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Issue #1711      November 18, 2015

“Change the Story”

White Ribbon Day - November 25

In a statement last week, White Ribbon Australia commended the release of “Change the Story: a shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and children in Australia”. This document is an ambitious and vital tool for transformational cultural change. Developed by Our Watch, ANROWS and Vic Health, and involving extensive consultation with and including including White Ribbon Australia and others, the framework captures the vital role of engaging men and boys in the prevention of violence against women and their children.

“Change the Story will continue to drive a more holistic and strategic approach to prevention. We are delighted to see its release today” said John Rosewarne, Chair of White Ribbon Australia. “Importantly, the framework highlights that violence against women and their children is preventable and we need concerted action to continue to drive the cultural change needed to put a stop to the violence. It articulates the relationship between violence and gender inequality, echoing the words of Prime Minister and White Ribbon Ambassador Malcolm Turnbull MP: ‘Disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women, but all violence against women begins with disrespecting women’.”

This has been the focus of White Ribbon’s work with the Australian community over the last 12 years. Men and women have worked tirelessly as part of the White Ribbon Campaign to engage and support men and boys to be drivers of the cultural change that is needed to prevent violence against women. The Campaign, with its strong presence in the community including schools, workplaces, sporting codes, recreational and cultural spaces, across all states and territories, is working to bring about attitudinal and behavioural change.

“But experience tells us that violence prevention is more than just words – in order for prevention work to grow and best practice to be better evaluated and shared, it requires an ongoing commitment to funding. Through this shared framework, we look forward to this vitally important work supported by the appropriate funding it deserves.” Rosewarne said.

Cuts to women’s services

In 2014 the NSW Baird government launched a new model for funding homelessness and crisis refuges. The new model has led to the closure and drastic restructure of scores of women’s services. At a time when domestic violence has been increasing in NSW, there are less adequate places for women seeking refuge, plus chaos and uncertainty through the sector. Rather than telling the truth, the NSW government attacked its critics by claiming they are misleading the public. Don’t believe NSW government’s lies.

Here are the facts.

Myth: Funding for specialist homelessness services has been increased by $13 million; a 9.6 percent increase.

Fact: Funding for specialist homelessness services has not been increased. The government has taken money out of specialist services and granted funding to generalist services.

This means that rather than a service catering specifically to women, children, the Aboriginal community, migrant women, youth, the LGBTIQ community, and their particular needs, money has gone to generalist service providers that lack experience and specialist knowledge working with these groups.

Myth: More people will have access to homelessness services under these changes.

Fact: Access is more than simply a numbers game. Access also involves services appropriate to need. Aside from the fact that outright closures of refuges are taking place (meaning less beds), transfer to Christian management and to a generalist model means that many people will recognise that these services cannot meet their needs and simply won’t access them. Many women escaping domestic violence will simply not access a crisis service that houses men.

Evidence has shown that women and kids escaping domestic violence need a specialised service, not a homelessness service. Early reports from workers in the sector suggest that fewer staff in services are being asked to carry a far heavier caseload. This does not sit well with a system purportedly set up to improve case management and suggests an emphasis on quantity over quality.

Myth: Every single one of the 1,300 government-owned properties will remain open.

Fact: Any service that goes from being independently run and specialist, to Christian run and/or generalist is a closure. While the government-owned properties will technically remain open, 75 percent are being handed over to consortiums led by the Salvation Army, Uniting Care, Mission Australia, St Vincent de Paul, and other Christian organisations.

All are under pressure to fit a generalist model. The same building being in use doesn’t equate to the same service. For example some will change from a 24/7 service to a more minimal staffing level; and 81 pre-existing community organisations have lost their funding or have changed. These organisations had strong links in their local communities which have been lost.

Maria – frontline worker

I am very angry about the closure of 90% of independent women’s refuges in NSW at a time when around 50% of the calls for help to the Domestic Violence line couldn’t find beds for women and children. As a worker in one of the Inner West refuges and now unemployed I used to love arriving to work at this beautiful old house in the suburbs and be greeted by mums and children in the front garden and to see them safer after some horrendous ordeals. I was able to give them lots of empathy and support.

Before the announcements of the tendering process I knew we were not going to continue to operate because this government’s agenda wants to cut services for DV victims, the poor and the disadvantaged. Business is what the government has in mind: everything run for profit; wars are profitable enterprises; they grab resources from other countries. The Women’s Refuge Movement was a collective of strong women in operation for over 20 years empowering women. The independent refuges used to organise state conferences where discussions and resolutions would take place and it was a very inclusive and secular organisation.

Many times last year during the destruction of the organisation I felt intimidated because we were not allowed to speak to the media or to conduct public demonstrations before the announcements, otherwise our entitlements would not have been paid as most refuges work places have less than 15 workers and they could do as they wanted.

These new changes will bring more divisions and segregation. I asked some women with children escaping domestic violence if they would have gone to homeless service sharing with men and their issues of drug and alcohol and women told me they wanted to escape from all that at home. Places with other men will be the last place they will take their kids. Unfortunately the changes are a return to the past with charities taking over the needs of families for the charities’ own benefit. The destruction of services is taking us back to our grandmothers’ times. It’s time to fight for women’s rights and services.

Next article – Asylum seekers left without food, water

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