UN expert reminds Australia of obligations on gendered violence

UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Simonovic has wrapped up her fact-finding mission in Australia. Source: SBS News

The UN special rapporteur on violence against women has urged Australia to lift its game on providing crisis services and shelters.

The federal government has been reminded by the United Nations of its human rights obligations to women fleeing from family and domestic violence, and is being advised to provide appropriate funding for Australia’s community legal centres.

Wrapping up her two week examination into the “scourge” of violence against women, the UN special rapporteur Dubravka Simonovic gave her preliminary findings of a problem which takes the lives of one or two Australian women every week.

The special rapporteur agreed with the Turnbull government that a nationwide change in the culture, behaviour and attitudes which underpin violence against women and children was needed.

"There is no doubt that violence against women has gained increased visibility, being publicly recognised as a pandemic." 

However she also highlighted that Australia was a democratic nation “without comprehensive constitutional or legal protection of human rights at a federal level”.

“Overall, women’s human rights in Australia are protected in an incomplete, patchwork way in different states and territories,” she said.

The Australian government is providing $1.6 billion in funding to support the sector in the five years to 2020, however, community legal centres argue there is a 30 per cent funding cut coming their way on July 1.

Ms Simonovic said frontline community legal services are necessary to provide support for people fleeing dangerous family situations, as they regularly seek legal services for housing, credit and debt challenges and access to welfare.

Throughout the country, one-in-three women have experienced physical violence, and almost one-in-five Australian women have experienced sexual violence.

"There is no doubt that violence against women has gained increased visibility, being publicly recognised as a pandemic." 

“I therefore urge the government to provide the necessary funding to match the current and future needs of women who are seeking advice and assistance to protect their lives,” Ms Simonovic said.

She was particularly concerned about the plight of Indigenous women who are 34 times more likely to require hospital treatment as a result of domestic violence and up to 3.7 times likely to experience sexual abuse.

She criticised the inflexibility of the basics card - a cashless debit card used to income-manage welfare payments - not being able to cover expenses related to domestic violence victims' escapes from danger.

The Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, said that funding for community legal centres (CLCs) is not a matter for the Australian government alone.

“People experiencing, or at risk of, family violence are a priority client group for legal assistance services under the Agreement and Indigenous legal assistance funding agreements.”

“Under the Agreement, state and territory governments are responsible for allocating Australian government funding for CLCs, alongside state funding contributions,” Minister Cash said.

The government has a Women’s Safety Package, worth $100 million, which includes 12 new specialist domestic violence units at pilot locations in each state and territory.

Additionally, $100 million has been set aside as part of the Third Action Plan to reduce violence to women and children which will go towards advertising, helplines and counselling services, the training of frontline staff, and combating image based abuse & exploitation, commonly referred to as “revenge porn”. 

-With AAP

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