilege. And although millions of women and girls all over the world have been able to realise their fundamental human rights and fulfil their potential, millions have also been left behind. We must ensure that every last girlcan lead their own lives, free from violence, discrimination, or inequality. For example:
- More than 70% of women with disabilities have been victims of violent sexual encounters at some time in their lives (WWDA, 2016, p. 8).
- 90% of women with intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse. More than two-thirds (68%) have been sexually abused before they turn 18 years of age (WWDA, 2016, p. 8).
- Furthermore, some women with intellectual disabilities, particularly those who live in institutional settings, are not permitted to vote in Australia as, according to the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1918they are “not of sound mind” (Skladzien, 2018, p. 19).
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples also gender-based violence at much higher rates than white women, and their experience of gender inequality is made worse by violent dispossession, assimilation, and colonisation (State Government of Victoria, 2018).
- Within the time I’ve been speaking to you all, more than 400 girls under the age of 18 have been forcibly married (Girls Not Brides, 2019).
- Women within the LGBTQ+ community are also subjected to gender-based violence and inequity at much higher rates than heterosexual and cisgender women, and are oftentimes excluded from mainstream women’s movements as they are considered by some radical and exclusionary feminists as “not real women” (Human Rights Watch, 2019).
- At least 1 in 5 refugees or displaced women are estimated to have experienced sexual violence (UN Women National Committee Australia, 2019).
- Sexism and misogyny also intersect with racism – white women make 77 cents to the dollar, yet black and Hispanic women only make 64 and 56 cents respectively (CWCS, 2017).
- Up to one-third of adolescent girls report their first sexual experience as being forced and they are victims of sexual violence. Currently at least 133 million girls and women have experienced female genital mutilation (Puri, 2017).
These statistics are alarming, yet are often completely ignored by policy-makers and non-governmental organisations. We must urge for genuine inclusion – inclusion that isn’t superficial, nor tokenistic. We must band together to amplify the voices of those who are marginalised and oppressed. We must support women and girls through a lens of intersectionality, and we must advocate for systemic change. For women and girls are not one-dimensional. We’re complex, we’re flawed, we’re human. And all of us have a flame within us that deserves to be ignited.
So, in sharing my experiences, as well as the experiences of girls all over the world, I wanted to pose a question to all of you: how do you, in your life, empower others through empathy? For empathy is the starting point from which we can ensure that every last girl realises their potential.
Commission on Women, Children and Seniors 2017, Pay Equity, viewed 10 October 2019, < https://ctcwcs.com/pay-equity/ >
Crenshaw, K 1989, ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’,University of Chicago Legal Forum, vol. 1, no. 8, p. 141.
Girls Not Brides 2019, About Child Marriage, viewed 10 October 2019, < https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/about-child-marriage/ >
Human Rights Watch 2019, LGBT Rights, viewed 10 October 2019, < https://www.hrw.org/topic/lgbt-rights >
Maguire, E 2019, This is What a Feminist Looks Like: The Rise and Rise of Australian Feminism, NLA Publishing, Canberra.
Murray, D 2017, ‘Empowerment Through Empathy’ – We Spoke to Tarana Burke, the Woman Who Really Started the ‘Me too’ Movement,Elle, viewed 10 October 2019, < https://www.elle.com/uk/life-and-culture/culture/news/a39429/empowerment-through-empathy-tarana-burk e-me-too/ >
Parsa, A 2018, 15 Inspirational Quotes about Speaking Up Against Injustice, Medium, viewed 10 October 2019, < https://firstname.lastname@example.org/15-inspirational-q uotes-about-speaking-up-against-injustice-336f382c 1578 >
Puri, L 2017, Speech: “Together we will unleash girls’ power in all its dimensions”, UN Women, viewed 10 October 2019, < https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/10/sp eech-ded-puri-day-of-the-girl >
Skladzien, E 2018, ‘Intellectual disability and voting’, Voice, p. 19.
State Government of Victoria 2018, Gender inequality affects everyone, viewed 10 October 2019, < https://www.vic.gov.au/gender-inequality-affects-everyone >
UN Women National Committee Australia 2019, Women refugees and migrants, UN Women Australia, viewed 10 October 2019, < https://unwomen.org.au/3336-2/ >
Women with Disabilities Australia 2016, WWDA Position Statement 1: the Right to Freedom from All Forms of Violence, WWDA, Hobart.