Day 10: In her shoes

Whilst the prevalence of violence against women traverses cultural, linguistic, racial, religious and socio-economic boundaries affecting 1 in 3 women no matter where they are in the world or with which culture they identify, a range of factors converge such that culturally and linguistically diverse women are often especially vulnerable to violence. The barriers CALD women experience include: racism and discrimination; a lack of proficiency or confidence in English combined with a limited provision of materials in languages other than English; family and community pressures; social isolation; a limited awareness of rights and where and how to seek help; uncertain residency and prohibitions to travel; lack of income and social support; fear of having their communities vilified and/or pathologised; and a limited provision, in the first place, of services willing or able to be of assistance.

On top of the barriers that come from being a part of ‘not the mainstream’ culture or language group, CALD women often have to overcome stereotypes, discrimination, racism and misplaced cultural sensitivity which can make it very hard, not just to come forward, but for their voices to be heard or understood when they do. Along with this comes fraught issues for women who choose to speak out against violence in their own communities: when they do, they are seen to be bringing their own community into disrepute and, too often, the response from the mainstream is to blame their culture (rather than holding the perpetrator accountable), while exempting our own culture (clearly far from true, as statistics only too readily affirm, not to mention far from helpful). The fear of their testimony providing further reinforcement to an already unjust and discriminatory stereotype of their culture creates a very significant, and distressing, barrier for CALD women.

One initiative run recently seeking to bring the experiences of CALD women into the mainstream, to provide a dialogue around the rights and needs of CALD women, in their own words is the In Her Shoes campaign, run by the Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance (AIRWA) – now Network of Immigrant & Refugee Women Australia (NIRWA). For International Women’s Day they produced a series of videos with Australian CALD women talking about a range of experiences and setting right, in their own words, the misrepresentations and misunderstandings that too often precede, and prevent us hearing, their own words. To see the full set of videos click here or here.

Undoubtedly much, much more needs to be done by Australian governments, services, communities and society to better support CALD women, broadly speaking, and when it comes to the experience of violence. This was an issue of particular interest for the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women during her recent study tour of Australia. You can read her report and recommendations here.

Learn more:

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Day 9: Disability & Violence

December 3 is the International Day of People with Disability. Not only is violence against women the leading contributor to death, disease and disability in women aged 15-44 but, “it is now widely acknowledged that compared to non-disabled girls and women, women and girls with disabilities are at greater risk of severe forms of violence; they experience violence at significantly higher rates, more frequently, for longer, in more ways, and by more perpetrators”. The links between violence and disability go both ways, a correlation that in any just society should be completely and irrevocably avoidable.

Not only are women with disabilities at greater risk of violence but the access to support services, resources and pathways to safety for women with disabilities at risk of or experiencing violence, for the most part, simply aren’t there. The disadvantage and discrimination experienced by women with disabilities in this situation is manifold, going beyond the standard barriers and prejudice of both sexism and able-ism, to include factors such as “the reinforced demand for compliant behaviours, their perceived lack of credibility, their social isolation and lack of access to learning environments, their dependence upon others, their lack of access to police, support services, lawyers or advocates; the lack of public scrutiny of institutions; and the entrenched sub-culture of violence and abuse prevalent in institutions”.

There remains an enormous amount of work to be done in this area, firstly to provide women with disabilities with the resources and services to support them when they become victims of violence but, equally importantly, preventative work to challenge discriminatory beliefs and create a safe and equal culture for women with disabilities, a culture that will prohibit such abuses in the first place. Despite the significant setbacks that lack of knowledge, lack of understanding and lack of awareness continue to impose in this area, some great work is being done to shift our culturally-imposed ineptitude and challenge the silence and ignorance surrounding this issue.

Including:

  •  Exceptional ongoing advocacy, research and lobbying by Women With Disabilities Australia as have Women With Disabilities Victoria
  • The Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse have links to a range of Australian and international research, resources and projects
  • There is currently a Senate Inquiry into the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of People with Disabilities in Australia
  • Last year, then Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis announced funding for two new projects to support women with disabilities experiencing violence

Learn more:

  • Read the devastatingly comprehensive submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse from Women With Disabilities Australia
  • Read ’16 days campaign: International Day of People with a Disability’, Something in Common
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Day 8: Standing firm for change

Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely to experience family violence than a white woman. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more than twice as likely to be a victim of family violence. One in three Aboriginal people has a relative who is a victim, or is witness to an act of interpersonal violence, on a daily basis.

The number of Aboriginal women currently experiencing family violence and reporting it to police: 5%.

In response to this knowledge nearly 400 Aboriginal men took part in the gathering and issued the Inteyerrkwe Statement:

Inteyerrkwe Statement July 2008

We the Aboriginal males from Central Australia and our visitor brothers from around Australia gathered at Inteyerrkwe in July 2008 to develop strategies to ensure our future roles as husbands, grandfathers, fathers, uncles ,nephews, brothers, grandsons, and sons in caring for our children in a safe family environment that will lead to a happier, longer life that reflects opportunities experienced by the wider community.

