The call for gender equality
The recent White Ribbon Day, and the 16 Days of Activism Against Gendered Violence, has brought the issue of Domestic and Family Violence to the fore. Gender inequality is the primary driver of Violence Against Women, and understanding this needs to be central when the Victorian Commission into Family Violence hands down its findings, as outlined in this article by Yvonne Lay at Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand.
Family violence is a gendered crime and a gross violation of the human rights of women and children. Globally and nationally, family violence is the most pervasive form of violence perpetrated against women. The health, social and economic impacts of family violence on women, children, families and communities are devastating and, in many cases, lethal. These facts are well-known. The establishment of the Royal Commission into Family Violence (Royal Commission) is recognition that the current system is struggling to effectively respond to, and prevent, family violence in Victoria. In February 2016 the Royal Commission will release its report and make recommendations to the government. Undoubtedly this report will be heavily informed by close to 1,000 written submissions received and the testimony of over 160 witnesses, including the personal stories of women who have experienced family violence.[i]
For an organisation like Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand (Good Shepherd) whose core purpose is to disrupt the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage of women and girls, the Royal Commission’s report holds the promise of delivering what the specialist family violence service sector has been demanding for decades – a system that recognises gender inequality as a cause of family violence and the harm that family violence causes, acknowledgement that it is everyone’s responsibility to prevent family violence, and a system that provides the architecture and resources for services that deliver the critical and often life-saving support to victims.
Good Shepherd’s submission to the Royal Commission asserts 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’s work outside of the paid workforce is under-recognised; and women hold less social, political and economic status than men. Thus, gender organising principles need to be used for reform at every level – governance and policy reform, crisis intervention, early intervention and primary prevention.
The empowerment of women is critical. Empowering women is a multi-dimensional process of achieving basic capabilities, legal rights and participation in key social, economic, political and cultural domains. To advance and indeed achieve gender equality, gender analysis is fundamental. Gender analysis is a tool ‘to identify constraints and opportunities in relation to equal opportunities and rights for men and women in terms of knowledge and skills, conditions of work, social protection, family responsibility and economic and political decision making’.[ii] This analysis must occur at every level. As stated by UN Women, all government activities, including policy development, planning and budgeting, must be ‘gender-responsive’.[iii] Therefore reform must go beyond the specialist family violence service system, beyond child protection, beyond housing and policing. Good Shepherd recommends that every Victorian government department, government-funded organisation, community group, not-for-profit organisation and corporation take meaningful steps in restoring the value of women.
We advocate for transforming gender relations within organisations and the community; reframing ‘family violence’ in order to facilitate the success of prevention efforts, and encouraging mainstream and professional services to adopt an informed and responsive approach to family violence as part of their core business.
Progress is being made in building relationships between those in the community sector and larger organisations in the private sector. These crucial small steps will benefit all – women, their children, and the Victorian community. If the true goal for family violence reform is for women and men to fully participate in society and live a free and independent life, then achieving gender equality is fundamental.
Overhauling current government and policy structures is not a simple task. Bi-partisan support, a clear strategy, and strong government leadership irrespective of political persuasion are all critical. Attitudes that condone or glorify violence should not be tolerated in our society. If we continue to allow the undervaluing of women in our political, social and economic systems, the eradication of family violence will remain elusive. Every Victorian should expect to live in safety in their own homes, and have the full protection of the law and the systems that govern our society. Addressing gender inequality must be the first priority.
[i] Matters, Tracey, (2015), ‘Royal Commission hearings conclude’. Retrieved August 17, 2015 from Royal Commission into Family Violence: http://www.rcfv.com.au/Media/Royal-Commission-hearings-conclude
[ii] Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services, (2011), Submission for Human Rights Charter Review, Collingwood: Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services, p. 7.
[iii] UN Women, (2015), Financing for Gender Equality. Retrieved on May 26, 2015 from UN Women: http://www.gender-financing.unwomen.org/en/about-us