In a week where significant gains in progressing gender equality have been rightly celebrated - including the Matildas sparking a national conversation on valuing of women's sport, and a reported narrowing of the gender pay gap - the killing of Drew Douglas, allegedly by her male partner, is a stark reminder that violence against women remains a national crisis in Australia.
These issues are not unrelated. Gender inequality and all forms of oppression drive violence against women.
Advancing equality and respect in Australia will achieve safer outcomes for women, children and communities.
According to Sherele Moody, Drew Douglas represents the 44th woman killed in Australia in 2023 alone.
Ten children have also been killed this year.
Women in Australia are most likely to be killed by a current or former intimate partner. In 2022, 52 women were killed by men's violence in Australia.
Also, this week, the Australian government in partnership with each of the state and territory governments released the first action plan and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan under the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032. These two plans progress the government's overarching goal to end gender-based violence in one generation.
Actions promised cover the full spectrum - ranging from prevention, early intervention, and response through to recovery and healing.
The release of an additional "activities addendum" reminds us that the devil is always in the detail - listing off the specific activities that the Commonwealth government and each state and territory have specified will be delivered within the timelines of each action plan.
Clearly there is an urgency to respond to this issue, however, it is critical to ask which of these actions must be fully funded and accelerated now to effectively and swiftly advance the safety of women and children across Australia?
To answer this - we must first glance back. One of the main criticisms of Australia's first national plan to reduce violence against women and their children was that it didn't include any measures to track progress.
As a result, at the end of its lifespan in 2022, a failure to demonstrably reduce the prevalence of violence against women and children was equated with a failure of the plan itself.
This was not helped by the fact that an evaluation of the former national plan was never released publicly: a significant failing in public accountability.
Refreshingly, this action plan does not repeat the shortcomings of its predecessors. The first action plan includes six measures, including a stated goal to reduce the number of females killed by an intimate partner (current or former) by 25 per cent on an annual basis.
However, there is no articulation of the justification for such a reduction: where has this goal come from? On what basis is this a target we can achieve?
There is no detail on how such a significant drop in fatal violence will be achieved year on year. What actions will be taken in 2023, for example, to ensure that 32 weeks into 2024 we will not again be commiserating the weekly killing of women by their current or former intimate partners?
We would ask, as others have, what in these plans would have prevented the deaths of the numerous women and children killed this year alone?
The commitment effectively states that by this time next year, actions will be in place to prevent a significant number of these deaths: but the how is absent. Is it that a combination of efforts across the action plans will achieve prevention of fatal violence?
Or is it that specific points of intervention have informed targeted actions to enhance opportunities for earlier intervention and more effective response?
Given that homicide is only mentioned once in the first action plan, in relation to this specific target, these questions are unanswered. Again, the devil is the detail, and on this point the actions plan falls short of an evidence-based strategy to eliminating men's use of fatal violence against the current or former partners and children.
To reduce fatal outcomes, we must also expand our gaze. There are numerous deaths that never make the news. There has been recognition of the inability of official data to fully capture the deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children.
In November 2021, a Senate inquiry into missing and murdered First Nations women and children was announced. Earlier this year questions were rightly asked what has happened to progress this Inquiry and why has such an important issue been shrouded in silence since?
Expanding our outlook yet again, we must also focus on the many domestic, family and sexual violence related deaths that don't occur as the result of an escalation of violence.
Women experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
These deaths are related to the trauma inflicted on victims by an abusive partner as well as the immense toll that ineffective system responses can impose. Herein lies a stark example of why delivering timely and trauma-informed responses for victim-survivors is absolutely critical.
Women also die from the silent consequences of male violence inflicted on their physical health, including the long-lasting effects of non-fatal strangulation, sexual violence and other forms of physical violence.
These deaths are barely acknowledged yet domestic violence remains the leading preventable contributing factor to chronic illness and premature death among women aged 18 to 44 years old.
It is terrifying to consider what a death toll from domestic, family and sexual violence would amount to if we had implemented measures to capture these deaths.
When looking to silences, we also must not overlook the impact on children and young people. In October 2022, the national plan's acknowledgement of children and young people as victim-survivors in their own right, was rightly celebrated.
It is long overdue.
Children and young people also die by suicide in alarming numbers in Australia. Internationally, these suicides have been linked to childhood trauma, including domestic, family and sexual violence. Action eight under the first action plan is aimed at improving support and outcomes for children experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence. T
his includes a focus on disrupting the intergenerational transmission of violence. For the commitment to securing safer outcomes for children to be achieved, governments implementing the action plans will need to ensure the full spectrum of harms and victimisation are captured.
The federal government has made an unprecedented funding commitment of $2.3 billion over the 2022-23 and 2023-24 budgets to support delivery of these action plans.
This sounds significant - it is certainly unprecedented and for the specialist sector that have long been struggling to have governments invest in women's safety as a national priority it is welcomed.
On funding there is a critical need for flexible funding models. Transformative change requires a shift in policy and practice.
Governments must stop funding services in siloes.
We know the experiences and support needs of victim-survivors as well as men who use violence cut across multiple areas of support, including housing, health (including mental health and alcohol and drugs services), child and family welfare, justice, disability services, just to name a few. We need whole-of-person centred service models.
There is a whole sector across the nation ready to be better supported to do their work, to be remunerated well for their important and unseen labour that contributes every day to improving women's safety.
We don't want this window of political opportunity to fail but we don't want it caught up in empty rhetoric. It is laudable to set targets.
But it has taken 10 months since the national plan was launched to have the first action plan released: we want and need momentum.
Delay, compromise and multiple reviews of strategies need to be set aside if the safety of women and children are to be secured.
- Kate Fitz-Gibbon is director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, and professor of social sciences in the faculty of arts at Monash University.
- Marie Segrave is a professor and ARC future fellow in the school of social sciences in the faculty of arts at Monash University.
- Sike Meyer is the Leneen Forde chair in child and family research in the school of health sciences and social work at Griffith University.
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