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A women marches during the Reclaim the Night rally in Melbourne. Photo: Sandy Scheltema
As this year's International Women's Day approaches (March 8), it's astonishing to reflect on the seismic shift around women's rights that has occurred in the past 12 months.
It has been a colossal past year, with global and local attention on a range of horrific individual tragedies and broader issues, including sexual assault and violence against women, the ongoing gendered disparity in income, and the debate on misogyny.
In Melbourne, Jill Meagher's abduction and murder led to 30,000 people rallying in Brunswick streets, while the 2012 Reclaim the Night march drew a crowd of 5000 to Sydney Road in a public declaration of "enough is enough" regarding women's vulnerability to sexual violence and abuse.
In India, the gang rape and murder of a student on a bus provoked outrage and protests across the country, which spilled over into Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Last month in South Africa, there was the brutal gang rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen, whose case forced a spotlight on what commentators have described as the country's "rape crisis".
The Medical Research Council of South Africa has estimated that up to 3600 rapes happen daily in the nation of close to 52 million people.
Other events also brought women's rights to the fore. There was the death in Ireland in October of Savita Halappanavar, after she was denied a termination, which led to protests against the country's anti-abortion laws. It was part of a wider strengthening in international abortion rights campaigning.
There was also Prime Minister Julia Gillard's condemnation of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as a misogynist – a speech that reverberated across the world – and the creation of the powerful Destroy the Joint collective, a response to sexist remarks by Sydney radio host Alan Jones.
In the past week, US Republicans made way for the Senate re-authorisation of the controversial Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Put together, this new uprising in public expression advocating concrete, improved women's rights – and a definitive, globalised opposition to sexualised and other violence against women – is potentially revolutionary.
Is it too early to call it a radical third wave of feminism? Perhaps, but it doesn't necessarily have to be identified as that.
The internet and online media has changed the way this potentially tectonic shift in gender relations and women's expectations can be disseminated, debated and accepted into society systemically – at the "water table" level.
In an online article on February 21 detailing the achievements of the feminist movement in recent decades, and the critical issues to be resolved, eminent American journalist, author and gender historian Ruth Rosen said the demand for “the ending of violence against women” was “astonishingly” not included on that dramatic day of August 27, 1970, when 50,000 women marched down New York's Fifth Avenue, “announcing the birth of a new movement”. The march's three demands were legal abortion, universal childcare and equal pay.
Rosen argues the reason for the absence of demands against violence was that “though the experience and fear of male violence was widespread ... women still suffered these crimes in silence”.
The past year's increase of attention on such crimes – and the public outcry following certain cases – shows how the ensuing period has changed that. The fact we are debating these issues anew, publicly and often in incendiary voices, demonstrates the collapse of that silence.
Of course, women's rights issues remain charged and in need of constant redress. Accessing legal abortion, even in Australia, remains an issue, and in many countries it is impossible to do so. In Australia, the ratios of women who have experienced sexual violence and women who have experienced domestic violence remain the same: one in five.
The financial inequality experienced by many women is also a form of discriminatory violence. Based on 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, in Australia women earned an average of 17.4 per cent less than men across all sectors, with much wider disparities in some spheres.
Of grave concern also is the extreme poverty induced for many women by the recent, brutal changes by the Gillard government to the sole-parent payment.
These cuts have reduced payments by up to $110 a week and forced parents with youngest children aged eight and over to shift to the Newstart program. The cuts are causing financial havoc for about 84,000 Australians who qualify for this support – mainly, poor and vulnerable women, and their children.
These cuts were – cannily? - introduced by Gillard's government on the same day that she presented her anti-misogyny speech.
The cuts are misogynistic and the very public opposition to them is becoming a real thorn for Gillard and associated ministers such as Jennifer Macklin in the lead-up to the election.
It has become clear that when faced by such injustices, women just aren't going to suffer in silence any more. And that has the potential to change the world as we know it.
Jacinta Le Plastrier is a Melbourne-based writer and poet. She is part of Melbourne Feminist Action, which is organising the 2013 International Women's Day mass rally – opposing violence against women - on Saturday, March 9, 1pm, at the State Library, Melbourne.