This week, the ABC broadcast a documentary, Hitting Home, which illustrated the complex nature of domestic violence and the devastating effects it has on victims. Journalist Sarah Ferguson spent six months on the front line of domestic and family violence researching and interviewing for the program. She moved into a women’s refuge, accompanied specialised police units and attended court-based safe rooms. She spoke with victims, perpetrators, support workers and children. It was harrowing, sad and emotional viewing. At times I covered my eyes, at others I checked on my son and hugged my partner. I felt fortunate to live in a different world from these women.
But I don’t. I live in their world, in their country, in their society. I am not immune from the causes and consequences of domestic violence even though I may not have suffered at the hands of a violent partner. And I most certainly have a responsibility to do what I can to ensure violence against women is stopped.
Surprisingly, not many people understand that at the core of domestic violence, is gender inequality.
The same societal attitudes which allow a man to justify his dangerous and destructive behaviour towards his partner, are the same attitudes that continue to see women paid less for the same work, and under-represented in key leadership roles.
It is a message that the World Health Organisation has been making for years now, and one we must start to listen and respond to. According to evidence collected by WHO, “gender inequality increases the risk of violence by men against women, and gender inequalities also inhibit the ability of vulnerable people to seek protection”. We also know that the rates of violence against women are lower in countries where women achieve greater equality with men.
So the battle against the blight of domestic violence must not only be fought in the courtrooms and the refuges seen in Hitting Home, but in the boardrooms and classrooms across Australia; in our workplaces and our homes.
This is where we can all make a difference and have a greater long-term impact. Being aware of violence against women and equipped to support those in need is crucial, but it is not enough. We must intervene where inequalities exist and re-imagine and challenge the roles men and women play in our society. From increasing the number of women on boards, to empowering and supporting mothers to have fulfilling careers; from equally dividing the domestic duties to supporting and watching women in sport, we all have a part to play.
Domestic Violence is a complex national emergency that cannot be fixed with one simple solution. It will take a range of people, in a range of positions, to combat this atrocity. It will take time and money and a commitment to achieving gender equality in all facets of our society. And none of us, men or women, are immune from the responsibility to fix it.