I was honoured this week to launch a new report by YWCA Canberra, Our Lives: Women in the ACT. This report, based on a survey we conducted of over a thousand Canberra women, provides insights into the daily lives of women in the territory.
This year YWCA Canberra celebrates 90 years of impact in the ACT and surrounding region, something I'm very proud of. But I'm not proud of the inequality and injustice faced by so many women in our community - as evidenced by this report.
It includes some startling statistics that show gender-based discrimination and abuse are still a significant part of the lived experiences of an unacceptable number of women.
Our survey found women are acutely aware of their safety and surroundings at night, with 55 per cent of women feeling "somewhat unsafe" or "very unsafe" when accessing public spaces after dark.
And younger women, aged 18 to 24, experienced this fear at heightened levels, with 72 per cent feeling somewhat or very unsafe out in public at night.
Abuse sadly remains a part of too many women's lives in Canberra, with 16 per cent of women having experienced physical, emotional, verbal or financial abuse in a domestic or interpersonal relationship in the last year alone.
This was again significantly higher for women aged 18 to 24, where the number who had been abused in a domestic or interpersonal relationship in the last 12 months rose to 24 per cent.
It saddens me that these statistics remains so high despite decades of feminist advocacy, publicity campaigns and public discussion on domestic and family violence.
More than half of all respondents said they had experienced instances of sexism in the last 12 months. One respondent said sexism "impacted my daily behaviours and how I went to and from work, where I walked my dog, and if I should stand up for others".
Of those who had experienced sexism, 41 per cent said it occurred in the workplace. According to one respondent: "men seem to be the first considered for acting positions at higher levels and often get approached ... women, on the other hand, seem to need to prove themselves worthy and constantly put themselves forward".
Interestingly, the survey found an inversely proportional relationship between age and experiences of sexism and, yet again, it was young women who were suffering.
The only age group of respondents that didn't have a majority state they had experienced sexism in the last 12 months was women over the age of 55, while 80 per cent of 18 to 24 year old women reported experiencing sexism in the last year.
With younger women participating more fully in the labour market as well as the night-time economy and social scene, their heightened responses are possibly a reflection on how they move about the city.
The divergence could also be a result of older and younger women perceiving the same behaviours differently, as younger women are more empowered to call for and expect equal rights and treatment.
These results are not good enough. They show that our governments are still failing women, particularly young women, in providing a safe place to live.
YWCA Canberra continues to call for age-appropriate respectful relationship education for all staff and students from K-12 and the university setting, as an effective and systemic measure to prevent violence against women.
This is needed to tackle not only physical violence but raise awareness of other forms of interpersonal violence, such as technology-based harassment, abuse or control, which are less well understood.
We also continue to call on the ACT government to develop a new and funded ACT Prevention of Violence against Women and Children Strategy, in line with national commitments.
The work of the Family Safety Hub, while significant and important, does not negate the need for an up-to-date strategy, and we call for a local plan to be developed as an urgent priority.
We need to work towards a day where women are truly equal, where girls and women can thrive alongside their male counterparts.
YWCA Canberra will continue to provide a platform for diverse women's voices to be heard, and to advocate for change. But we can't do it alone.
- Frances Crimmins is the chief executive of YWCA Canberra.