Dozens of Australian Children forced in to unwanted Marriages

Recent reports reveal current instances of Child Marriage in Australia and the harmful effects it has on the developing psyche. in your own little way

The reports, which were released two days ago, are on the backdrop of emerging video evidence of a man, Mohammed Shakir, marrying a 14 year old girl in a suburban Sydney Mosque. Shakir, 34, can be seen exchanging a $1480 gold necklace for the marriage of the young girl whilst the Mother and Imam look on, neutrally.

Further investigations by Plan International Australia have found that there is a shocking 14 million reported instances of child marriage each year – that is 39 000 a day. 69 reports of those 14 million have taken place in Australia this year, several of which were regarding children aged 10-13 years of age.

Although there are instances of child marriage among Muslim communities in Australia, it is overall a cross-cultural practice. The director of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, Joumanah El Matrah says that some Muslim communities have had cases of early and forced marriage, but in other Muslim communities it is completely unheard of.

“In Australia we have a broad range of nationalities and religions, and people who are not religious at all, who have forced their children to marry,” says Ms El Matrah.

A similar case occurred last year which involved a 13 year old Victorian school girl. The school that the girl attended became concerned after they saw an increase in her absences as well as change in her overall demeanour. They alerted Authorities and Anti-slavery Australia when the girl’s friends reported she had confided in them about her planned marriage to a man three times her age.

Karine Arwafa, a Melbournian woman and victim of child marriage can attest to the impacts that forced marriage can have on a child. Ms Atol was 14 when she was sent to live with relatives in Egypt by her struggling parents. Upon her arrival in Egypt it became apparent that an arrangement had been made between her parents and a man who was almost three times the age of Ms Arwafa- they would allow him to marry her in exchange for a dowry.


13 years on and Ms Arwafa explains that even though she was able to escape the marriage with the help of her next door neighbour who gave her the details to the Australian embassy, she is still stuck with the psychological effects today. Ms Arwafa was on the receiving end of extensive sexual and physical abuse which contributed to a long and hard battle with depression and feelings of hopelessness.

According to Melbourne clinical and forensic psychologist, Pam Copperwaite, mental health issues are prevalent among children who have been exposed to such violence and assault.

“ Children.. in fact any person that is a victim of sexual violence experiences lowered self esteem due to their internal trauma. They can see their worth as only being able to relate to others on a sexual level, and can experience feelings of helplessness as a result. This makes them at high risk of mental illness, “ says Ms Copperwaite.

Ms Arwafa along with other survivors of child marriage are part of a campaign by Plan International Australia, ‘Because I am a girl,’ which aims to provide more girls with access education in developing and developed countries as well as overall support for those who are at risk.


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Turnbull Government’s University funding cuts sparks online outrage among the Australian public

Malcolm Turnbull’s early release of proposed cuts to University funding, ahead of Tuesday’s budget, has disillusioned many young Australians and led to the beginnings of an online phenomenon.

The reform, which was officially announced early last week by education Minister, Simon Birmingham, will increase fees by 7.5% by 2021, which works out to be a $3600 increase, as well as forcing graduates to repay their loans earlier and hitting institutions with a 2.5% efficiency dividend.

However, the factor which has caused the most outrage among the online community is that graduates will need to start paying back their HECs when they earn just $42 000 a year, as opposed to the current $55 000 income.

The hashtag, ‘Next Generation,’ has been circulated on Twitter, as well as many University discussion spaces on Facebook, such as ‘MonashStalkerSpace,’ and has generated a large following to air these frustrations and proactively organise protests and rallies to demonstrate the Government’s decision.

Alexis Schipano, a student at Latrobe University and member of its Student Union, stated that the Government’s scheme will only heighten an already dismal future for young Australians.

“Young people are now expected to repay their HECS debt and save for a house whilst working low-income jobs…it’s absolutely absurd. It feels like the Government is just setting us up for failure before we’ve even had the chance to pursue our goals,” says Miss Schipano.

Miss Schipano, along with thousands of other University students across the country will take to the streets on May 17, in what many are calling a “national day of action,” to protest. The demonstrations, which are largely being organised through online forums, are on the backdrop of smaller protests that have already broken out.

NSW University students attempted to block traffic outside of Malcolm Turnbull’s electorate office last Thursday, whilst others threw napkins at Mr Birmingham’s face during his address to the National Press Club. The protesters, who chanted “no cuts, no fees, no corporate universities,” had their efforts posted to Twitter, which proved to create more anti-budget sentiment among students.

