A systematic gendered approach hold the key to addressing family violence

The tireless work of feminist advocates, scholars and their supporters has culminated in the establishment of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The Royal Commission’s report, due to be released in February 2016, holds the promise of delivering what the family violence service sector has been demanding for decades – a system that recognises the harm that domestic/family violence causes, acknowledgement that it is everyone’s responsibility to prevent it, and provides adequate resources for services that provide the critical and often life-saving support to victims. Although it has already been a long journey, this is just the start. Yvonne Lay, Safety&Resilience DevelopmentLead with Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, outlines the essential next steps as advocated in Good Shepherd’s submission to the Royal Commission.


In 1974 the first women’s domestic/family violence refuge was established by the Women’s Liberation Movement. To this day, passionate and committed women struggle, fight and advocate for the safety of women and children, and the protection of their fundamental human rights. Domestic/Family violence sector workers support women and children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They see and hear the damage that domestic/family violence causes to them and their lives. The work of sector workers and their allies has seen a shift in the way the public view violence against women – it is no longer ‘just another domestic’ but rather a serious violation of the rights of women and children. The law has also shifted – in the mid 2000’s, Victoria abolished provocation as a legitimate defence for murder, after James Ramage successfully used it as a justification for murdering his wife Julie. These shifts in attitudes and institutional practices leave less and less room for victim blaming, and rightly so. But there is a lot more work to be done, and it is work that we continue to be committed to doing.

In June 2015 Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand (Good Shepherd) submitted its response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence (the Commission). We all agree that every Victorian should expect to live safely, and have the full protection of the law and the systems that govern our society. Unfortunately, this remains elusive to victims of family violence. The establishment of the Commission is recognition that the current system is no longer functional or effective in responding to, and preventing, family violence in Victoria.

All of the recommendations made by Good Shepherd are founded on achieving greater levels of gender equality, which is at the crux of family violence and therefore the key to its solutions.

There is no denying that family violence is a gendered crime and a violation of the human rights of women and children. The health, social and economic impacts of family violence on women, children, families and communities are devastating, and in many cases lethal. We know that a woman is killed almost every week by a partner or ex-partner. So far this year 27 women have been killed in the context of family violence.

At the core of the Good Shepherd submission is the firm belief that gender organising principles must be central to any response to family violence. This means designing, reforming, creating and establishing responses that are founded upon the acknowledgement and recognition that women in general are less privileged than men; women hold less power than men; women earn less in the paid workforce than men; women’s work outside of the paid workforce is under-recognised; women hold less social, political and economic status than men. Gender organising principles need to be used for reform at every level – governance and policy reform, crisis intervention, early intervention, and primary prevention.

Strong government leadership, irrespective of political persuasion, is critical to drive the necessary changes for a violence-free Victoria. Overhauling current government and policy structures is not a simple task. It requires bi-partisan support and a clear strategy.

Family violence is a decapitalising experience for women. Women are already economically disadvantaged due to gender inequality. This is compounded by the impact of family violence, which can increase financial hardship in many ways and can often have lasting, detrimental impacts.

Furthermore, Good Shepherd highlights that our recent research shows that economic abuse is both a form and consequence of family violence, creating deep and often lasting damage to women’s economic security. There are ways this can be addressed, for example increasing the reach of microfinance programs to improve financial literacy of women who have experienced family violence; amending banking industry codes and the national credit legislation to allow family violence survivors with unsecured debts of less than $10,000 to apply to remove their name, be released from liability and/or sever the debt.

Reform must go beyond specialist family violence services. Good Shepherd suggests that all Victorian organisations, public and private, adopt an informed and responsive approach to family violence. For instance, the Victorian school curriculum should include education in healthy relationships, including financial relationships, and building on current anti-bullying programs.

In the corporate sector, Financial Hardship Teams should be established within all financial institutions and essential services, trained to identify family violence and advise on appropriate referral pathways. Businesses should be encouraged to offer female employees paid family violence leave entitlements. Tools and mechanisms should be developed and used to ensure that all government departments and government-funded organisations meet gender benchmarking targets. These mechanisms will ensure that Victorian organisations contribute to, and participate in, the state’s prevention agenda.

The Good Shepherd submission is grounded in our research and our work with women and children affected by family violence.

We must work together to design a new framework that addresses the cause of family violence – the undervaluing of women in our society politically, socially and economically. Attitudes that condone violence has no place in our society. Violent behaviour is unacceptable in our society.

Policy reform is necessary. Structural reform is necessary. Systems reform is necessary. Legislative reform is necessary. With strong leadership from government, this new system must be wide-reaching and comprehensive. It must be robust and rigorous in its implementation. It must include mechanisms and tools that drive engagement and accountability across multiple systems. It must also enable comprehensive data collection, and set out clear outcome measures.

The challenge we are faced with is not insurmountable, particularly when the safety of women and children, and all Victorians, is our motivator.

To access Good Shepherd’s full submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, click here: http://www.rcfv.com.au/getattachment/48F2BC8E-AA2D-4AFC-BA7A-AF91E230964A/Good-Shepherd-Australia-New-Zealand