“A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”
(The 2013 theme for International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on 8 March)
This week, the Town Hall of Vienna opened its doors to the public in recognition of International Women’s Day. Thousands of members of the public participated in a four hour programme addressing women’s rights and calling for fairness and justice for women all over the globe. The city prides itself on its vast network of government funded organisations and helplines set up to help rescue vulnerable women in all kinds of desperate circumstances; most notably the host of organisations for the protection of victims of violence and abuse.
At some stage or other during the past three years of our excruciating ordeal, I have paid visits to so many of them. During times of my greatest distress, I sat for hours unburdening myself of the unbearable stress and suffering the courts were inflicting on me and my innocent boys; pouring out my heart, begging and pleading for assistance for my children whom I was helplessly watching being torn apart. Each time, my hopes were raised that the gut wrenching experience of sharing the story and all the raw emotions that the horrific details unleashed, might at least provide some useful ideas and direct me towards a positive outcome for my children. But sadly, all these leads only led to more frustration and time wasted.
It took me months of dogged persistence to finally realise that it was all just a wild goose chase, each organisation just passing me along to yet another cog in the system, housed in another drab building, more grey offices decorated with yet more depressing pictures of bruised, battered women and crying children; a tedious, never ending cycle of phone calls, forms and infuriating red tape.
Hearing what the children were going through and how they were so negatively affected, left many of the female staff in tears. But despite their deep sympathy, shock and outrage at the torturous legal process and their acknowledgement of Sammy and Benji’s pointless suffering, each of them in turn let me down. I finally conceded that this was a lost cause; the only result of these visits being crushed hopes and the gradual chipping away of my dissipating morale. Despite all their noble rhetoric and lofty promises, none of these women’s organisations have ultimately done little more than wish us well and apologise that they were unable to do anything to help.
The huge achievements women have collectively made over the past decades are testimony to the mind blowing tour de force our combined energy, will and determination can bring about for the good. Through our vigorous campaigning we have secured the right to vote, conquered the workforce, championed human rights and seen major advances in the battle for gender equality.
Yet why is it that fighting for the most fundamental female right of all, to raise my children in peace and security, seems so beyond the reason and understanding of the women assessing Samuel and Benjamin’s case? How can it be that women selected as specialists in family law can demonstrate such little feeling or compassion for a fellow mother’s cause? Why do I find myself battling so ferociously against my own kinship to protect the core values the sisterhood fought so hard to achieve in the first place?
Even worse than the terrible betrayal I feel by a man, my ex-husband, it is the betrayal I feel by my fellow women that shocks and hurts me the most. Although this was instigated by a man, he wouldn’t have stood a chance without the support of the women working in the very system designed to protect the most weak and vulnerable.
While the profusion of kindness and support demonstrated by thousands of women, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters and female supporters has been incredible and I only have the highest of praise and respect for the female professionals that have been on the side of truth and justice, including my social workers, the children’s doctor, psychologist and countless others who demonstrated the most amazing sensitivity and concern for my boys, the opposite has also sadly been shown to be true.
The fateful decision to remove two little babies from their loving mother’s care was taken by women alone. How can I have any faith or trust in a sisterhood when the Austrian judge, the psychologist, the high court judge alleged to have intervened, my ex’s lawyer, the social workers in his district – all women – have caused us maximum hurt, pain, suffering and grief? For all our championing for better rights for mothers; paid maternity leave, child benefits and greater recognition of the vital role mothers play in society, these women in positions of authority and trust have, without any justification or remorse, flagrantly disregarded everything the women’s rights movements stood for.
It is therefore not my faith and trust in men that is shattered. I have experienced the most humbling acts of kindness from men and some of the most heartfelt, sincerest emotions shared with me have come from fathers, brothers, husbands and male friends. I cannot resent men when my greatest wish is to raise my little boys to become the most honourable, virtuous men there are.
Of all the painful emotions I am forced to cope with, more than anything, I am most disheartened and disillusioned by the women who have both actively and passively allowed this senseless tragedy to occur.
International Women’s Day should serve as a forceful reminder. Not only of the great strides we have collectively made, but more importantly, as a stark warning of the long way the Sisterhood still has to go.
“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” Gloria Steinem