There is an important discussion happening about violence against women: even if gender equality is necessary to end this violence, are governments being too complacent in accepting that rates of violence will not reduce until we achieve greater gender equality?
Is primary prevention being used as a cover for lack of action on keeping women and children safe, right now?
What about the frontline specialist women’s services that women and children need, and which so many can’t access?
Here are some of the media stories addressing this debate:
- Violence against women to stay ‘static’ until gender roles change, says COAG plan
- Premier abandons 2021 deadline for domestic violence reduction
- ‘We have to believe we can change this situation now’ on violence
- The Drum – ABC TV iView – COAG Plan to reduce violence against women – Monday 12 August 2019
For feminists and people working in the women’s services sector, this debate is frustrating in that it pits a commitment to gender equality and structural change against a commitment to stopping the violence that is happening right now. For many people working in this area, it has always been about both.
It is not a supposed over-emphasis on primary prevention and gender equality that is holding progress back – it is the severe under-resourcing of specialist women’s services across the jurisdictions, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of reform in key systems such as social security, family law and migration, a lack of co-design and coordination, and a reluctance to put intersectional feminist leadership at the centre.
In 2016, Our Watch and AWAVA hosted an international conference that looked closely at how to advance primary prevention without disconnecting this effort from the work being done to support victims/survivors, intervene to stop men’s violence and make abusers accountable. The report on the conference is here.
In my keynote speech to the conference I directly addressed the tensions between long-term change and the terrible urgency of our work, speaking to those who are working in the sector:
“As good as recent developments have been, sometimes in our area it feels as if there’s a terrible lack of traction. We can see the urgency and the horror of what we’re dealing with, but it feels like our wheels are spinning – the institutions around us often fail to respond with commensurate attention – sustained attention, realistic resources, an extra shoulder to the bumper of a badly bogged car.
There is progress, and at times there are hope-inspiring leaps of progress –
- like when Our Watch produced Change the Story;
- like when Australia’s Prime Minister acknowledged that gender inequality underpins this violence;
- like when the Victorian Government commissioned and then committed to implementing – and funding! – perhaps the most extensive and systematic inquiry into domestic and family violence ever undertaken.
And then – perhaps even at the same time – we are confronted by the sheer inadequacy of every step taken so far [….]
[U]ltimately we want to be out of a job. The double bind is that in order to get there, we need to be able to do our jobs.”
In the years since 2016 it has become clear that expecting the sector to resolve these tensions, even with our best efforts at hope and sustained determination, is not enough. The frustration and anger now being expressed at the lack of progress is reasonable. We need resources, and we need to be able to lead the work.
Merrindahl Andrew (AWAVA Program Manager)
17 August 2019