Today I will not be citing statistics. I will leave it to others to count the dead women, the prevalence of abuse, and the scale of economic and social damage that violence against women does to our nation.
Today I want to talk about stopping this scourge at the start. Violence against women isn’t inevitable. It’s preventable.
There are thousands of hardworking police, lawyers, case workers, family violence workers and medical staff dealing with the consequences of this epidemic. Not one of them would be sorry to see us consign it to history.
Prevention means taking action to prevent the problem before it occurs. This is done by addressing the underlying cause. Research shows us that violence against women correlates with beliefs and behaviours reflecting disrespect for women, low support for gender equality and adherence to rigid or stereotypical gender roles. These causes are often replicated and reinforced in our homes, schools and workplaces.
Emergency services, including those in my electorate of Indi, have been doing significant work to build positive attitudes and norms around women in their ranks. Women have always been an important part of emergency services, but they have historically been underrepresented in operational roles, delegated instead to making cakes and cups of tea.
In some parts, the belief persists that firefighting is inherently a man’s job. Even though gender is irrelevant to the ability to be a firefighter, this stereotype is pervasive. Last month journalist Bettina Arndt posted a photograph of a female firefighter captioned ‘brave men fighting the ferocious fires…as always, it’s usually men who do the really dangerous, difficult work’. Women can be invisible even if they are in front of the cameras on the front line.
But this is changing. The CFA has made recruitment of female firefighters a priority and regularly holds female-specific recruitment information sessions. The District 24 Women’s Reference Group hosts workshops for its female members and now sits at the table to make decisions. In the neighbouring electorate of McEwen, the Rural Challenge Partnership supports brigades to develop welcoming and family-friendly environments.
And we are celebrating the successes of our female firefighters. One example is the groundbreaking Bec Noye, who last year became Third Lieutenant of the Euroa CFA, the first female leader in that brigade’s history. And Marelle Whitaker, Chiltern Captain and Chair of the Reference Group, a strong voice for female leadership in our brigades.
We are in the midst of a cultural change. During this fire season, I give thanks for the hundreds of brave female firefighters rostered on to protect the lives and homes of friends, neighbours and strangers, including those on their way to fight the NSW fires now.
I also acknowledge the councils in my electorate responding to our communities’ calls for leadership on family violence. During these 16 Days of Activism, Mansfield Shire Council will continue its long-running commitment by hosting events on the theme of bringing men into the conversation. Indigo Shire Council, Strathbogie Shire Council and Wodonga City Council, among others, will also host events.
My favourite is ‘Conversations in the Chair’, aimed at equipping hairdressers, beauty therapists and tattooists to pick up cues and make referrals to appropriate services. This event was hosted by Rachael McKay of Women’s Health Goulburn North East in partnership with Wangaratta Council and Northeast Health Wangaratta. I recognise their collaboration in addressing the drivers of violence against women.
Over the last 40 years family violence has been wrenched out from behind closed doors to be recognised for what it is: a public health crisis, criminal offending and our national shame. We have come so far.
But I was alarmed to read that while awareness of family violence has risen, awareness that men are more likely than women to commit acts of domestic violence has actually decreased. One in five Australians believe domestic violence is a normal reaction to stress.
Given these figures, if we are to meet the government’s key measure of success, being an increase in the community’s intolerance of violence against women, then we cannot rest. I urge the Government to keep working for an Australia where, in the words of Our Watch, ‘women are not only safe, but respected, valued and treated as equals’ in private and public life’.