By Lindy Nolan
To mark International Women’s Day, Spirit of Eureka’s Lindy Nolan interviewed our long time friend, Kim Sattler, about how women were faring in the Illawarra, immediately south of Sydney. Kim works at the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre. The issues she and her co-workers face daily could be multiplied across working class, rural and remote community in the country.
Kim Sattler has always spoken out in the face of injustice. Now she says, “I’ve had enough. I’m seeing things I’ve never seen before.”
She says pay equity is still the biggest issue, because it has such long term ramifications. Employers use different classes of work to get around it. Women are declassified from higher paid jobs, but still do the same work.
“Low and fixed incomes income, they’re the crunch,” Kim says. “The numbers of women on Newstart and Disability Support Pensions are shooting up.
Before Covid, women were finally catching up to men, in levels of employment, types of jobs and pay. Then “everyone went backwards.” Many women lost jobs and still scramble to get them back.
Of her clients, migrant women are hit hardest.
Working like a Trojan but likely to be homeless
Like countless others Kim says “housing is an absolute mess” and homelessness among women is growing exponentially. She deals with it daily.
“There are no extra shelters. No hostels or other options,” she says.
She says the Victorian Government is most progressive, but still way behind need.
“There’s no point being on a public housing list if nothing’s being built. Current public housing has been sold off, under threat or left vacant and deteriorating. It’s worse under Liberals in every state, but especially in NSW,” she continues.
Census workers had a huge fight to include homeless people in the Census. On Census night 405,000 Australian women were homeless.
Most were older.
Lifelong low wages, interrupted work and superannuation, and divorce are the biggest causes. Everyone at her centre knows “half a dozen older women on the precipice of homelessness”.
She spoke of a 58 year old friend “still working like a Trojan”. When she can’t work any more she’ll be homeless.
Kim Sattler reveals that nurses sit “in the middle of the lowly paid” affected by homelessness. “You’ve got some who started at 15, now in their 50s or 60s and too young for the pension. If they get sick, injured or divorced, it’s enough to put them on the street.”
Many live in cars. Family and Community Services may put homeless women up in motels for two or three days. Then women have to declare whatever money they own, and Department of Communities and Justice says they can’t use emergency housing again. “Justice? What a laugh that is!” she exclaims.
The caravan parks are full and so even are the “shittiest rental properties”.
Just before I spoke to Kim, one refugee family had their rent upped by $100 per week.
Only one free abortion a week
“Domestic violence is relentless. Sons to mothers, adult children to elderly parents. Full gamut”, she continues. “Destroy the Joint says six women were killed by February 25 this year.”
“The cost to the whole community is unbelievable,” Kim Sattler says, pointing out most perpetrators are serial offenders. “They have a list of past victims too, and not just partners. They give hell to extended families.”
It’s yet another cause of poverty, ill health and of homelessness.
So is being a single parent.
Yet, for women in the Illawarra without the $650 a medical abortion costs, a termination is almost impossible to get. She and her co-workers “have to beg” to organise the one abortion available under Medicare each week at the local hospital.
Her centre has four to five termination requests a week.
She exclaims, “For 35 years, always had a doctor! Always female.” Until now.
The centre found a male doctor to provide support and prescriptions for the R2468 abortion pill for women under nine weeks pregnant each Saturday, though phone consultations at Medicare rates. NSW Health refused permission.
Kim Sattler doesn’t hold back. “NSW Health is useless, reactionary, in our district in particular.
“Women are travelling from the whole south coast to get terminations. It’s traumatic, even for people who have resolve.”
The justice system targets the poor.
She says, “Some women we work with are locked up nearly every week. Most of those have health issues, especially with drug and alcohol.”
Once inside, they can’t have an abortion. She asks, “What hope is there for a child born in those circumstances?”
“People are just hurting,” she says. “Women are sinking under the weight.”
An evolving hit list
While fundamentals remain the same under Coalition and Labor Governments, Kim Sattler is hopeful the Federal government can make some change for the better.
She mentions the Commonwealth State Housing arrangements, which saw some public housing federally funded. After John Howard abolished formal agreements, the arrangements were neglected by all subsequent ALP and Coalition governments,
Anyone connected with the public service know it’s been gutted. Her many years as a former UnionsACT head gives her particular contacts and insight. She details how many talented public servants headed overseas when the public sector wage freeze made jobs unattractive.
Nearly all jobs are now subcontracted through private Canberra recruitment agencies.
She says, “All the most senior department heads publicly announced they were leaving as Morrison took over. Every department is now top-end loaded with ideological appointees.
“Who knew there were so many boys and girls to give the jobs too,” she laughs.
“That’s where Robodebt and the rest came from,” she continues.
Working with migrants and refugees she knows the Immigration Department is short 500 public servants. “Labor found 25,000 unprocessed passport applications. They’re now completed. Forget about visas,” she says.
She says she’s “never experienced such consultation or listening. Before we were just told”.
Kim is particularly hopeful that change will come out of the NDIS inquiry for the many applicants knocked back from support. She’s happy there’s an evolving hit-list of providers.
What this writer hasn’t forgotten is the NDIS is an ALP Government creation. It dumped all the publicly employed nurses, psychologists, social workers, therapists replacing them with a 100% for-profit, corporatised system.
Battles we’d already won
She says, “We’re fighting all the same battles we’d won years ago, as though they never happened.
“Even pensioners often have to pay for medical care.
“Women face add-on fees for anything to do with reproductive care.
Even cancer. “Women are borrowing money to access chemotherapy. Breast cancer patients have to pay $6000 up-front fees for treatment. Mammograms were free. Now under 55s have to pay for them. Yet it’s a young woman’s disease,” Kim points out.
“Capitalism twists, turns and evolves,” she says. “It doesn’t even pay lip service to fundamental rights.”
As attacks hit wider sections of people, so does the potential to mobilise them.
In life spent helping women and workers assert their power, Kim Sattler knows, if we don’t unite and fight, we’ve already lost.