It was just another day on the job for Larissa Waters that happened to end in internationally breaking news: The senator was the first member of Australian parliament to breastfeed (an act that occurs 8 to 12 times a day by the millions of new mothers around the world) while in session--and it became viral.
Waters took to Twitter to react to the media's response, saying, “we need family-friendly and flexible workplaces for all so this isn't news anymore." Waters, who takes is also co-deputy leader of the Australian Greens, is working to equalize rights across the board for all new parents, both in Australia and beyond.
Larissa Waters. Photo courtesy of ABC
As effective as Waters' breastfeeding image was at generating social buzz, it is also a reminder of the type of trending news that falls by the wayside just as quickly as it peaks--making it more difficult for these practices to stay relevant, in order to be implemented.
As is showcased in the cases of past headliners, Spain's Carolina Bescansa and Italy's Licia Ronzulli, who brought their newborn's to parliament, and Iceland's Unnur Brá Konráðsdóttir who made history last year, when she breastfed her baby during a debate. Each had her five minutes of fame, while the larger conversation was avoided.
It may have been Waters who resurfaced the discussion this week, but the conversation will once again revert to behind-closed-doors until the next issue surrounding the topic of mothers at work, and the overall treatment of parents in the workforce.
So, in order to keep the discussions relevant. SWAAY was curious about who Larissa Waters was outside the headlines. We wanted to what she stands for
Waters is the first Greens senator for Queensland. She stands behind The Greens' strong beliefs of representing women throughout Australia. Since her 2011 election to senate, and 2016 reelection, Waters has dedicated her time to achieving equality for all, through “creating a fairer society and achieving gender equality."
Along with The Greens' group beliefs, Waters' personal beliefs have been a lead factor in stimulating action for women in the workforce, particularly around equal pay and family-friendly workplaces. She played a large role in the Australian Parliament's 'family friendly' rule changes last year, most notably the passing of law that permits female politicians to nurse in the chamber--influencing the law and being the first to act on it, seemingly brought her work full circle. In leading up to the rule change, Waters said, “If we want more young women in Parliament, we must make the rules more family friendly to allow new mothers and new fathers to balance their parliamentary and parental duties."
Waters also firmly stands behind The Greens' message of inclusivity. “There is no place for gender discrimination in our society," she has said. "We will continue to fight it in all its forms and stand up for gender equality against outdated conservative attitudes." Waters reinforced her support on this stance when she posted on Instagram to recognize her daughter's birth, which incidentally coincided with International Women's Day.
A snippet from her post reads,
“I'll be having a few more weeks off but will soon be back in parliament with this little one in tow. She is even more inspiration for continuing our work to address gender inequality and stem dangerous climate change. (And yes, if she's hungry, she will be breastfed in the Senate chamber). Happy International Women's Day to everyone working for a more equal future! #IWD2017"
To further her support of women's rights, Waters has also been a prominent force in addressing Australia's domestic violence crisis, where according to The Greens' site, “more than one woman per week is dying at the hands of a current or former partner." With underfunded front line services, Waters took action to establish a Senate inquiry on domestic violence, which overturned existing funding cuts to these critical shelters and protective services.
Aside from her campaigns surrounding women and parents, Waters and her co-deputy, Scott Ludlam, are also taking action for Australia's tourism, mining and resources, environment and biodiversity, as well as gambling reform.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.