On any given day at a Northern Rivers women’s refuge, workers hear from women forced to stay with their violent partners because they simply cannot afford to leave.
I was told that one woman had no option but to stay with her abuser because there was little public transport out of her regional town, her social networks were limited because her partner had isolated her and, most urgently, the rate of social security was too low for her to survive independently.
Fear of destitution and homelessness is a driving factor for why women don’t leave or report their abuse.
Even when women do leave, some return to living with their abusive partner, because they have nowhere else to go and lack the resources to support themselves and their children.
Economic inequality is not the cause of domestic and family violence, but it creates a power imbalance that violent perpetrators can exploit.
Women experiencing domestic abuse are trapped not only by a violent partner, but by structural inequalities in our economy that are beyond the capacity of any individual to alter.
At the heart of the problem is the way that women’s work is structured and supported.
Women’s work is overwhelmingly precarious. Just 43% of employed Australian women have a permanent, full-time waged job with entitlements, compared with 57% of employed men.
The concentration of women in lower paid jobs with fewer hours means women workers take home 32 percent less pay than male workers.
It should be no surprise that women have fewer assets, less superannuation, and less savings.
How do we imagine women will leave abusive relationships, when the economic odds are stacked against them?
For the last seven years, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has been blind to these structural barriers that constrain women’s economic and working lives. The Liberals have ignored women’s economic interests and refused to conduct analysis on how their policies in tax, superannuation, industrial relations, and higher education impact on women.
Things have not improved during the pandemic.
In designing economic measures to support Australians through COVID-19, the Government has again failed to grapple with the reality of women’s economic lives. The decision to exclude short term casual workers from JobKeeper disproportionately affected women. And amongst the first sectors to experience “snapback” was childcare, with the overwhelmingly female workforce losing access to JobKeeper.
The scheme to provide early access to superannuation encouraged women excluded from other forms of support to draw down their already dismal balances. One fund found its female clients were drawing down significantly more of their savings than men, and more women than men were reducing their balances to zero. With women retiring with just over half the superannuation balances as their male peers, this policy risks exacerbating existing patterns of poverty and dependence for older women.
As we emerge from the pandemic, the Liberals have an opportunity to tackle these problems. The temporary increase in the rate of unemployment benefits through the Coronavirus supplement has lifted many households out of poverty. If the government wanted to support women leaving violence, a permanent increase to JobSeeker would provide a pathway that would allow women to find their feet and establish an independent life with their children.
So too would changes to our workplaces to provide greater security for women who combine caring responsibilities with work, and affordable, quality childcare that supports women’s workplace participation
During the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an increase in violence against women and their children. One in 10 women in a relationship said they had experienced intimate partner violence during the pandemic. Half of those women said the abuse had increased in severity since the outbreak of COVID-19.
The budget presents a real opportunity to address this. Women and men have very different economic interests, and the budget should deliver for both.
That woman living on the Northern Rivers, with no option but to stay with her abuser because she will be forced into poverty if she leaves, deserves more from the Federal Government. The cost of not taking action is simply too high.