In the 12 years since the National Plan to Reduce Violence against women was adopted, at least 700 women have been killed by violence. Ahead of International Women‘s Day on March 8, the Greens have just launched a holistic plan to address the conditions and behaviours that perpetuate violence against women.
By Larissa Waters
Content Warning: Sexual assault, family violence
Twelve years ago, the first National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children was adopted. Getting national recognition of the scourge of gendered violence was a huge moment for Australian women, and for the first time there was hope for systemic change.
But in the 12 years since the National Plan was adopted, at least 700 women have been killed by violence. Seven women have been murdered already in 2022.
The rate of assault against young women has actually risen since 2010, while rates of violence against men have dropped significantly over the same period. Girls as young as 12 report being harassed.
For First Nations women, women from culturally diverse backgrounds, women in regional areas, older women, LGBTIQ+ women, and women with a disability, the statistics are even worse.
Workplaces are still unsafe. The 2018 National Survey of Sexual Harassment in Australian workplaces found 1 in 3 workers had been sexually harassed, and only 17% reported the abuse fearing reprisals, that they would not be believed, or that they, rather than their abuser, would lose their job.
So did the National Plan fail? Did it not go far enough? Was it undermined?
The truth is, despite the creation of the National Plan, successive governments have continued to treat violence against women as a political issue needing to be managed away, rather than the national crisis it so clearly is.
Services to assist women affected by complex abuse are still woefully under-funded and stretched to breaking point. The Women’s Legal Service alone estimates it still has to turn away 30% of women who reach out to them.
Crisis and transitional housing – essential to provide a safe haven for women and children fleeing abuse – is simply not available in many places. And there is not enough long-term affordable housing for anyone, let alone women with children fleeing abuse. Too often, women face the tragic choice between staying in an abusive relationship or risking homelessness and poverty.
And with the removal of the specialist Family Court last year, against expert advice, women and children are now at greater risk than before. The criminal justice system still has shockingly low conviction rates for sexual assault, and continues to re-traumatise victim-survivors and discourage others from coming forward.
What this shows is that there is a sickness at the heart of Australian culture – and it’s propped up and reinforced by our political leaders who will do anything they can to protect their privileged positions and avoid responsibility.
When Brittany Higgins bravely spoke out with allegations that she had been raped by a colleague in a parliamentary office, she was met with gaslighting and backgrounding.
When friends of a woman alleged that then Attorney-General Christian Porter had raped her when they were teenagers, the Prime Minister refused to even consider an independent investigation.
The boys club protects its own.
But things are changing. One year ago, thousands and thousands of women and allies marched to say ENOUGH.
Enough with empty promises. Enough with victim blaming. Enough with downplaying the effect of gender inequality and rape culture. Enough with ignoring the impact of financial insecurity and housing stress on women’s capacity to leave. Enough with underfunding the services needed to end this epidemic of violence.
Today, the Greens have released our holistic plan to address the conditions and behaviours that perpetuate violence against women, create safe pathways to escape violence, and ensure no-one is turned away when they need help.
Our plan will centre the diverse voices of victim-survivors and vulnerable communities in the design and delivery of a new National Plan to End Violence Against Women and their Children and a standalone First Nations National Plan. And we’ll invest the $1 billion annually in frontline domestic violence prevention and response services that the sector says it needs to meet demand.
These plans will set measurable targets and hold the government to account for achieving them.
We will invest in the cultural shift needed to tackle gender stereotypes and end the rape culture that drives (and accepts) violence, through nationally consistent expert-based, age-appropriate consent and respectful relationships education, gender equality measures and inclusion strategies in all sectors, and a positive duty on employers to create safe workplaces.
We will fund frontline support, legal, counselling and housing services, and provide women with the financial security to make decisions about leaving. Building on the successful South Australian model, we will pilot a national disclosure scheme where women concerned about a partner’s behaviour can find out if they have a history of violence so they can make informed choices and ask for support.
We will fund Our Watch and ANROWS to continue their world leading research to inform prevention and intervention strategies, and reforms to the family law and criminal justice system, and to evaluate programs so we know what’s working.
Grace Tame’s tireless advocacy over the past year has demonstrated that recovery from trauma is long and complex, and essential to avoid perpetuation of abuse. The Greens will fund the Illawarra Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre, Australia’s first trauma recovery space dedicated to helping survivors of sexual, family and domestic violence to rebuild their lives.
Ending violence against women is a huge task, but one that we must take seriously. And there is reason to be hopeful.
Three weeks ago the parliament acknowledged the abuse the toxic culture in Canberra had facilitated, and took steps towards establishing a Code of Conduct for parliamentarians. It was a small first step in the right direction.
One week ago we learned that the campaign to ensure consent and respectful relationships programs are part of the curriculum from early childhood education onwards had been successful.
And today, March4Justice2 rallies took place across Australia. While many of the events were forced indoors and online by Covid and bad weather, thousands of women and allies joined in, making it clear that they will not allow the next government to go backwards on ending violence against women.
In the balance of power after the election, neither will the Greens.
Hero image: Pexels.