What women really want from Australia's National Summit on Women's Safety

Ahead of the National Summit on Women’s Safety, SBS News hears from experts, advocates and survivors on what they believe the new plan needs to include to have meaningful impact.

The Women's March 4 Justice in Melbourne in March 2021.

The Women's March 4 Justice in Melbourne in March 2021. Source: AAP

Content warning: This article contains reference to domestic violence and sexual assault.

When the first National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children was devised in 2010, one in three Australian women had experienced physical violence since the age of 15, while almost one in five had experienced sexual violence.

Fast forward more than a decade, and we’ve seen hundreds of Australian women murdered by current or former partners, allegations of sexual assault in the halls of federal parliament, and thousands of people rally across the country for gender equality and justice.

So, has the plan actually achieved any of the things it set out to? And what do women hope to see happen as a result of Canberra's National Summit on Women’s Safety, taking place 6-7 September?

Patty Kinnersly wants Australia to tackle the gender inequality that leads to violence against women

Source: AAP

Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly said while there’s still a lot of work to do, the plan has been instrumental in deepening the federal government's commitment to reducing violence against women.

She said there has also been a cultural shift in how gendered violence and equality is viewed, from an issue that solely concerned women, to one that is everybody’s business.“That's a big achievement. It's not showing a change in the data yet, but we've got a whole lot more people who are interested in this conversation now,” she said.

“The other thing is that we are starting to see some progress towards a shift in some attitudes.”

“There are also signs that there's greater acceptance of some aspects of gender equality, such as women's full-time participation in the workplace.”

But Ms Kinnersly said with 29 women in Australia being murdered so far this year, the gender pay gap increasing in the past six months, and women being among the first to be stood down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country clearly hasn't advanced far enough.

The National Summit on Women’s Safety will form part of the consultation process for the new national plan to reduce gendered violence in Australia, which comes into force next year.

As one of 19 members of a multidisciplinary advisory group for the plan, Ms Kinnersly said its focus needs to be on preventing gendered violence from happening in the first place, in alignment with the national, evidence-based framework, ‘Change the story’.

“We absolutely need to keep investing in response and early intervention, but unless we centre prevention, we will still be back here in 30 years with worse numbers,” she said.

“We have got to change the underlying conditions that are leading to violence against women.”

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, who spoke out about her alleged rape at Parliament House, at the March 4 Justice rally in Canberra.
Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

Ms Kinnersly said gender inequality is a key driver of family and sexual violence.

“We need to promote normalised gender equality, in all the places we spend our time - at work, in sport, in the home, in media - and we need governments taking a gendered lens to all of their policy development,” she said.

“This is not a women's problem; it's the whole country's problem.”

“So, we absolutely need men in leadership roles to be driving change. We need men as fathers to be setting examples. We need men in relationships to be setting healthy relationship examples. We need men as bystanders to challenge their mates when they're doing sexist behaviours.”

Wynetta Dewis wants a dedicated plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

Source: Supplied

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 45 times more likely to be victims of violence than their non-Indigenous counterparts, 30 times more likely to be hospitalised, and 10 times more likely to die as a result.

But Torres Strait Islander woman Wynetta Dewis said despite the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum, of which she’s co-chair, being the only peak body for Indigenous victims and survivors of family violence and sexual assault, it had to fight to get a seat at the summit.

“We represent 14 members that work on the ground with our First Nations women and children and we see first-hand the impacts of family violence and sexual assault in our communities, but too often our voices are silenced and ignored,” she said.

Ms Dewis said the current national plan has done little to address the “national crisis” of violence against First Nations women and children.

“You see issues of overcrowding in houses, where we've got multiple families living together, and then that creates dysfunction and then allows for family violence and all of these other social issues to arise," she said.

Ms Dewis said there is a lack of quality and adequately funded services in communities, and many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women don’t feel safe in reporting their experiences of violence.

“I'm just hoping that this summit is not just going to be another talkfest where the government feels like they're getting the consultation, getting the people together, but not doing it in a way that's going to really affect change,” she said.

