Today, I really understood first-hand why International Women's Day is so important; how it can empower us to lift each other up and how it will remain important until equality is achieved for every woman and girl.
Today, emboldened by the collective love and strength of the women in my life, I did something that I otherwise might not have done; something that I otherwise might have ignored.
Walking home, this evening, I took a route down my street that I have taken so many times before. A woman approached from the opposite direction, walking her dog. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a rock flew past her, landing on the footpath. We both looked around as rocks fell, obviously thrown from somewhere, narrowly missing the two of us and her dog. 'Careful', she said to me, 'I think they're some people throwing stuff'.
As she passed me and walked past one of the units, she yelled out angrily to whoever was there. As I kept walking, I turned back to see who was throwing these rocks. I was surprised to see what appeared to be two young girls standing on the roof of one of the units. 'Hey!' I yelled out to them, 'You could really hurt someone!' One of the girls (although at about 14 she was a young woman, really) gave me two very exuberant middle fingers, sticking them high in the air. 'Seriously, girls! You are going to hurt someone if you keep doing that!' A third girl, older than the other two, was circling around on a bike. I walked the remaining 15 or so metres to my house, mildly angry about the encounter.
I should add at this stage that the three were all young Indigenous girls. I add this detail because, as I arrived home, I thought about the fact that this day is for all women and for all girls.
I thought about a young Indigenous mother I had seen ten minutes previously, at Coles, wearing a t-shirt with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags on it, the print reading 'DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS NOT IN OUR CULTURE'. ('I like your shirt', I had said, wanting to show solidarity on this day in particular.)
I thought about an ABC article my mother had sent me earlier in the afternoon, about how the organisers of a Northern Territory IWD event had actually shifted it – for the first time ever – from the main town of Pine Creek to the nearby small Indigenous community of Kybrook Farm. They wanted to make sure that the women who perhaps needed it the most had access to it, so they took the event to them.
I thought about the Celeste Liddle article published online today, which served as an eloquent reminder of the unique struggles faced by Indigenous women and how they are often neglected – even in the stories surrounding IWD. How we need to make sure that their voices aren't forgotten.
I thought about the fact that, because of my work, my contact with young Indigenous women (and men) is inevitably at a time when they are too angry, too disinterested and too disengaged.
I thought about the 10-year-old Indigenous girl who was found dead in the Kimberley on Sunday night. The apparent suicide was widely reported today.
I had two choices: remain angry, ignore the incident and get started on dinner; or, go back out there and bring the conversation to them – engage with them and try to understand why it is that they were acting so aggressively and antisocially.
So I changed out of my work clothes, got out of Zarah-the-lawyer mode and walked back out there.
(Briefly, I also thought about the fact that I had no idea who these girls were, what their background was and why the hell such young kids were on a freaking roof, throwing rocks and giving the finger to passers-by. I wondered if I even had the right to go and talk to them. But then I thought – fuck it. It takes a village, right?)
I'd taken a box of Magnums from the freezer. Fortuitously, there were three left. As I walked back up the street, I noticed that the two girls on the roof had joined the girl on the bike. The one who had given me the finger saw me. She turned her bike toward me and pedalled furiously straight at me, with a face like thunder. As she got closer, she realised that I hadn't come back out for a fight (I think the box of Magnums probably helped.) She veered off and stopped.
'Now you all come here', I called out to them, 'And listen up'. All three stood around me, in a half-circle, actually listening. They didn't sneer and they weren't rude. I didn't want to start off by chastising them. So I asked them, 'Why were you throwing rocks at people?' I looked directly at the one who had been so angry. 'What's got you so angry?' She looked at me, then at the others, then at the ground. 'We're bored', she replied. 'Well, you've got to find something else to do. If you were my little sisters, up on that roof, I'd come up there and...' (I did my best to look vaguely angry and they all had a giggle.) We then had a chat about who they were, where they went to school, their family; things like that. They told me some things that I won't repeat here; suffice to say I got a very small insight into why three young girls were behaving so damn poorly and apparently with not an adult in sight. Why they might be angry. Why they might be bored.
Then I said to them, 'Do you know why today is special?' They shook their heads. 'It's International Women's Day. Have you heard about it?' The youngest one piped up, 'Hey! I saw that on Google!' 'That's right, and do you know what it means?' They looked at me. 'Well, it means that we all look out for each other. And not just today. Every day. You girls have got to look out for each other.' I pointed from the oldest two to the youngest, 'You've got to set a good example for your little sister'. I pointed up the street to where the woman and her dog had gone. 'It also means you don't throw rocks at people for no bloody reason, especially other girls, ok?' They nodded emphatically. 'Maybe save the rocks for the boys who are dickheads to you' (not the best advice, in hindsight). 'But if I so much as catch you up on that roof ever again, don't think that I'm above climbing up there and dragging you down myself'. (More giggles.) 'I mean it. Now. You all know who I am. And I know who you are. So I'm going to look out for you, ok?' (More emphatic nods.) 'Right.'
As I walked back home, I thought about how the angry young woman had transformed – in the space of minutes – to beaming, talkative, beautiful. Not one rude word or gesture towards me. Surprise, yes, at the fact that an adult they didn't know had come to speak to them. Some shame as well, when directly questioned about her behaviour. But mostly she just seemed happy to be speaking to an adult who was listening to her. And she was articulate and engaging and cheeky. I couldn't believe it was the same girl.
The point of my little anecdote is this: IWD is a good reminder that we are all bound by a sisterhood; a common thread that unites us. It is so freaking special. It's not just for the women in your family, or friendship groups, or workplaces. It's not just for the women of similar social standing, ethnicity or cultural background to you. IWD is a reminder to women who are empowered that they must, in turn, empower others.
Honestly, I think I probably would have ignored those girls had it been any other day. But, having reflected on what this day means, my anger quickly gave way to whatever feeling it was that compelled me to walk back out there. Am I naïve enough to think that my interaction with these girls today had a lasting impact? No. But after hearing what they had to say (and yes, some of it was confronting), if I see them again, I'm going to stop and ask how they are. I'm going to make sure they understand that there is an adult – a woman – who is willing to listen to them. A woman who doesn't want to see three angry young girls become three angry young women. A woman who is going to make it her business to ensure that they are looking after themselves and each other. It's not a lot – and it won't be enough – but it's a start.
It is the best feeling in the world when you see a girl or a woman blossom. If a short conversation can have such a positive effect in minutes, imagine what we can achieve in a lifetime.