“We acknowledge and say sorry for the hurt, pain and suffering caused by Aboriginal males to our wives, to our children, to our mothers, to our grandmothers, to our granddaughters, to our aunties, to our nieces and to our sisters. We also acknowledge that we need the love and support of our Aboriginal women to help us move forward.”

In communities across Australia, powerful initiatives and programs are being developed and implemented to end the violence against women, including:

  • Domestic Violence—it’s not our game’ initiative
    Conceived in 2007 in Normanton, involves local football teams who “agree to act as role models and agree to exclude from games any player involved in domestic violence”. Since inception, “Domestic violence incidents dropped by 55%, breaches of domestic violence orders dropped by 64% and domestic violence is no longer accepted in the community.”
     
  • The Spirited Men’s Program
    Aims to “pioneer a new way that Nunga men can not only deal with anger and violence but find positive ways of being able to stand their ground as Aboriginal men, to feel and be respected for who they are.”
  • Standing Firm Against Family Violence
    Is a campaign on behalf of the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention & Legal Service Victoria. Amongst a range of services they provide they have developed 101 ways to Stand Firm Against Family Violence and have recently held a national conference: Standing Firm for Change: A Journey to Justice. They also run Sisters Day Out, wellbeing workshops for young Koori women.

Learn more:

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Day 7: Equal pay

December 1, 2012, is the day that the landmark Fair Work Australia decision to award community workers Equal Pay for Equal Work takes effect. From today, pay increases that will lift salaries for workers in this sector by between 23 and 45 per cent begin to be carried out.

This was a case argued on gender. Community workers are some of the lowest paid workers in Australia and they are, overwhelmingly, women. Fair Work Australia, in its landmark decision – “the first ever successful pay equity claim in the national system” – agreed that gender constituted one of the reasons this work is both underpaid and undervalued. This decision is undeniably a significant improvement in ensuring equal pay for women.

This sector is underpaid precisely because the work has been undervalued as ‘women’s work’ – as ‘natural’ and therefore not requiring remuneration, respect or regard. Valuing ‘women’s work’ is about valuing women. Valuing women, respecting women and the contributions they make is vital to ending violence against women. Without respect and value, human rights are unlikely to be observed and true equity will remain out of reach.

That caring isn’t about being a doormat, or about being invisible or without needs of your own. That caring isn’t just a woman’s role and it is not to be taken for granted. Caring is a vital and necessary contribution to society and none of us would be here today without someone taking responsibility for caring for us at times in our lives. This decision challenges a culture that continues to take so much work performed by women – or traditionally seen as women’s work no matter the gender of the person who performs it – for granted and refuses to create the necessary changes that would allow for this work to be fairly remunerated and regarded.

All this might seem remote from violence against women, but it’s highly relevant. Research clearly shows that true gender equity is fundamental for the prevention of violence against women (VicHealth have done great research on this point) and establishes correlation between sexist attitudes, values and beliefs and violence against women. A culture that does not value women’s work is a culture that undermines gender equity and countenances violence against women. Valuing women’s work goes hand in hand with valuing women and granting them their full human rights to live free from the threat, and reality, of violence.

Learn more:

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Day 6: The EVAs

I’ve said it time and time again, and it is said repeatedly by everyone from the UN, to Australian governments to feminist organisations: the key to ending violence against women lies in cultural change. It is cultural change that will allow us to feel horror at the appalling rates of violence, it is cultural change that will allow us to perceive the problematic behaviours and attitudes creating those statistics and it is cultural change that will teach all of us how to respond effectively and automatically to these problematic behaviours – in other words to carry out our responsibility for preventing violence against women. In 1889, Louisa Lawson wrote on the matter of violence against women: “Will it be believed a hundred years hence that such a state of things existed?” Devastatingly, well over a hundred years later, the question points only too despairingly to how much work remains to be done in challenging a state of affairs she would recognise only too well.

A coalition of services working on the issue of violence against women have established the EVAs (Eliminating Violence Against Women Media Awards) as one response to recognising, encouraging and reinforcing signs of cultural change in the media. It goes without saying that the media play an exceptionally powerful role in either discouraging or encouraging cultural change. Accurate and insightful reporting, accompanied by an awareness of the power structures inherent to any reporting on this issue and the consequences at stake, is a powerful ally to have in the fight against violence against women.

Which is why the EVAs are such an important initiative. Educating the media on the part they have to play in preventing violence against women, on the part they will play (mindful or not, handled deliberately and skilfully or not), on the opportunities that will present themselves, over and over again, to support cultural change, to support the powerless in their struggle against the powerful, to advocate for what is right and necessary, is a vital step to achieving the cultural change we still so desperately need on this issue.

