Comment

Laying a safe foundation for women and children

A national foundation launched to change community attitudes towards violence against women and their children held its first consultation in Canberra last week.

A month after the World Health Organisation declared domestic violence an epidemic, the Commonwealth and Victorian governments have created the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children.

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It brings together government, community and business sectors.

The combined vision of federal Labor Minister for the Status of Women Julie Collins and Victorian Liberal Minister for Community Services Mary Wooldridge, the foundation reaches across party lines and state borders to place the prevention of violence against women and children front and centre on the national agenda.

Labor minister for the status of women, Julie Collins.
Labor minister for the status of women, Julie Collins. 

It is an honour to have been appointed the inaugural chair of the foundation, to spearhead work that is a personal passion. I well recall spending time in women's shelters in Adelaide as my mother, Shirley, volunteered her time and her journalism efforts to highlight the taboo issue of family violence.

The biggest risk factor for becoming a victim of sexual assault or domestic or family violence is simply being a woman. Women often repeatedly experience violence at the hands of men they know, in their own homes.

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The statistics are chilling. About 90 Australian women were killed by their partners between 2008 and 2010. One in three women experiences physical violence, and almost 1.3 million women have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15.

And, yes, there are financial costs as well as the terrible human suffering involved. By 2021-2022 it is estimated this violence will cost Australia $15.6 billion annually.

Fortunately, evidence shows that violence against women and their children is preventable, and that is where the work of the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children comes in.

To prevent this issue, we must address the culture that allows it to occur in the first place, and tackle the attitudes that justify, excuse, minimise or hide physical or sexual violence against women.

While there have been positive shifts in attitudes on violence against women in recent decades, there is much to be done.

As recently as 2009, a national survey of 10,000 people on attitudes to violence against women found 53 per cent believed slapping and pushing a partner to cause harm or fear was a ''very serious'' form of violence; 34 per cent believed ''rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex''; and 22 per cent believed domestic violence could be excused if the perpetrator later regretted what they had done.

This is shocking when you think of the pain and emotional suffering involved.

The foundation will work across geographic, demographic and cultural borders to reach a cross-section of the population, including communities in which women and their children can be especially vulnerable to violence.

Our priority is to meet with people throughout the country who are deeply connected with this issue, particularly those community groups that play a vital role in protecting women and preventing violence. We will collaborate closely with the National Centre of Excellence to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children and the White Ribbon campaign. We will bring together the work that is occurring in this area in the not-for-profit and government spheres, and engage the broader community, including the business sector, in a united national effort to prevent violence against women and children.

Together we must confront this issue, which has been seen as taboo, and break through the views that accept, excuse and tolerate violence against women and their children.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: ''There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities; violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.''

We must get to work on creating a safe and equal society for all women and children.

  • Natasha Stott Despoja is the chair of the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children.