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Issue #1704      September 30, 2015

Domestic violence policy

Too late, too little

The announcement of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year on January 26 should have been front page news. But the woman who is fighting so hard to end domestic violence and support its victims was pushed into the shade by the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Abbott chose the same day to declare that Prince Phillip would receive a knighthood. The fear and suffering that so many women and children are locked into were apparently less “newsworthy” than Abbott’s controversial stunt.

Australian of the Year Rosie Batty.

The death of Kiralee Dugo, a 37-year-old pregnant woman, earlier this month was the 63rd from domestic violence in Australia this year. Countless more women and children have been assaulted, hospitalised and live on a day-to-day basis in fear. Many are trapped with no means of escape or live in hope that promises to change will really occur. They rarely do.

Last week “new” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged that action is required on domestic violence. He called for a “big cultural shift” so that Australia becomes the country that respects women. He identified gender inequality as at the heart of violence against women.

Reflecting his more enlightened social outlook and a large dose of political opportunism, Turnbull appointed a Minister for Women, Michaela Cash. Then on September 24, he announced the allocation of $100 million in federal funding to tackle the issue of domestic violence.

Too little

The $100 million will be used to trial GPS trackers for perpetrators, special safe phones for victims, CCTV cameras to boost security at home and other such measures. Various women’s organisations have welcomed the funding while pointing out that it falls far short of what is required if there is to be a cultural change and women have access to the necessary support services, including crisis services, counselling and suitable accommodation (see Editorial).

It does not even begin to restore the women’s services that were forced to close by the Abbott government when their funding was cut. Funding is urgently required for women’s refuges, rape crisis centres, legal centres, housing and other services.

Domestic violence campaign group Fair Agenda and the National Association for Community Legal Centres pointed to the inadequacy of the funding allocated.

Homelessness Australia also criticised the funding as inadequate, saying “that none of this funding will address the immediate crisis domestic violence victims face – safe, crisis accommodation.” Around 2,800 women are fleeing domestic violence a year.

“Homelessness services are essential for ensuring the immediate and ongoing safety of women and children who are experiencing or at risk of, experiencing violence within the home. They provide shelter, referrals to other services as well as staff skilled in assessing and managing risk,” Homelessness Australia said.

History

Historically, under capitalism, women have been treated as chattels belonging to men. Fathers gave their daughters away in marriage as property. Discrimination marginalising women is embedded in the system. Married women were not expected to enter the paid workforce and if they did, they were not paid a living wage. A “good” marriage was a promoted as a vehicle to economic security.

The historic Harvester case in 1911 awarded women 54 percent of the male wage rate. Sexism prevailed in the trade union movement for much of the 20th century and has still not been completely eliminated.

As recently as the 1970s Murdoch’s Australian newspaper accused working women of taking the husband’s and son’s jobs.

Domestic and other violence towards women was condoned. Rape was not considered a serious crime and it was extremely difficult to obtain a conviction.

The lack of respect for and recognition of women’s rights in all spheres of life contributes to the culture of violence towards women.

Progress

During the 1970s and ‘80s women made gains towards pay equity and ending sex role stereotyping in the workplace and education, in particular under the Whitlam Labor government. Childcare, abolition of university fees, the development of TAFE and measures to support older women returning to study enabled many women to gain a measure of dignity and economic independence.

It was no longer acceptable to overtly discriminate in job advertisements or appointments or to use women as sex objects in advertising. Some sections of the church were changing and the law was also making advances but there was still a long way to go in changing a culture that condoned domestic violence.

Domestic violence still remained hidden in the home, a taboo that brought shame on the victim. Police were reluctant to intervene. And where they did women had nowhere to go, no way to escape the perpetrators of violence.

Attitudes towards women took a nosedive under the prime ministerships of John Howard and Tony Abbott, and little was done to rectify the deteriorating situation under the Rudd/Gillard Labor governments.

With the lurch to the right in the political climate came a marked attitudinal shift and increase in violence towards women which looks set to increase if the government does not take serious measures to address it. “Political correctness” was mocked.

It is criminal that $300 million is being thrown away on a plebiscite on marriage equality when it is clear that the overwhelming majority of Australians support marriage equality. The government should get on with it and put the legislation before Parliament.

Systemic change is fundamentally what is required but it won’t happen under the likes of the Abbotts, Shortens or Turnbulls. Meanwhile the money to be wasted on a marriage equality plebiscite – and much more – should be dedicated to providing services for the victims of domestic violence and their families and to measures to bring about both objective and attitudinal change.

Next article – Editorial – What’s lower than the gutter?

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