These sentiments aren’t only being echoed by millennials, but older generations too. Stephen Koukoulas, Chief economist for two major banks and former treasury advisor to Julia Gillard, stated in an online tweet in the ‘Next Generation’ category that education is vital to providing the youth of today with the skills and training needed to be employed, and that Tertiary funding cuts will only create more barriers to attain these attributes.

“Want to get people in to work? This [ data on workplace participation versus. educational attainment] proves what sensible people know already- its all about education, skills and training,” says Mr Koukoulas.

More details regarding the time of the protests have yet to be released by organisers online.


Educators and Students take action against Homophobia and Transphobia in Victorian Schools

A prominent Co-educational Anglican school in Melbourne’s North-West promotes awareness and celebration of the LGBTIQ community, despite criticism and barriers from the broader population.

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Overnewton Anglican Community College is one among many Victorian schools that sees a need for the Safe Schools Coalition program to continue in the classrooms, contrary to recent Federal Government proceedings that reviewed its content as ‘inappropriate’ for younger students, and subsequently cut all funding for the program.

The school’s Anti-Bullying group, ‘Stand Out,’ run by School Counsellor Jan McNamara and Senior School students, was founded in 2013 under the Safe Schools program to educate the school community on those that fall under the category of LGBTIQ.

According to Ms McNamara, herself and other educators at the school, including school principle, Jim Laussen, acknowledged Overnewton wasn’t as safe for those who identified as same sex attracted or gender diverse as they had previously thought.

“We needed to implement a program within the classrooms that would create a more inclusive learning and social environment for students who had previously been marginalised and ostracised for being ‘different’ by the community,” says Ms McNamara.

The group uses the classroom programs, created by former director Roz Ward, and resources provided by the Minus18 organisation, to deliver topics such as heteronormativity, gender fluidity and sexual preference in a cohesive and comprehensive manner to students in year’s 8 and above.

Sarah Cadzow, a student at the college and ‘Stand Out’ group member, can testify that Overnewton and every school needs a program in place for LGBTIQ students.

Prior to the formation of the ‘Stand Out’ group , Miss Cadzow , as an openly trans student, experienced severe harassment and discrimination from her peers; her locker was tagged with offensive language , her books were burnt and she was often on the receiving end of discriminatory harassment.

“It was horrible… I was going through one of the hardest things I will have to experience in my life time and the lack of support I received from students, and even some teachers made it even harder,” says Miss Cadzow.

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According to Miss Cadzow, three years on since the program was introduced at Overnewton, perceptions in the school community have changed drastically.

“People will say that’s not ok in reference to derogatory language, such as ‘that’s so gay’,” said Miss Cadzow.

School Principle, Jim Laussen, introduced a uni-sex uniform for students who weren’t comfortable in the traditional gendered uniforms, as well as creating more support systems such as allowing special consideration for those undergoing a medical transition, such as Sarah.

Alex Tyndall, another member of the group, can also see the impact the Safe Schools program is having in the community. Alex, who identifies with being gender fluid, attended Overnewton’s annual presentation ball last year with a partner of his choice and in a tuxedo, rather than a traditional ball gown.

Despite these changes, Mr Tyndall reports that he was still met with some resistance. The venue where the ball was held did not change his name in the booklets to Alex for most tables. In fact, only his family’s table had the modified booklet, something that was described as a “bit of a hassle” to do by the event organisers.

“There are still those in the community who are opposed to change… I still will receive the odd comment here and there that’s pretty offensive, but its no where near as bad as before,” says Mr Tyndall.

The group hopes to continue to bridge the gap between the wider community and those that identify as LGBTIQ through the introduction of uni-sex bathrooms in the school in the near future.

Exploring Mulvey’s ‘The Male Gaze.’

The Male Gaze is a concept that Laura Mulvey, a British feminist film theorist, coined in 1975 to explain the dichotomy between female and male representations in 1970s cinema. Her theory involves three perspectives; that of the person behind the camera, the characters within the film itself and, of course, the spectator. Through the actions of these three types of perspectives, Mulvey utilises “psycho-analytic theory to look at how patriarchal values are unconsciously saturated in film ( Mulvey 1975, pg 803).”

Previous studies have been conducted that evaluate the constructions of femininity in film; although women feature predominantly across the medium, they are always viewed and/or portrayed as subordinate to men. The woman’s function is often as the ‘love interest’ or ‘companion’ to man, rather than an autonomous entity in film. Moreover, even though there may not be a male presence in some scenes in a film, it has been found that it most cases the female characters will discuss men in their dialogue, thus prompting  the creation of the Bechtel test and other critiques of gender roles in film.

