Second Wave Feminism
The first formal organisation to identify as women's liberationists in Tasmania was established in 1971 when a group of students at the University of Tasmania formed the Tasmanian University Union Women's Liberation. It affiliated with the Tasmanian University Union Clubs and Societies to gain funds to support its activities. Organised on formal procedural lines, Women's Liberation was open to both female and male students. Its aim was to educate women to gain confidence in their own abilities, raise consciousness in the Union about the oppression of women, and actively involve Union members in campaigns against discriminatory issues.
Following criticism by other Australian women's liberation groups, the group restricted membership to women students and explored less hierarchical ways of organising. Over the following years it purchased a small library, established consciousness-raising groups and provided abortion counselling services. One of its enduring successes was the establishment in 1973 of the Tasmanian University Child Care Centre, one of its primary goals.
In early 1972 another organisation, the Hobart Women's Action Group (HWAG), comprising women academics and their colleagues, again based at the University of Tasmania, began to organise. This group was self-consciously intellectual and its members were informed by their various academic disciplines. They argued that modern liberationists, which they identified themselves as being, differed from 'old feminists' by being concerned with total liberation. This was to be achieved through practical action, public education, consciousness raising, regular discussion groups and research. Being focussed on systemic sexism within society, HWAG's aims were broader than those of the student Women's Liberation group. HWAG identified education, employment opportunities and equal pay, social welfare benefits, the legal status of women, access to finance, family planning and childcare as issues to be singled out for further research and action.
After a media campaign by HWAG, a meeting in Hobart in June 1972 attracted about fifty women. HWAG intended that they would establish women's groups in the suburbs, supported and informed by HWAG. Members of HWAG spoke on the aims of the group, including sex role conditioning in raising children, women in the work place, the politics of housework and childcare opportunities. These meetings were held regularly throughout 1972 and many members joined the Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL) set up later that year. In June 1972 HWAG addressed a similar group of women in Launceston.
Uncomfortable with providing ongoing support for public meetings, HWAG encouraged the formation of WEL in August 1972. At the end of 1972 HWAG withdrew from public activities, but continued to publish its newsletter Liberaction. Much sought after Australia-wide, Liberaction contained ephemera such as the Feminist Food Guide, and seriously argued articles such as discussion of the place of lesbians within the nascent women's movement, a critique of the activities of WEL nationally and an analysis of the failings of the management of the United Nations International Women's Year activities in Australia. HWAG formally disbanded when the last Liberaction was published in March 1975.
By 1975 the impact of the international women's liberation movement was felt at many levels of society and in government. Tasmanian women who were involved in these feminist groups went on to exert influence in many spheres and forge careers in various areas.
Further reading: M Lake, Getting equal, Sydney, 1999; S Magarey, 'Feminism as cultural renaissance', Hecate 30/1, 2004.