Women’s Forum Australia (WFA) is a group who has been leading the push to have the book Welcome to Sex at least withdrawn from bookshops in Australia, if not banned entirely. It seems that their first battle was with Big W which withdrew the book from shelves in their stores after abuse of staff by such activists. The book is now obtainable via Big W online1.
One could be forgiven for assuming that WFA is part of a larger international group given that it has Australia attached to the name. However, it is not. The real Women’s Forum is an international group, based in Paris, which “envision[s] a world where women are equal actors and decision-makers across spheres – in politics, business and in our society. [They] seek to remove structural barriers to equality, ensuring that women of all generations, ethnic, cultural and social backgrounds can rise as key drivers of a more just and inclusive world. Their mission is “to mainstream a gender perspective and drive inclusive solutions to global social and economic challenges”. They “believe that diversity – across genders, ages, cultures, professions and abilities – nurtures the ideal environment for creativity and innovation and generates positive economic and social impact”2.
WFA is a conservative religious group which wants to inflict their religious views on everyone else. It uses a similar font and a similar logo to the Paris-based organisation, but is almost diametrically opposed to their ethos. You can tell this by the code-words used in the blurbs on their website. While on the surface none of their arguments could really be disagreed with, there are tell-tales which demonstrate they are a bunch of religious nutters*. Nobody could disagree with their vision: “An Australian society that respects and promotes the dignity of all women.” Their mission also sounds reasonable: “To be a powerful and positive force for pro-woman cultural change in Australian society through research, education, mentoring and advocacy”3. However, when you get to the values, you start to get an inkling of what they are really on about. They say they are ‘life-affirming’ in that they value “the inherent dignity of every human life and recognises that women have a unique role in nurturing and sustaining life.” They also state that they are evidence-based in that they value “the discovery of truth through reason, logic and evidence-based research”3. In the former they seem to have a conservative view of women’s place in the world, while in the latter it sounds like they are trying a bit too hard to not appear religious. If research is not evidence based, then what is it? Theology?
When you examine the history and associations of their CEO and board, their religious bent becomes clear.
Rachael Wong is the CEO and is an adjunct lecturer in Law at the Catholic University of Notre Dame Australia4.
Louise Brosnan is the chair of the board and is a former partner in PwC4. She is terrified of wifi, such that she took her boys out of one Catholic school and enrolled them in another, when the former school introduced wifi5. It makes you wonder how she feels when in shopping centres or motels, most of which have free wifi. You have to laugh.
Marie-Therese Gibson is a board member and is a former Principal of the Catholic Tangara School for Girls, located in Cherrybrook, Sydney4.
Clare Bonner is a board member and lawyer working in a private practice4 and is apparently a member of the Catholic St Thomas More Society, a society whose meetings sometimes commence after Mass6.
Ciantal Bigornia is a board member and the Business Operations Manager of the Anti-Slavery Taskforce of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney4.
So, it is clearly a Catholic organisation. This is further borne out by the campaigns in which they are currently involved. These include the following:
- Demanding the re-instatement of Moira Deeming7. Moira Deeming is a religious nutter and a cooker**8. She was initially suspended from the Victorian Liberal Party room for nine months for speaking at an anti-trans rally gatecrashed by Nazis. She was later expelled from the party room and will now sit on the upper house cross benches. The reason she was expelled was because she threatened to sue the parliamentary leader of the Victorian Liberal Party, John Pesutto9. In the Victorian Liberal Party, it seems bigotry is less of a problem than threatening to sue the leader10.
- Demanding to “stop sexualising our kids”. Women’s Forum Australia is the group leading the charge against the ‘Welcome to Sex’ book written by Dr Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes. They state that Within 24 hours of Women’s Forum Australia and other concerned groups and individuals – predominantly upset parents – calling out the inappropriate, sexually explicit material in the book, Big W pulled the book from its shelves11. They did not ‘call out’ the material in the book; they abused Big W staff, and Big W withdrew the book from shelves to protect their staff; and began selling it only online. The furore created by WFA has helped the book become a best seller1.
- Demanding the removal of men from Women’s prisons in Victoria12. This is simply another iteration of the anti-trans hysteria gripping religious conservatives in the United States which has been imported into Australia, as the ‘men’ in the women’s prisons are transgender and the more limited among the religious have a sneaking suspicion that transgender women do this so that can get into places like women’s prisons, women’s toilets and the like.
- Demanding that the ‘self-ID’ laws in Queensland which would allow people to change their legal sex with a statutory declaration. They minimise this as being with a piece of “paper and a few strokes of a pen”13. In fact, under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Bill, which was backed by a parliamentary committee, people 16 and over will be able to apply to change the sex on their birth certificate with a statutory declaration and a supporting statement. The bill defines gender as is “a person’s internal and individual experience of gender, whether or not it corresponds with the sex assigned to the person at birth”. Those under 16 will need consent form both parents and a statement from a professional, such as a social worker or psychologist, or a court order if both parents can’t agree. The legislation is consistent with the knowledge with an inherent gender identity that may or may not align with their anatomy14. This is just another religiously inspired denial of this reality thereby piling on the anti-transgender bandwagon.
