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Take heart Australia is leading the way on Violence Prevention

by PeakCare Queensland on 30th April 2015

Home -> Articles -> 2015 -> April -> Take heart Australia is leading the way on Violence Prevention

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Whilst we continuously hear about incidents of domestic and family violence, sexual assaults and the impacts on women and children, the costs to society and the increasing concerns regarding the rising number of women dying each week at the hands of former or current partners, addressing this major societal ill largely eludes us. Last eNews we brought you a blog post outlining the work of the Brisbane Domestic Violence Service and how such vital services operate on the front line to support victims and minimise on going risks to women and their children. This week, we’re talking prevention. That includes everyone being involved and everyone speaking out about this issue. Across government, non-government organisations, in families and communities, we are all responsible for calling out sexist attitudes, questioning gender stereotypes and remaining vigilant about the precursor to such violence – gender inequality.

The National Framework to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children is being developed by Our Watch, in partnership with Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth). They were in Queensland last week to consult on the development of the framework.

Whilst so many across the country grapple with the issue of violence against women and children, this initiative is a world first opportunity to build a powerful and consistent national approach based on evidence informed and mutually reinforcing prevention initiatives across multiple sectors. The aim being to build the momentum necessary to eliminate violence against women and their children. Current research has discovered that no other approach such as this exists in any other country. The United Nations is currently focusing on this very issue globally. Australia is being watched to ascertain what guidance we can offer.

During consultations we learned that the framework is about violence against women as defined by the national plan and includes: physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse. Women and their children are the focus because violence against women affects children too. The focus on women is due to the overwhelming international research based knowledge spanning decades that violence is gendered in victimisation, impact and perpetration. The consultants also acknowledge differing definitions and terms and issues of agendas in Indigenous communities such as family violence and lateral violence. Ultimately the focus is on the prevention of violence through recognising the multi-dimensional intersectionality of forms of discrimination, disadvantage and violence.

Why Prevention? Why is Our Watch and this framework taking this approach?

Responses and services to women experiencing violence over recent decades have improved and there has been a noticeable increase in reporting. However in the same period rates of violence against women are staying stable or increasing. Improved responses haven’t correlated to decreased levels of violence. Clearly there is still so much work to be done beyond the already admirable intervention services on offer to women and their children. No one, including this consortium developing the national framework, is arguing for any change to service responses to violence and abuse. These are essential services that need to continue and be expanded. However, an additional process is required. One that can tap into the causal factors of violence against women and their children and put a halt to the perpetrating behaviours. That sounds like the ‘holy grail’ of domestic and family violence and sexual assault intervention. Whilst no one is making such a claim, the enormous efforts and significant research that have informed this developmental framework in its infancy stage do lend hope.

There are so many reasons perpetrators of violence abuse women and children. The theories and research exist in abundance. However, when assessing the international research that spans decades, researchers working on the National Framework to Prevent Violence against Women and their children have tested the research and found the overwhelming reason for violence perpetrated against women by men is gender inequality. Those who hold age old attitudes that focus on stereotypes of men and women are most likely to excuse violence and men who hold these attitudes are more likely to perpetrate violence. These stereotypes include unequal distribution of power between men and women and rigid gender identities of masculinity and femininity. Negative peer relationships amongst men were also noted in the research as being of paramount significance to the likelihood of perpetration. Men who spend significant time with other men who denounce women and make consistent disparaging comments can experience an erosion of their capacity to maintain positive relationships with and opinions of women.

Also of note is the research about additional factors that may but don’t necessarily impact on violence against women and their children. Childhood experiences of violence, alcohol and drug use and/or abuse, experiences of trauma and torture, socio economic disadvantage, mental health issues, anger management issues, stress or job loss and unemployment are common reasons offered to explain violence given the stress induced by such indicators. However, according to this noted international research, none of these issues are causal factors with regard to violence against women and children. These factors are offered as possible impacts of violence. They are potential exacerbating factors but ultimately men who hold negative attitudes towards women are the causal factor. Stereotypical attitudes of gender most commonly is the key indicator of abuse. Those who then have an added factor as noted above such as the consumption of alcohol may intensify in their behaviour but the alcohol or other associated issues are not causational, the perpetrator’s negative opinion towards women is.

Overwhelmingly the research states that men who perpetrate violence against women do so because of their inherent belief that as men they hold power and women are less powerful than them. This demonstrates one of the many gender stereotypes of men as powerful and women as subservient.

Paying attention to this international research challenges so much of what we’ve believed and the ways in which as a sector we have responded to the issue of violence against women. When it is all boiled down, keeping women and their children safe relies on all members of our community stepping up, challenging gender stereotypes, embracing equality and accepting nothing less than that. This includes men and women questioning and challenging the status quo with regard to gender equity. One of the most significant indicators of power imbalance is pay equity. As the largest sector in Queensland, the health and welfare sector has a significant role to play in eradicating gender inequality with regard to pay equity. Given the significant number of women in this workforce, such action could be monumental in addressing this key issue.

The process of developing this national framework had been designed to produce a sound, owned and sustainable Framework that is embraced by government and non-government stakeholders. Seeking to balance ownership with independence, it aims to produce a Framework that is relevant and useful to government and non-government stakeholders, both now and into the future. Whilst current jurisdictional needs and contexts will be taken into account, the Framework must ultimately provide independent guidance that is relevant nationwide and applicable across diverse political contexts over the years to come: “Prevention of violence against women and their children means changing the attitudes, practices, structures and norms that drive and contribute to it, at individual, institutional and societal levels. The evidence is clear that violence against women and their children is preventable. However, the magnitude of this problem means this cannot be achieved without a sustained and coordinated effort across all levels of society. Prevention efforts need to be informed by evidence, knowledge and existing program and practitioner experiences, underpinned by appropriate principles and based on a sound theory of change.”

Emma Partridge, National Framework and Engagement Coordinator, Our Watch

Whilst so many in our sector working with women, children and families have focused on the multiple issues they face in terms of disadvantage and life complexities, this most recent research recognised whilst developing the National Framework to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children points to gender inequity, power imbalances and the need to turn this issue around in order to genuinely address violence against women and children. In order to do so we need to address gender inequity, not the issues that we’ve traditionally focused on such as drug and alcohol misuse, mental health, poverty or family dysfunction. This research puts in question the many ways in which we’ve previously intervened with women and their children in a response to domestic and family violence. The research is compelling. Those developing the National Framework to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children have already taught us so much through their research findings and processes. Clearly we have much to learn and our journey is just beginning.