New DFV leave provisions will reach women in a silent epidemic

New DFV leave provisions will reach women at the heart of a silent epidemic

Violet Roumeliotis

Women from migrant and refugee backgrounds will be the real winners if Parliament passes legislation to ensure casual workers will be eligible for the government’s new paid domestic violence leave scheme.

It is estimated that more than 11 million workers affected by domestic violence will have access to 10 days of paid leave each year under the new legislation presented to parliament this week.

This is a win for all women, but particularly so for the invisible women who sit at the intersection of gender, race and culture.

People born in a non-English speaking country have similar or higher rates of domestic violence to other Australians but are about half as likely to receive formal assistance ― and more often than not, women are the ones left shouldering the burden.

This is particularly challenging given that people from migrant and refugee backgrounds are overrepresented in highly casualised industries such as retail, hospitality, and caring professions. 

In the health care and social assistance sectors, for example, nearly 80% of people were born overseas (ABS).

In a country like Australia, it’s not good enough that refugee and migrant women continue to fall through the cracks, so it is heartening to see Prime Minister Albanese making good on his election promise to ensure that “no Australians will be left behind”.

This new legislation will allow migrant and refugee women to deal with the DFV service system, get themselves and their children to safety, sort out their situation without a loss of income and step back and deal with the crisis. This is a fundamental right to which all women should be entitled – regardless of their race, culture or country of origin.

At present, many women leaving DFV situations are left reliant on community support, often reaching out to other women. 

At SSI, we see this through our Supporting U initiative, which builds the capacity of women leaders to support victim-survivors of DFV in their own communities.

As one Supporting U leader recently told me, “The priest of my church now calls me when he is concerned about a woman and asks me, ‘Where do I refer these women to?’ And sees if she is willing to talk to me so I can better support, get her connected to the right channels. If we can do this – we can help women and children remain safe.”

Strengthening the community with the right tools to support their people is highly powerful. But we cannot solely rely on the community – this must be supplemented with paid support that will give women agency and the economic independence to empower them to leave DFV situations. 

This legislation is a welcome start to addressing an overlooked epidemic affecting migrant and refugee communities. Together, we can ensure that no-one is left behind in our efforts to support victim-survivors of domestic and family violence.

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