A collective sigh of relief came from those working to end violence against women when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently acknowledged the root cause of domestic violence as gender inequality and called for a ‘cultural shift’ in Australia to end the scourge.
Researchers, advocates and the family violence sector have long been promoting primary prevention strategies that challenge society’s adherence to rigid gender roles and level the playing field in the workplace and in schools, as well as in public and private life.
Annie Blatchford scoured the research and spoke to leaders in the field to come up with 10 ways to put Mr Turnbull’s ‘cultural shift’ into gear in a bid to stop violence against women before it happens.
1. Teach the next generation that women and men are equal
OurWatch’s recent survey revealed that more than a quarter of young people think verbal harassment from males and pressure on females to have sex are ‘normal’ practices. The VicHealth National Community Attitudes Survey found that 43 per cent of Australians believe that rape results from men not being able to control their need for sex.
Until recently, these issues weren’t talked about at home, at school or in government, leaving young people to figure it out for themselves through popular culture, heroes, friends and social media.
Some Victorian schools are already taking the lead in filling this gap through education and, in 2016, that approach will be formalised and extended so that respectful relationships education will be a part of school curriculums from Prep through to Year 10.
The program will teach students how to build healthy relationships, understand global cultures, ethics and traditions, and challenge attitudes that can lead to family violence.
2. Provide flexible, affordable and accessible quality child care
The gender gap in superannuation, retirement incomes and savings occurs largely as a result of the unpaid care women are required to do for their family.
Last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission recognised the impact affordable and flexible childcare can have on a woman’s ability to work, and on her health and general wellbeing.
The Productivity Commission made a number of recommendations on how workplaces could cater for their employees with carer responsibilities, including allowing flexible work arrangements and reduced hours, referring employees to childcare services and offering financial assistance.
Companies that help employees with child care responsibilities have been shown to attract and retain their best talent. ExxonMobil Australia, which allowed for 15 weeks’ paid parental leave, used a relationship with the Emerald Hill Childcare Centre to provide their employees with priority access to child care at a competitive price. As a result, the company reported that 96 per cent of employees taking parental leave returned to work.
3. Guarantee better representation of women in government
Recently, the number of women in the Federal Cabinet was lifted from two to five and there has been the appointment of a female as the Minister for Women in place of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. We may or may not have already seen the impact of female representation reflected in the government’s new strong stance against domestic violence.
Given women make up half of the population, it makes sense that they should participate equally with men in government decision-making processes and yet women account for less than one-third of all parliamentarians in Australia’s legislatures. For this reason, the Australian Human Rights Commission deemed women in leadership as a top-five priority area for achieving gender equality.
The United Nations identified a number of barriers preventing women from being elected to parliaments globally. On the one hand, a political party might fear that preselecting a woman could put votes at risk, while on the other, women’s personal circumstances or networks tended not to encourage them to stand for election in the first place.
Electoral quotas have gained international support with half the world’s countries now using a quota system to increase women’s representation, although the subject remains controversial in Australia. This is despite evidence that suggests quotas fast-track the representation of women in politics as well as break down barriers for women allowing for training, mentoring and broader social and cultural changes.
When the child of Green’s senator Sarah Hanson-Young was ejected from chambers in 2009 because the two-year-old was classified as a ‘stranger’, it highlighted that parliamentary tradition, rules and norms were archaic and would continue to deter women from becoming MPs.
4. Increase gender diversity at the top level of companies and organisations
Earlier this year the Centre for Gender Economics and Innovation, together with Infinitas Asset Management, released a report that showed that companies with at least 25 per cent female representation on their boards perform seven per cent better than those represented by men only.
Despite this incentive, gender diversity in top companies is still ‘frustratingly low’.
Earlier this year, the Financial Review reported on the low success rate of gender equality programs. The former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick told the publication that this was due to companies being “deeply rooted in a male way of being.”
She added: “Business needs to rebuild its culture so that it can keep evolving to the point where having equitable representation of women looks normal.”
5. Close the gender pay gap
In Australia, the full-time average weekly earnings of a man are currently $285.00 more than for a woman. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, this discrepancy reflects the interplay between a lack of diversity on boards and in government, inflexible working arrangements for parents, a history of female-dominated jobs attracting lower wages, and differences in education, work experience and seniority.
The Heritage Bank’s Australian Pocket Money Survey, released last month, shows that the gender pay gap goes as far as children’s allowances. The survey of 1300 Australian parents found that girls were given $10.60 per week while boys got $11.80.
Security4Women executive officer Sally Jope told the Huffington Post that the cause of this gap was pure discrimination – “that a woman’s work is somehow intrinsically worth less than a man’s”.