Ms Dewis said the national forum has been crying out for a dedicated plan for Indigenous people for years.

“It's our view that addressing the disproportionate rate at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience violence cannot be achieved through an overarching national plan,” she said.

Saxon Mullins wants young survivors to be heard and for the states to agree on laws

Director of Advocacy at Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy, Saxon Mullins.
Source: Supplied

Saxon Mullins is a sexual assault survivor and director of advocacy at Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy. She said more input needs to be sought from younger people, such as those involved in End Rape on Campus Australia.

“It's so important to have those voices attached, because that is the future of this movement, and to exclude them is to exclude a giant portion of survivors of people who experienced the exact thing that we're there to talk about,” she said.

Ms Mullins said there also needs to be a greater focus put on sexual violence and listening to the stories of survivors from diverse communities.

“Often it's felt that sexual violence is a sort of second thought to domestic violence. And it feels like sometimes it's just tacked on to the end, but it's not really fleshed out in a way that brings results and brings things that we actually want to change from that,” she said.

Ms Mullins said among the changes RASARA is pushing for is that consent laws are made consistent across Australia.

“It just makes no sense to have some states like Tasmania, and soon to be New South Wales, to have this affirmative consent model. But other states don't have that,” she said.

An attendee at the Women's March 4 Justice in Canberra in March 2021.
Source: AAP

Ms Mullins said that inconsistency also extends to consent and prevention education, which she argues needs to extend beyond schools and into other parts of society, such as workplaces.

“I think we need to be bold, and I think we really need to pin down really fundamental things that we can't go without any longer,” she said.

“We do need to be a bit more radical in our thinking. We try and push our ideas into what the government will do, but the government should push what they will do into what our ideas are.”

Michal Morris wants better support for migrant and refugee women

Source: SBS News

A national response for migrant and refugee women is something Michal Morris, CEO of inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, said she’d like to see.

“We need to be more ambitious, we need to be bolder,” she said.

“We need to be very holistic around our service plans, in terms of looking at different population groups who are disadvantaged and making sure that they're part of the system.”

Ms Morris said there's currently no data available that shows how prevalent family and sexual violence is among migrant and refugee communities, where they get their information about it from, or how likely they are to seek help.

“One of the most important things we need to do is understand help-seeking behaviours and pathways to help and make sure that we're covered, making sure that every woman who lives in Australia knows how to get help, and where to get help, when and if they need it,” she said.

Ms Morris said the backgrounds of the more than 1,600 women that the Victorian organisation helped last year directly reflect Australia’s migration program.

“The three top cohorts that our migrants are, are the three top communities that we saw. I can't tell you if that is an anomaly or if that is consistent with what's happening around the country,” she said.

“There's more that we don't know, than what we do know.”

Ms Morris said while there are still women in Australia who are unsafe and don't know how to get help, there's a lot more that needs to be done.

“We need to think of this as a long-term issue and create long-term solutions and fund it properly. And then we need to monitor and review it to make sure that we're transparent in how we're delivering the new plan.” 

'Important national discussion'

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier this year the National Women’s Safety Summit was vital to protecting women and children from family, domestic and sexual violence.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Source: AAP

“Respect, dignity, choice, equality of opportunity and justice are fundamental to the safety of women in our country,” he said.

“This summit will further elevate the important national discussion we are having about women’s safety and ensure that we bring all people along with us as we develop the next National Plan.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women Senator Marise Payne said a new National Plan would start in 2022.

“We want to hear from all parts of the community to make sure the next National Plan draws on the best and most wide-ranging ideas. We intend to build a shared framework as we work together to reduce and prevent violence against women and children," she said. 

“Consultation will involve listening to the diverse experiences of people affected by violence, including from regional, rural and remote areas, Indigenous communities, LGBTQIA+ communities, culturally and linguistically diverse communities and people with disability.”

If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence or sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

The Men’s Referral Service provides information for men about domestic violence and can be contacted on 1300 766 491. 

Published 5 September 2021 at 2:42pm
By Amy Hall
Source: SBS News