The Guardian • Issue #2097

HALF THE SKY

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2097
Half the Sky column logo

Anna Pha

At the end of April thousands of women and men took part in rallies in 17 locations across Australia. They were calling for government action, not words, to end men’s violence against women. There were also calls for royal commissions at state and federal level. Whether or not any are held, action cannot wait until their outcomes. We know the horrendous nature of the crisis and what needs to be done. This year one woman is being killed every four days compared with every five days in the same period last year. In 2015, after a number of family violence-related deaths in Victoria – most notably the death of Rosie Batty’s son Luke – the Victorian government established a Royal Commission into Family Violence.

While the Victorian government has still to develop a comprehensive strategy, it has increased funding for specialist family violence support services to ensure that victims of family violence receive appropriate support. It is worth noting that so far this year 3 women have been killed by men in Victoria compared with 11 in NSW and 6 in Queensland. Funding for women’s services in NSW is a fraction of that in Victoria. Indigenous women and women with disability experience the highest rates of violence from men.

All too often women experiencing violence and abuse face a choice of remaining in that situation or homelessness. To its credit Labor has implemented its pre-election commitment to legislate for ten days’ paid family and domestic violence (DFV) leave to be added to the National Employment Standards (NES). The NES contains other national minimum leave entitlements for workers. This leave is designed to support women who need time off work to deal with the impact of DFV, and ensure they can return to work with the necessary support. It still falls short of the $18,000 on average required to escape a violent relationship.

Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young said that instead of political hand-wringing, there should be an “all-shoulders-to-the-wheel” approach, starting with better funding of support services and a “root-and-branch review of the justice system,” including apprehended violence orders (AVOs) and how well they protect women. A number of homicides have occurred when men have breached AVOs.

Professor Ann Summers researched the impact of DFV on single mothers and their children. “We count dead women, but we have overlooked other consequences of the violence. We do not count the physical and emotional injuries, the hospitalisations, the permanent disabilities resulting from domestic violence, the often-lifelong injuries to mental health or psychological well-being. And we have not taken into the account the most frequent, and the most obvious, consequence of all: that if women who have children leave violent relationships, they become single mothers – and all that results from that.

“We ignore the fact that these single mothers include Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, LGBTQI, cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds and women from rural or remote areas. And that not only are there often tough economic consequences, health risks and other problematic outcomes for single mothers who have left violent relationships, but single mothers are themselves often at risk of continuing to endure violence – especially from previous partners.”

The Coalition government savagely and cruelly cut funding to women’s services. Increased funding for services, including housing, is part of the solution. The causes of the crisis also require urgent attention. This cannot be left to women alone to fight. The historic roots of women being seen and treated as men’s chattels remain to be overcome. Education and role models are an important part of the solution – teaching little boys respect from a young age right through to and including in adulthood and encouraging men to join their sisters in the struggle to feel and be safe.

If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More