On violence: societal change needed

The World Health Organisation describes violence against women as an ‘epidemic’. Globally, more than one in three women has experienced some form of violence or abuse. In Australia, I call it a ‘national emergency’. 

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The biggest risk factor in becoming a victim of sexual assault, domestic or family violence in Australia today is being female. Police get called to one domestic violence matter every two minutes – more than 650 times a day. One in four women over the age of 15 has experienced physical violence in her lifetime. 

"All violence is wrong, no matter who is the victim. All victims deserve justice, support and dignity.”

On average, a woman dies violently (usually at the hands of someone she knows) every week in Australia. This year alone, 47 women have been killed.

Most of these murders take place in the home and are often the final brutal act after a long history of violence. Of the women who experience violence, more than half have children in their care.

Violence is perpetrated against women of all backgrounds including young and old, women of colour, LGBTI women and women with a disability. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience violence at around three times the rate of non-Indigenous women. This is our nation’s particular shame.

Societal roles

As Chair of Our Watch – Australia’s national organisation to prevent violence against women and their children - every day I am confronted by one of the most heinous manifestations of gender inequality: violence against women and children.

Everywhere I have been and worked, I have seen the effects of violence, from refugee camps on the Syrian border, to church-run shelters in the jungles of Bougainville. I have seen the shame and the stigma. I have seen the injuries and after-affects, physical and emotional and economic.

Like many Australians, I am sickened by the statistics, the body count.

I believe Australians want change: women and men want to know what can they do? My answer is simple: do something.

We all have a role to play.

All violence is wrong, no matter who is the victim. All victims deserve justice, support and dignity.

About 95 per cent of all victims of violence in Australia - whether women or men - experience violence from a male perpetrator. And men and women experience violence differently. Women usually experience violence from someone known to them. Whereas, men typically experience violence at the hands of a stranger.

Ingrained norms

To achieve an Australia free of violence against women and children, we have to challenge the historically-entrenched beliefs and behaviours that drive it, and the social, political and economic structures, practices and systems that support it.

There are things we can all do: in all the places where we live, work, love, learn and play.

Although, there is no single cause of violence against women, research shows that the main drivers of higher levels of such violence are attitudes and behaviours that:

  • Condone violence against women;
  • limit women’s independence;
  • adhere to rigid gender roles; and
  • disrespect women.

There is a common misconception that alcohol, drugs, socio-economic status or mental health are to blame for gender-based violence. The evidence says that while these factors can intensify violence, having limited access to wealth does not cause violence. Nor does drinking alcohol. Or taking drugs.

The international research makes it absolutely clear: violence against women is more likely to occur where gender inequality is ingrained in social and cultural norms, structures and practices.

We know from the research that the best way to end violence against women and their children is to stop it from happening in the first place. Violence is preventable: it is not inevitable by-product of the human condition.

To address this gendered violence, we need to challenge rigid stereotypes, gender inequality and sexist attitudes that give rise to this violence in the first place.

This is not a women’s problem: this is everybody’s business.

Natasha Stott Despoja AO is the founder and Chair of Our Watch

Stott Despoja’s latest book “On Violence” is available at book stores and online.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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