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International Women’s Day: Still we rise, to demand freedom, justice and violence-free lives

A message from Family Safety Victoria's CEO, Eleri Butler

04/03/21 23.11pm

In January, Dr. Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, Rosemary Kariuki, Isobel Marshall, and Grace Tame won all four Australian of the Year award categories.

In this historic moment, we celebrated their inspiring work, including advocating for Aboriginal people and migrant and refugee women, challenging period poverty, raising awareness of sexual violence and campaigning for legal reforms. It also gave many of us hope that women’s voices, experience, expertise and advocacy would be more central in national efforts to build a more equal, Covid-safe future.

In the lead up to International Women’s Day this Monday (8 March), how things have changed. This year, the UN theme globally is a focus on amplifying women’s voices and leadership to achieve an equal future in a COVID-19 world. Yet the recent torrent of misogynist attitudes and stereotypes perpetuated by people in authority or in our national institutions, in response to women’s very real experiences of male violence, now dominate public and online spaces in Australia.

For many of us, these media reports and denials and victim-blaming narrative have been hard to hear. Especially if we have experienced abuse recently or in the past, if we work to prevent violence against women, or we understand the importance of being an active bystander by challenging discrimination in our communities. But this is nothing new: one in seven young Australians believe a man would be justified in raping a woman in some circumstances.

Lived experience

Lived experienced matters. Just listen to or read Grace Tame’s recent speech to understand why. It matters because the personal is political. Sharing lived experiences shatters the myths that can cause shame or self-blame or make it more difficult to get help. It matters because it confirms that many of us experience a continuum of abuse in our lives, from obvious violations of our rights to subtle forms of control of our lives, bodies, and sexuality (as conceptualised by Professor Liz Kelly in Surviving Sexual Violence in 1988).  Sharing lived experiences helps expose those spaces more conducive to violence against women such as families, in institutions, public or online spaces or during conflict, migration or transition. Sharing lived experience in our communities strengthens our collective resolve to create structural and societal change.

Holding on to what we know also matters when the voices of denial get louder. We know violence happens in intimate partner relationships, but also against children, young and older people, in diverse communities, LGBTIQ communities, against people with disability and against people of all faiths or none.

We know violence is not inherently part of Aboriginal culture, but it impacts Aboriginal people at vastly disproportionate rates and has devastating effects in Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from violence in the family and almost 11 times more likely to be killed as a result of violent assault.

We also know male violence against women is closely connected to a culture of sexism and its intersections with colonialism, racism, disablism and other oppressions connected to class, sexuality, age, gender identity, religion and beliefs.

Gendered violence is the biggest threat to the health, safety and wellbeing of women and girls, but it is not inevitable. Rape and sexual violence, domestic and family violence, harassment, stalking, dowry related abuse, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and other forms of violence against women and children, are preventable.

In Victoria, we have statewide commitments to end gendered violence and abuse, and for everyone in our communities to be able to live safe, equal, violence-free lives liberated from oppression.

This month, the Gender Equality Act introduces obligations on employers to achieve gender equality in the workplace. The ‘Respect Women: Call It Out' campaign promotes bystander action to challenge or engage others in responding to violence against women, sexism, harassment or discrimination. The ground-breaking Dhelk Dja Partnership to end violence in Aboriginal communities centres the fundamental principles of self-determination, safety, strengths-based approaches and cultural and trauma-informed healing, collaboration, accountability and transparency, in this work.

At Family Safety Victoria, we remain dedicated to delivering system reform so that we can help prevent rape and sexual violence, family violence, exploitation and other forms of abuse experienced by women, children and families in our communities. But we can’t do this alone. We can’t do this without centring survivors’ experiences and ensuring services and systems challenge and hold perpetrators to account. We can’t do this without sustaining vital work in community services that deliver prevention, early help and holistic support, including sexual violence services, family violence services, Aboriginal community controlled services, women’s services and multi-cultural services led by and for the communities they serve.

On International Women's Day

On International Women’s Day, let’s remember our shared responsibility to end violence against women, to hold each other to account for our actions, and to challenge the systems that perpetuate and reinforce intersecting discriminations and oppressions.

On International Women’s Day, let’s commemorate our contribution to the global movement to eliminate this most pervasive of human rights violations. Australia is subject to scrutiny for its actions by being a signatory to the international bill of rights for women, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women. The International Committee, which will next hold our Governments to account for its implementation in 2022, is also crucially informed by the evidence of women’s organisations through the United Nations Conventions on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Shadow reports, which provide a reality check on the delivery of national obligations.  

On International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate our strength and stand united as women, with our allies. It’s vital we listen to and support each other, we speak out if we are able, we rise up and challenge those who collude or perpetrate violence. Whenever the inevitable backlash against progress comes around, whether we are activists, campaigners, advocates, community members, professionals or active bystanders, let’s remember that we have strength in numbers, to achieve transformative change in our lifetime.

This International Women’s Day let’s renew our commitment to securing freedom and justice for women and girls, to creating violence-free communities and, in doing so, achieving liberation from multiple and intersecting oppressions for everyone.

You may write me down in history. With your bitter, twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt. But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Eleri Butler
CEO Family Safety Victoria

Reviewed 23 June 2021

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