6. Empower Indigenous women to take leadership roles in the community
Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence and 10 times more likely to be killed in a violent assault committed by Indigenous and non-Indigenous men.
The reporting to police of family violence against Indigenous people has also trebled in less than a decade, despite the fact that a majority of cases go unreported.
Indigenous women face additional barriers to reporting domestic violence because perpetrators can often be powerful male leaders within the community and because of a historical lack of trust existing between police and Indigenous Australians.
In key submissions to Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence, it was emphasised that efforts to deal with the issue needed to be culturally sensitive and include early intervention and community education, as well as improved responses by police, courts, child protection and corrections.
Part of the government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children is to support Indigenous communities to empower women as community leaders by providing leadership opportunities and encouraging Indigenous men to reject violence, while improving employment, education and business opportunities generally.
7. Introduce marriage equality to help level out gender roles in the family
Marriage is yet another social norm that produces and maintains gender norms. As argued by Senator Penny Wong in her debate with her Liberal counterpart Senator Cory Bernardi, same sex marriage would remove sexual discrimination from current marriage law.
The authors of Love and Romance in Britain said: “In the ritual of a wedding and the ongoing performance of marriage roles and practices, the gender ideology of a society is constructed, performed and reproduced.”
The campaign for equal marriage is therefore also a campaign for relationships that are characterised by equality, rather than subordination. Reducing the importance of sexual difference in marriage may also impact on the equality of males and females in the home and society.
8. Give women better access to health resources and services
Health systems play a crucial role in responding to and preventing violence against women, which can take the form of physical abuse, sexual or emotional abuse, including genital mutilation or sexual assault.
Based on international health system responses to violence against women, a paper published in The Lancet’s ‘Violence against women and girls’ recommended that governments needed to provide safe environments for women to disclose abuse as well as initial and ongoing supportive responses, advocacy services and clinical care for women who experienced sexual assault.
Better and more accessible resources and well informed service providers could also help empower and assist women to improve their own safety and futures.
9. Challenge the representation of women in popular culture
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s refusal to allow R’n’B singer Chris Brown into Australia because of his history of domestic violence is a recent example of a society showing strong intolerance to violence against women.
Similarly, rapper Tyler The Creator cancelled his Australian tour because of activist group Collective Shout’s petitioning Mr Dutton to deny Tyler’s visa on the grounds that his music promoted and glorified violence against women.
This only goes a small way to addressing the extreme and subtle discriminatory and stereotypical representations of women in advertising, literature, films, music, video games and television.
Recent research from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film in the US, found that women are still treated like “second-class citizens” in Hollywood movies and their value is determined in relation to the people they “bed or marry, or to whom they give birth”.
The study found that females comprised only 12 per cent of protagonists in the top-grossing films of 2014 with the ratio declining over the past decade.
Monica Davidson’s essay ‘Knocking on a Locked Door: Women in Australian Feature Films’ revealed that, since the 1970s, 85 per cent of all Australian feature films were directed by men.
Davidson told the Daily Review that people were not only unaware of gender inequality but they believed that such inequality had been fixed. A 2012 survey found that a majority of respondents thought the situation had improved for women in the last 10 years.
On the bright side, earlier this year, Motion Pictures Distributor Association of Australia released figures showing that female-led movies comprised six of the biggest blockbusters showing a move towards making female films a mainstream instead of niche experience.
10. Change the ratio of male to female voices in media
A 2013 study found only one mainstream Australian media organisation out of 15 had a female chairperson, that no woman edited a daily, weekly or national metropolitan publication, and that 61 per cent of the editors of 418 newspapers were male. This was despite the fact that women make up 70 per cent of Australia’s journalism students.
Not only are female journalists under-represented in the newsroom, but studies have shown male journalists are more often than women assigned to hard news stories in arenas such as politics, in which a majority of the sources were also male, continuing a perception of women as being in a lower social status then men.
Ethnographic studies have also shown that newsrooms in Australia are sexist workplaces with one study suggesting that women journalists experience twice the rate of sexual harassment than women in other work places.
Melbourne University’s Centre for Advancing Journalism is currently researching whether the gendered culture of the newsroom affects the way the media report on issues such as violence against women and, ultimately, community attitudes.
A Victorian study has shown that while there is still room for improvement, the media has come a long way in how it reports on violence against women. The study showed that only two per cent of 2452 articles blamed the victim of violence and, in comparison to past research, only a small number of studied articles included “titillating” or “salacious” detail.
► If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For practical information and confidential support visit I-DECIDE, an online interactive tool for women in unhealthy or unsafe relationships.