- Demanding that politicians protect women and girls in sport. While nobody could deny that transgender women playing women’s sport gives them an advantage in strength if they have transitioned after puberty, the WFA also states that it puts women’s safety at risk15. This is just the religious refusing to understand that there are people born with the ‘wrong anatomy’. Again, the religious seem to believe that men will change gender solely to allow them to compete in women’s sport and molest women. This is yet another piling on the anti-transgender bandwagon. Indeed, it is a solution in search of a problem. Since the first policy for transgender athletes at Olympic level was introduced in 2003, we have seen more than 63,000 athletes become Olympians. Only two transgender women have made it to the Olympics in this time, and only one competed in Tokyo in 2020 (the other was a reserve)16.
- Demanding that politicians help women trapped in prostitution. They suggest that the nation adopt uniform laws and use the ‘Nordic model’ of criminalising the purchase of sex17. Only Sweden, Norway and Iceland have acts unilaterally criminalising the purchase of sex. Finland has a partial ban; Denmark has opted for decriminalisation. The “Nordic model”, then, is in fact confined to only three countries. These countries’ laws prohibiting the purchase of sex are often depicted as ways to redistribute the guilt and shame of prostitution from the seller to the buyer of sex. However, this was by no means the only argument for their introduction. Contrary to many common appraisals, these laws do not in fact send a clear message as to what and who is the problem with prostitution; on the contrary, they are often implemented in ways that produce negative outcomes for women in prostitution. The laws are sometimes applied in conjunction with other laws, by-laws and practices specifically aimed at pinning the blame for prostitution on women who sell sex, particularly if they are migrants18.
- Demanding a stop to domestic violence. Nobody could disagree with this. However, they assert that the serious issues that men are facing include “drugs and alcoholism or abuse they may have suffered themselves, as well as the things in our wider culture that promote violence against women”19. This vague statement is simplistic when compared to the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which states: “Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”20.
- Demanding that women be given support and real choice, not abortion. They say that women who choose abortion often cite reasons such as fear of intimate partner violence, coercion from their partner or others, study or career pressures, and a lack of financial and emotional support. Abortion under these circumstances is not ‘choice’… it’s desperation21. Research (you know, the fact based stuff) has found women with lower levels of control over their reproductive health, whether through family violence, drug use or ineffective contraception, are more likely than their peers to terminate a pregnancy. It has been suggested that to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies and abortion in Australia, we need to empower women to have control over their fertility and support them with appropriate health services (e.g. family planning and contraception)22. And yet, it is the Catholic church which has actively opposed the provision of contraception beyond the ‘natural method’ or what used to be called the ‘rhythm method’, of only having sex when the woman is in the infertile part of her monthly cycle23. This reminded me of an old joke from my very much younger years – Q: What do they call people who practice the rhythm method of birth control? A: Parents.
- Demanding an end to sex-selective abortions. Bizarrely, WFA express this as 140 million females going “missing” worldwide. This is one of the wackiest phrases I have seen in their various diatribes24.
So, it is clear that this organisation is a front for the Catholic church, although they would never admit it. This sort of hidden association is becoming more common among organisations as they try to distance themselves from the rancid smell of modern churches, while attempting to push their church’s agenda. It can be looked upon as a sort of religious astroturfing***. The stench surrounding modern churches has made association with them an electoral liability, and what the religious want more than anything else is power, elected or otherwise, something that is slowly deserting them as religion declines in Australia and many other countries. In Australia this is why they have infiltrated the Liberal Party in large numbers, to the extent that religious nutters are being preselected for the Liberal and LNP parties. Hiding your association with churches is something they perceive as clever, and is something advocated in the 2021 Church and State Summit by former MP George Christensen. He suggested christians take what he called a “smarter” approach to debate, by self-censoring some of their agenda until they are in power. This is telling these prospective christian politicians to keep quiet (i.e. ‘to bear false witness’) about their religious beliefs prior to being elected25.
This religious astroturfing will continue and it is important that such organisations and their association with assorted churches be uncovered.
*Religious nutter: While there are many types of religious people, some of whom are quite nice, a large proportion of religious people insist on trying to inflict their peculiar beliefs on people who do not believe the same things they do. These are the religious nutters. For them it is all about power over people’s lives no matter what the belief systems of those people are. As I have said elsewhere, their lust for inflicting their beliefs on others is tantamount to forcing people to follow the Sydney Swans because they are the one true AFL team. It is simply silly.
**Cooker: In Australian slang it started off as a reference to anti-vaccination ‘activists’ (antivaxxers) who were against wearing masks, border closures and lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Because antivaxxers tend to believe in all sorts of other bizarre conspiracies, the term cooker has expanded to include any people who believe such conspiracy theories. There is now a website which tracks some of the major cookers in Australia26.
***Astroturfing: This is the attempt to create an impression of widespread grassroots support for a policy, individual, or product, where little such support exists. Multiple online identities and fake pressure groups are used to mislead the public into believing that the position of the astroturfer is the commonly held view27.