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In comparison to other studies, Mulvey’s thesis looks at these apparent gender roles from a new perspective, that being from a psycho-analytic stand-point, rather than one purely based on literature.

The Male Gaze theory explores two main concepts: Scopohillia and Phallocentrism. Both Freudian theories reinforce the hegemony that the heterosexual male has over the female, and their desire and control that women are victim to.

Phallocentrism, which is the preconceived idea that phallus (male sexuality) is central to the ordering and hierarchy of the social world, saturates the film industry, specifically Hollywood. In simple terms, the male psyche and desires set the tone of a film, women simply are props created to cater to these needs.  According to Mulvey (1975), “the function of women forming the patriarchal unconscious is two-fold.” She first symbolises the castration threat of her real absence of a penis, thereby raising her child into the symbolic. Once this has been achieved, she holds no more meaning or necessity in the process. Phallocentrism has created women to be ‘the other,’ a subordinate group which gives justification for men to exploit them.

Examples of this subordination can be seen in film through even the positioning and movements of the female versus the male. Often, there is a ritualised image of a parent-child relationship that is depicted, whereby the men are the parent figure and the women are the child. Hodkinson (2017)  states that this is portrayed through women bending down or using bashful movements  ( lowering their gaze when a man is present, hunching their shoulders and fidgeting).

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Scopophilia is the second part to the theory of the Male Gaze. This concept explores the pleasure that derives from looking, mostly at erotic objects. In film, Mulvey explains how there are two layers to Scopophilia, that being the pleasure in looking at someone and the pleasure at being looked at. Freud (1927) similarly refers to the concept as taking other people as objects, and then subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze.

Narcissism is a bio-product of said Scopophilia; it creates an obsession with the aesthetically pleasing, which in a patriarchal society ( heterosexual male-dominated) is the sexuality of the female body and the unachievable ideal of the ‘perfect woman.’

We see this through the female leads in film whose physical appearance is quite literally unattainable for the every-day woman. These females are a direct creation and projection of patriarchal desires that are manipulated by the film industry to  generate more viewers and, therefore revenue. Angelina Jolie, Megan Fox and Scarlett Johanson are a few of many prime examples.

The setting of the cinema allows for voyeurism to take place due to the darkness the audience is submerged in, as well as the distance between them and the screen. It is there where the sexual desires ,which have been created by a society where women are sexually objectified, can be projected on to the performer. As seen through a plethora of films, women’s bodies are objectified through a technique called fragmentation; the camera will focus on particular body parts such as their lips, legs, breasts and so forth. The determining male gaze is casted on the submissive female who must style themselves accordingly. Almost all action movies exemplify this theory: there is a strong, authoritative male lead, which plays in to how the male ego views themselves, and a subordinate female who is almost always physically attractive and possesses no other attributes. The James Bond Movies epitomise this Scopophilic concept.

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According to Mulvey (1975) “desire, born with language, allows the possibility of transcending the instinctual or the imaginary , but its point of reference continually returns to the traumatic moment of its birth: the castration complex. ” Essentially, desire is created from the same complex which sees women as a threat to the male gender, therefore manifesting a conflict which plays out on screen.

The more ratings erotic objectivity of women in film generates, the more it is adopted as a ‘must have’ feature across the industry. Hollywood’s success is largely due to its manipulation of the inadvertent need of the human psyche to seek this visual pleasure. The more this concept is left unchallenged, the more mainstream film will continue to integrate erotic undertones in to the language of film, and encourage a patriarchal order.

And thus, the male gaze theory prompts the question of whether or not capitalism can be feminist, or will women and their physical appearance always be traded, consumed and sold as commodity in the media industry?



Mothers ‘booby-trapped’ by lack of Societal and Governmental support for Breastfeeding

Breast feeding at risk due to poor Government policies, lack of societal awareness and education, and aggressive formula companies, research finds.

Health care professionals stress the importance of breast-feeding in high-income countries as new research has found that a near universal level of breast feeding could prevent 823 000 annual deaths in children under the age of five and 20 000 annual deaths from breast cancer.

According to a two-part breast-feeding series, released in January of this year by the Lancet, children who are breastfed for longer periods have lower infectious morbidity and mortality, fewer dental malocclusions, and higher intelligence than do those who are breastfed for shorter periods, or not breastfed. This inequality does not just occur in infancy, but also extends to later years in life.

