Qantas take a stand: refugee rights are women’s rights
That’s what Qantas had to say about a group of people including myself protesting outside the Qantas-sponsored Australian Financial Review Women of Influence Awards last Wednesday. We were there to call on Qantas to take a stand against the government deporting refugees to danger.
Momentum is building on this. Countless organisations have lobbied and protested for Qantas to come out against deportations. In the UK, Virgin Atlantic took a stand in June, announcing that it would end all involuntary deportations on its network. Qantas could do the same, and use their position as Australia’s national airline to effect change, just as they did for marriage equality.
Here’s the very revealing thing about the response given by Qantas: that “small number of protesters” included women nominated for the very same award they were proudly sponsoring. It’s funny how quickly you can turn from a lauded “Woman of Influence” to a “protester” when you bite the corporate hand that feeds you.
Anna Hush, nominated for the award for her work as director of End Rape on Campus, penned a letter expressing her concern about Qantas’ sponsorship. Eight other nominees signed on. She told The Guardian, “Qantas cannot celebrate us ‘trailblazing women’ while it continues to be involved in the deportation of women who have risked everything to move themselves – and often their families – to safety.”
Qantas’s response points to a practice we’re all too familiar with of corporations using women to garner social justice PR that serves to distract from actively irresponsible practices. In one succinct statement they’ve managed to throw people facing deportation under the bus and weaponise the achievements of women in doing so.
If we were to accept that protesting deportations is “taking the focus away” from women, we’d need to see women’s rights and refugee rights as separate.
But when Priya from Biloela has armed police and border officials break down her door in the middle of the night in order to detain and deport her and her family, that’s our fight. When women are subjected to sexual violence in detention on Nauru, that’s our fight. Even aside from specifically gendered violence against refugees, the systematic violence of Australia’s border policies is our fight too. To stand with refugees is to engage in a long held and effective tradition of feminist solidarity that goes deeper than fighting sexism and fights oppression more broadly.
If Qantas wants to celebrate with us they should know that they’re not invited to the party while they deport refugees to danger. Support all women or none of us. Support means taking a long overdue stand against deportations.
Rally this Saturday 27th October: Kids Off, Everyone Off: Close Manus, Close Nauru
Matilda is a part of Refugee Action Coalition in Sydney, a grassroots activist group fighting to dismantle Australia’s inhumane border policies. Get involved here.