Learn more:

  • To see the 2012 EVAs winners, click here
  • To read the EVAs guidelines to reporting on Violence Against Women, click here
  • To read more about the EVAs and who supports them, click here
  • To read Clem Bastow’s GOLD EVA winning piece, click here

 

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Day 5: Happy, Healthy Women (Not Just Survivors)

The Australian Federation of Medical Women (AFMW) wishes to address our failure as a civil society to respond to the real healthcare needs of survivors of sexual violence in order to alleviate the impact of abuse when it has already occurred. Our Government and medical responses need to be holistic, just and supportive of survivors over their lifetime.”

The AFMW along with the Victorian Medical Women’s Society and the Australian Women’s Coalition together put together a report in 2010 calling for an improved model of medical care for survivors of sexual violence. “Happy, Healthy Women, Not Just Survivors” is the result of a consultation process that looks closely at what we know about violence against women in Australia – 1 in 3 women victimised, the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in women aged 15-44 – and argues persuasively for the need for a long-term, holistic model of care for survivors of violence.

The report reveals that, unsurprisingly, the medical needs of survivors go well beyond crisis care and that, currently, there is a gap in the system when it comes to the provision of long-term, holistic care that is sensitive to the nature of trauma and the needs of victim/survivors. In putting forward their vision of how to address this gap, the report calls for a series of measures including:

  • cultural change that will propel a change in attitudes and behaviours and create an awareness of the consequences of sexual violence and the subsequent needs of victim/survivors
  • improved training of medical health professionals in the nature and consequences of trauma and how to respond sensitively and effectively
  • improved coordination across services and better linking between services
  • prioritise access to and provision of holistic, integrated, affordable healthcare models which address both physical and psychological needs and include an emphasis on wellbeing
  • a national database for survivors providing easy access to important and pertinent information and resources for their health
  • establish a Centre of Excellence to drive these recommendations and establish best-practice care for victim/survivors of violence

To read the full set of recommendations, you can download the report here.

Ending violence against women and sexual violence can not involve a sole focus on prevention. We must be ready and willing as a society, as a community, to offer the support and care that those who have already been victimised require. Happy, Healthy Women, Not Just Survivors offers us a vision of precisely that response: not just a dedicated, responsive and effective model of care but a whole-hearted undertaking to support healing from the impacts of violence.

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Day 4: Eastern Media Advocacy Project

To speak out, to speak up is a very powerful act. To speak the truth. To say what no one wants to hear. To disclose a crime or an abuse of power. To give a voice to trauma. To tell that which you were forbidden from telling.

For too long women have been told to stay quiet. Told that to speak up is to speak out of turn. That to speak and be heard is not their right, not their role. For too long, women have been made to believe that their worth lies in their appearance and not their actions. Told to wait their turn, they have discovered only too late that their turn would never come.

There are so many disincentives to speaking out as a woman. Ridicule, humiliation, disbelief, aggression, rejection, silencing… The price women have paid for speaking up, for speaking their truth, for speaking out of turn – the price women still often pay for exercising their voices – has been far too high.

It’s time this changed. It’s time women’s voices were heard. It’s time women’s voices were respected and valued. It’s time no woman felt too frightened to speak up or too intimidated to risk being heard.

The Eastern Media Advocacy Project – a joint initiative of Women’s Health East together with Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault (ECASA), Eastern Domestic Violence Service (EDVOS) and the Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service (WDVCS) – sets about achieving precisely this change. It’s why I jumped at the chance to be a part of it.

As a survivor of sexual assault I know only too intimately what it is like to have your voice silenced, only too profoundly the risks involved in speaking up. By providing survivors of sexual assault with the opportunity to become media advocates, the Eastern Media Advocacy Project boldly undoes the silencing our attackers forced upon us. By training us as media advocates, the Eastern Media Advocacy Project insists upon our right to be heard, our right to speak up.

What’s more, the Eastern Media Advocacy Project calls upon the wider community to hear our voices, even though much of what we have to say is confronting. Talking about sexual assault in any context, at any time, to any audience is hard to do. And yet, if we, as a society, as a community, are to confront this crime, are to stop it from happening, then talking about sexual assault is something we all need to learn to do. Only by acknowledging that sexual assault is a common and frequent crime, by recognising the devastating impacts it has upon victims, their families and our community and by being aware that there are things we can all do to prevent sexual assault, will things begin to change.

Hearing the stories of victim/survivors, hearing our testimony in our own words, on our own terms, providing us with an opportunity to speak the truth, remains an act of defiance, and a necessary one. Slowly, as a society we are beginning to realise how important this is – hopefully the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse will provide precisely that opportunity to victims to speak and, for the rest of us, to hear their testimony. The Eastern Media Advocacy Project has been formally providing that opportunity for over a year now. It is the testimony of victim/survivors that will provide the key to finding our way out of the morass of sexual violence that we have been caught in for too long.

Find out more – engage a media advocate for your event or organisation:

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