However, despite these benefits for both mother and child, it has been discovered that high-income countries, such as Australia, have a shorter breast feeding duration than low to middle income countries. These women often do not receive the support they need to start, or continue, the practice of breast feeding, research has found.

The World Health Organisation (WTO) Maternal and Child Health care professionals, Jody Heymann, Amy Raub and Alison Earle said that returning to work is a contributing factor to these low rates in breast feeding.

“The difficulty of continuing to breastfeed under the conditions experienced when mothers return to work directly correlates with low levels of breast feeding,” Ms Raub said in the WHO’s annual report.

Federal and State legislation declare the discrimination of women breast-feeding in the workplace ‘unlawful.’  However, the onus is on the individual employee to negotiate with their employer around their individual breastfeeding needs and the organisational needs of the employer. The employer has the right to refuse to accomodate to the employee’s breastfeeding needs if they appear to be ‘unreasonable.’

Registered Nurse and mother, Rachyl Brooks, said that women need to be made aware of things like work safe and other bodies who are there to help them out if they have any quarrels with their employer who may not provide that [breastfeeding]service.

“[Although] most people and most workplaces…are pretty accomodating, [the current law] is open to exploitation,” Ms Brooks says.

The discrimination that is seen in the work place is the same one reflected in the general public, research has found.

According to primary school teacher and mother of two, Jodie Tieppo, there is a certain stigma attached to breastfeeding that is reflected in high-income societies ( such as Australia) that impacts mothers and their choice to breastfeed.

Before the data from the Lancet was released, “there was no real medical benchmark for what is ‘normal’ when it comes to breastfeeding. This has led to confusion from mothers on what is the best way to breastfeed, what the benefits of it are, and what is and isn’t a normal breast-feeding experience,” Ms Tieppo said.

Similarly, a culture has been created in high-income countries which encourages the use of formula rather than breastfeeding. Not breastfeeding is seen as the modern and sophisticated thing to do- it seems convenient as research shows that 57% of mothers choose to use formula after only a few weeks of breastfeeding.

Heavy advertising from baby formula companies has assisted in this culture, with data showing that advertisers have increased their marketing budget by 70%. According to research, although sales have levelled, formula companies have increased their overall ad spending to just over $45 million.

Paul Antonio, Dairy industry expert, says that the baby formula industry is experiencing rapid growth.

“That [above data] is because it’s a convenience factor, rather than a health factor,” Mr Antonio said.

Promoting breastfeeding in the governmental, societal and advertising sectors is important. It could possibly save and improve the lives of many mothers and children, according to the Lancet’s research.


New CCTV system threatens to breech individual privacy

A new CCTV initiative, proposed by the Melbourne City Council under their new ‘ Smart City Project,’ could fuel the ever-growing issue of privacy violation through its data collection strategy.

The Smart City Project, introduced in Melbourne in 2013 , was created to enhance and preserve the City of Melbourne through innovation and technology. The Council has set long-term goals, one being a more open and transparent information sharing capacity.

Bonnie Shaw from the City of Melbourne Smart City Office, said at a press conference at Monash University two weeks ago that this objective would be achieved through means such as CCTV and data collection.

The project will create a “smoother, frictionless experience for the people of Melbourne,” Ms Shaw said.

Currently, the Melbourne Smart City’s website has advertised a CCTV project that would use CCTV systems for not only public safety, but also for measuring the movement of people. However, Ms Shaw did not disclose this initiative in the press conference, but instead said that the “council currently does not have a system in place for this[ CCTV].”

The website has highlighted a developing plan as to how the council would go about using CCTV to collect data, and the challenges they would face in regards to public privacy.

It was stated that this project “will require the collection, use and potential disclosure of personal information.”

This is a major change from the current CCTV system which has strict protocols that ensure information is disseminated to authorities to assist with crime safely and securely.

Tess Ferrigno, IT specialist at the ANZ, said that current CCTV systems are useful in ensuring the safety of citizens, and are strictly mitigated by the council to ensure there are no privacy breeches.

Ms Ferrigno agrees that this initiative could be “potentially dangerous in exposing personal information, mainly due to technologies’ limitations,” she said.

The Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection(CPDP)raised concerns regarding ‘malicious attacks’ from third-party intruders. If an entire city is connected in a way, as proposed by the initiative, the personal information contained could be vulnerable to those seeking unauthorised access.

According to the CDPD, governance is also of concern. The council will have access to private information through new technologies, therefore it begs the question what will happen if this information falls in to the wrong hands?

Neither Ms Shaw or Melbourne City Council spokesman ,Carlos Ibarra, have provided further comments on this matter.