Senate debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021


International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

9:50 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The theme for this year's International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is simple: End Violence Against Women Now! The key facts and figures on the UN's website say that, globally, nearly one in three women have experienced physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime, and only one in 10 of those go to the police for help.

Shockingly, these statistics are not that different in Australia. In Australia, one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence since they were 15. On average, one woman is killed by a current or former partner once a week, and 38 women have been killed this year. We know that because a volunteer organisation tracks those figures, not because we have a national toll of women killed, which the Greens have been pushing for, for many years. Again, we suggest it would be a very wise thing to keep this issue on the national agenda to act as a deterrent and a prevention mechanism, as part of a pool of other prevention programs.

I also want to note that First Nations women experience significantly higher rates of violence throughout their lives, and my fabulous new colleague Senator Dorinda Cox will also be making a contribution on this part of the program.

This year in particular has really laid bare the pervasive nature of gendered violence across Australia, whether it's in our homes, on the streets or in workplaces, including ours. Brave young women have come forward and forced this conversation onto the national agenda, building on the fabulous work of strong women like Rosie Batty in years gone by. Those brave young women are Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Nina Funnell, Chanel Contos, Saxon Mullins, Amani Haydar and so many others. So many, often survivors themselves, work behind the scenes to support survivors to get justice, or just peace and safety to rebuild their lives. We owe it to these women to do everything we can to end violence against women now.

Stopping this violence starts with believing and listening to survivors, learning from their experience so others don't have to suffer the same harm. However, it is also recognising how long, hard and disjointed the road to recovery is, and supporting survivors and their children to heal. Stopping the violence takes systemic action to tackle root causes, transform harmful social norms and empower women and girls.

We know that gender inequality and gender stereotypes foster disrespect. We know there's a correlation between the rigidity of gender stereotypes and the rates of violence. We know that you can't be what you can't see, and that workplaces like ours should be showing leadership in the representation of women in decision-making roles. We need survivor-centred essential services that understand and respect survivor experiences and don't compound the trauma when they seek help. This requires specialist services that understand the specific needs of First Nations women, young women, older women, disabled women, LGBTIQ+ women and women from culturally diverse backgrounds. We need funding to make sure that no woman is turned away, no person is turned away, from services when they need help. It boils down to this. We need some actual funding to invest in those prevention programs that start early, start in schools. We need a proper investment in housing in this nation, because not only is there no crisis housing or transitional housing—it is all full—but there is no affordable long-term accommodation either. No woman should have to choose between violence and homelessness, and that is what the services are telling me on a daily basis when I speak with them. We need funding to make sure that those services have enough people and enough beds to accommodate everyone who reaches out for help. We need to tackle the gender inequality that is driving this wave, this epidemic of violence, that got worse during COVID.

I want to note that the second edition of Our Watch's toolkit 'Change the story' was released yesterday. They are our premier experts on prevention in this country, and it confirms that we must go beyond a focus on individual behaviours to consider the broader social, political and economic factors that drive violence against women. This means promoting the equal distribution of power, resources and opportunities between men and women. It confirms the connection between harmful forms of masculinity, gender inequality and violence against women, and it points to the importance of effectively engaging men and boys in prevention work. The framework outlines the essential actions that are needed at all levels of society—from schools and workplaces to governments—to address those underlying drivers and stop this violence before it starts. It calls for schools and universities to support children and young people with the knowledge they need to develop respectful and equal relationships. Yet what we got was a milkshake video.

We need a strong investment in evidence based, age-appropriate, respectful relationships education, from early childhood education and care onwards. Our Watch calls for Australian employers to take the necessary actions to ensure that women feel and are safe, valued and respected when they go to work. Yet this government has so far refused to impose a positive duty on workplaces to protect workers against sexual harassment and sex based discrimination. Our Watch calls for the media to responsibly report on violence against women and help frame the issue in the context of structural gender equality. We need to get rid of the 'he said, she said' narrative—the slut-shaming and the victim blaming coming from the mouths of people in this place, from some in the media and, still, sadly, from all corners of society.

It's critical that the new national plan is informed by victims-survivors, and I would like to thank the amazing group of victim-survivor advocates who have been working to ensure the government establishes and supports a victim-survivor advisory group. This is essential if the national plan is going to properly reflect, respect and learn from their experience. In addition to ending violence against women, the national plan needs a particular focus on recovery. Victims-survivors and their families often carry the burden of abuse long after escaping. It continues to affect their mental health, economic security, confidence, sense of worth and ability to engage in work and society. Broken confidence can then lead them into other abusive relationships and perpetuate a cycle of violence. An investment in trauma recovery is essential to help victims-survivors rebuild.

We recently had the Women's Safety Summit. This was a showpiece of the government's response to women's safety. It was criticised by many groups as a talkfest that spoke more about what we already knew then what the government was going to do about it. The summit statement made clear that there needs to be more funding, more trauma-informed and survivor-centred approaches, more preventative actions and more homes—the very things that I outlined at the start of this speech. It's not the first time the sector has called for these things, and I fear it will not be the last. The government needs to start listening to those calls and build upon its often-encouraging words with some meaningful actions of the quantum that is required.

On housing, the Women's Safety Summit was particularly clear: affordable and accessible short- and long-term housing is fundamental so that women aren't choosing between abusive relationships and homelessness. We need a serious investment in this nation to put roofs over people's heads and to ensure victims-survivors have somewhere to go when they escape. We know that older women are the fastest-growing group of people who are homeless in this nation, and we know that women escaping violence often have nowhere to go. In some cases they're being put up in hotels with no wraparound supports. We desperately need genuine investment, not just a small amount but the real amount that the sector says is requires. The sector is calling for $12 billion over the 12 years of the life of the next national plan. That's what it has long called for. That is the amount that is needed, and anything less will see people turned away from those services when they seek help. That is reprehensible and utterly avoidable.

On First Nations women, I want to note that Change the Record has today released a report, Pathways to safety. It is a strong, passionate and sensible call for a self-determined First Nations national women's safety plan. First Nations women know how to keep their children and communities safe. We need a national plan that listens to them, that is co-written by them and that provides the tools that they need to end violence against First Nations women and their children.

I want to finish my contribution by paying tribute to the workers in this sector. Of course, our hearts break for the innumerable women who have been killed, and I thank the individuals who bear that trauma in supporting those women and children on a daily basis, often on a tiny wage, working far more hours than an ordinary worker because they care so deeply. In particular, I'd like to acknowledge Angela Lynch, who has been the CEO of the Women's Legal Service, who has announced her retirement after 20 years in the field. Thank you, Angela, for your amazing contribution. You've saved so many lives. Go well in the future.


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