Violence against women and children is an uncomfortable and unpalatable truth. It’s why the shocking statistics we’ve all heard before always seem unbelievable. A woman is killed almost every week at the hands of her partner or ex-partner in Australia. Surely that can’t be right? It is.
These murders are almost always the culmination of a longer history of domestic violence. One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. One in five have experienced sexual violence. One in six Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner.
There’s another uncomfortable, unpalatable truth in these ugly statistics and it is the attitudes that allow the violence to take place in the first place. Violence arises where women are seen as objects, where they’re deemed as inferior or they’re considered to be subjects to control. It’s why inequality and violence are inextricably linked. The toxicity and damage that stems from attitudes that entrench inequality is not limited to the physical scars of violence, but the physical scars are reaching endemic proportions.
“It is a national emergency,” Natasha Stott Despoja said as she launched an organisational strategy in Sydney to eliminate violence against women and children. “There’s a reason the World Health Organisation has said violence against women is an epidemic, and it’s about time we address it.”
Our Watch, the independent organisation that Stott Despoja chairs is committed to addressing it by raising awareness and engaging with the community in action to prevent it. Our Watch was announced in July 2013 as the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and Children by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments. The group is also supported by the Northern Territory and South Australian governments, with an open invitation to the remaining states and territories to join.
Given how complex and deeply entrenched violence against women and children is Stott Despoja is realistic about the challenge ahead.
“We know that in a more equal society that values women and where we see respectful relationships between men and women, boys and girls, we are likely to see a reduction in the statistics when it comes to violence and abuse,” Stott Despoja told Women’s Agenda. “It’s long term. It’s generational. I’m not suggesting we’re going to solve this overnight but we have to start tackling it in a more serious way.”
The group that gathered to mark the release of Our Watch’s strategy in Sydney on Friday is indicative the cause has serious support. Senator Michaelia Cash, South Australia’s Premier Jay Weatherill, the Northern Territory’s Bess Nungarrayi Price, Victorian MP Mary Woolridge, Lieutenant General David Morrison, Stott Despoja and the federal sex discrimination commissioner Liz Broderick were among those present.
The minister assisting the minister for women, Senator Cash, said violence is an issue “above politics” that requires a whole community response.
“This plan is the first of its kind in the world – focussed on primary prevention initiatives to end domestic violence”, she said. “The media has a critical role to play in changing community attitudes and behaviours when it comes to violence. Enhancing media engagement around violence against women and children will transform this into a whole of community issue.”
Cash also repeated Stott-Despoja’s comments that ‘to end violence against women we must address the culture that allows it to occur and continue to tackle the attitudes and beliefs that justify, excuse, minimise or hide it’.
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill was adamant that violence against women “is a men’s issue”.
“This is about the role of men in our society,” he said. “Fundamentally the image of women in [men’s] minds as they form relationships goes to the heart of the issue that we are facing here. Until we grapple with that question we’re not going to make the fundamental mileage we need to make on this important question.”
Northern Territory minister Bess Nungarrayi Price said the prevalence of domestic violence in some indigenous communities is woeful. “It is sad that some of my people think violence is the norm,” she said. “Today is a special day to change that.”
A powerful and persuasive video encouraging Australians to take action to reject violence featuring Charlie Pickering, Shane Jacobson, Magda Szubanski and Stella Young was shown.
The Our Watch launch event coincided with equal pay day, a fact that was impossible to overlook after hearing a succession of politicians link domestic and sexual violence with gender inequality. Stott Despoja was adamant that structural inequality, as evidenced by the pay gap, is problematic.
“We know that when women aren’t represented equally in powerful institutions or throughout society, if their roles aren’t valued, all of these factors add up to conditions where women are treated as inferior and not equal. That can give rise to violence and other abusive behaviour,” Stott Despoja said. “We want to promote a society that rejects some of those rigid gender stereotypes in an attempt to eliminate or at least reduce violence against women.”
Violence against women and children is not ring-fenced in one section of the community. It is not a problem that is limited to one wayward group. It is a problem that affects every single one of us. And inequality is the position that makes it possible. If we are serious about rejecting violence, which absolutely must be, we must be serious about rejecting inequality. It’s a national emergency.
If you, a child or another person is in immediate danger call 000.
If you feel unsafe contact 1800 Respect or 1800 737 732 The national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.