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What a miserable past few weeks women (and caring men, our teenagers and children) have had to endure in the lead up to International Women’s Day 2021. Instead of wondering what to write about – which remarkable women to profile, highlight, extol – I’ve had to endure listening to shocking tales of disrespect and violence against women and hear of unbelievable behaviour in our national parliament.

Tales that make you wonder what alternate universe some men in power live in.

We’ve all watched our national leader dismiss without investigation, shocking revelations about members of his Government. We’ve all listened in horror to stories such as a female minister calling a brave victim of an alleged rape IN HER OFFICE ‘a lying cow‘. I am sure you have wondered, like I have wondered – what would it actually take get the sack in this current government? This is not a political statement. I am genuinely curious.

And if I am nauseated and disgusted by what has been going on in our parliament, what must survivors of sexual abuse/ assault be feeling?

I’ve started this blog with this beautiful photo of Grace Tame, as really I believe her bravery has been a catalyst for all of this. This wondrous young, eloquent woman has thrust herself onto the national stage as a most worthy winner of Australian of the Year at the age of 26 years! Her speech at the National Press Club was breathtaking with its brilliance. The link is here if you get the time please listen to it. 

Why I am I writing about this issue?

Because every day, in every pelvic health physiotherapy clinic around Australia, we pelvic health physios listen to appalling stories of women broken by their sexual assault event that has occurred sometime in their life. Either as a child, a teenager, a young woman or later in life.

I do not use that word broken lightly. We pelvic health physios know the importance of language when talking to patients and how the poor choice of words can amplify their pain. I always choose not to use that word and reframe their thoughts away from such a negative narrative.

But broken is very apt to describe what happens to many girls and women if they have endured sexual assault. And it isn’t something that one can just get over and move on from easily….so if you are a man in power, do not expect it. Their sexual assault will affect their mental health. It will snatch away a promising fulfilling life – one full of joy, achievement and brilliance. And their story may burst out of their inner most hiding place when least expected.

They will be broken-hearted if a family member or someone they thought was a friend or lover was the perpetrator; they will be broken-spirited if they are not believed. Their bodies let them down as if they are broken. 

But what is truly broken is our system of government and society that tolerates such outrageousness.

We pelvic health physios hear these stories because these women present with pelvic pain, difficulty with sexual intimacy, dyspareunia (painful sex), bladder and bowel dysfunction – all as a direct result of some heinous act perpetrated on them against their will, some time in their life. And regardless of how brief a time has passed since the assault or how long ago it happened, it doesn’t change the hurt and pain and doesn’t dismiss the feelings of worthlessness or disbelief that the woman experiences.

If you are a man listening to someone’s story, understand the pain you are causing women with your disbelief.

These dreadful events have sometimes been revealed before to family members, to psychologists, psychiatrists, to best friends and sometimes we physios may be the first to hear of them. As a physiotherapist, I always feel honoured and very grateful to the patient who has trusted me with their dreadful secret, because it helps me unravel what may be perpetuating their pelvic floor dysfunction.

Some of these stories that I have been told have shaken me to my very core when I have heard them. Many of the women I have treated with their resultant pelvic floor dysfunction were very young and very innocent when they were assaulted and yet the resultant problems they have, only worsen as the years pass – they just don’t get better with time….these events take their toll on their physical and their mental health for decades after.

The reason women can take so long to share their stories is because of what was demonstrated over the past few weeks – a belief that they won’t be believed. But it can also be because of shame – a belief that girls and women almost deserve to be raped because of a choice they made with what they wore, how pretty they looked, by being flirtatious, by drinking alcohol. More perpetuation of stereotypical beliefs – somehow the woman incited the perpetrator….by just being. If you are a man who believes women asked for it, you are minimising women and disregarding them.

Well this year, the amazing Grace Tame has changed the dialogue, hopefully emboldening others who have suffered.

And a big shout out to the incredible female reporters who have investigated and reported on these disgusting events; who have turned up every day and pressed and questioned about these distressing incidents and have been diminshed by the PM and other Cabinet Ministers by being shut down. It must be so torrid for them- especially as they must know so much from the Canberra Rumour Mill, but are constrained by process and defamation lawyers standing in the wings.

The home of our presiding government and all the other politicians must be a truly disgusting place to be around. I for one think school student tours to Parliament House must be banned immediately, for fear of poisoning these grade 6 students minds. How ghastly to sit in on a session where men denigrate women by turning their backs on them and twist and turn words to suit their own narrative – by being tricky.

So on this International Women’s Day I weep at some of the things I am hearing and reading; I gasp at the complete lack of insight and compassion for sexual assault survivors and especially for those who haven’t survived; and feel ill at the extent of White Male Privilege demonstrated daily on our television screens.

As usual when preparing to write my yearly IWD blog, I am heartened to discover another amazing feminist – Isabel Allende, a Chilean writer and feminist. I first saw her on Q and A on Thursday 4th March and have read some articles about her and I have fallen in love with her. Oh to be so forthright and demonstrably dismissive of male patriarchy at 78. She recalls that “patriarchal society was very successful at depicting feminists as these angry bitches who didn’t shave their armpits”.…I am old enough to remember that narrative.

Allende’s life story is incredible – she has written numerous books and I will be adding her latest book to the pile beside my bed. Allende says: “Like all revolutions, we start with great anger and a feeling of injustice that we need to make things right. And we fight like crazy without always knowing where we are going. But you continue to work for that final goal, and it will be achieved. We will do it, I’m sure.”

I think the women of Australia are angry.

I am heartened that on March 15th, we may see women coming out to join the March 4 Justice gatherings that are occurring everywhere around Australia to demonstrate that Enough is Enough! 

Allende also says: “Half the job is to show up,” she says. “You show up and you open your mind and heart, and something will happen.”

So to all those women who read this blog – show you are angry at how women are treated, show up by spreading the word about the March4Justice marches around Australia and if you have pelvic floor dysfunction as a result of some sexual assault, see your nearest pelvic health physiotherapist to regain your dignity and self esteem and help any pelvic pain you are living with.

I suspect it won’t be a happy International Women’s Day, but make sure you are there in spirit, bring your anger and you too say, enough is enough! 

If you are triggered by anything you have read in this blog please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or  Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636