Gender Inequality/Domestic Violence in Australia; vulnerable women are suffering

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The way men speak to and treat women matters. 

Men set the standard for other men. 

Men can be the greatest champions of women or their greatest enemy. 

This fact is not truer than in the context of gender inequality. 

This fact is not more evident than in domestic violence. 

One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. Almost one in five have experienced sexual violence according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. 

In the past few years, we have seen an unprecedented rise in domestic violence victims in Australia, and a rise in domestic violence homicides[1].

Domestic violence was labeled as a “frightening problem” by law enforcement, and the data showed that there was a “far greater risk of being assaulted if you’re in a family environment than at a railway station or on the street”. Domestic violence was called upon to be further funded by the Federal Government, and to be seen as a health issue with a need for a serious strategy response.[2]

There has been a 70.2% increase of family violence cases since 2010 in Victoria, with some of this rise attributed to greater reporting.[3]

Gender based -violence is a violation of the rights of women and their fundamental freedoms. 

The Commission on Human Rights affirmed that violence against women constitutes a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and that violence against women impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms. [7]

There are various contributing factors to domestic violence, such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and the contributing factors of unemployment, harmful ideologies and world views which do not see women as equal members of society or the family.

Gender inequality is undoubtedly a contributing factor to domestic violence, and contributes to its prevalence. Gender stereotypes, cultural conditioning, harmful ideologies and cultural practices which lead to gender inequality can also contribute to domestic violence, including the example of child marriage.

It is time for that to change. Addressing the underlying causes of domestic violence is paramount to finding solutions to this horrific crime.

One of the obvious causes of domestic violence is attitudinal behaviors of men towards women, particularly those of a harmful nature. This can arise through young boys being brought up in an environment where violence against women is the norm, where violence against women is used as a form of control, or a sport. It can also arise through harmful ideologies, archaic religious teachings that are out of step with international human rights norms, and those that seek to suppress, abuse and exploit women for their own gain.

In 2013, Australia was ranked 24th on a global index measuring gender equality, slipping from a high point of 15th in 2006.[4]

While no country in the world has reached gender equality, according to the latest UN Women Report, Australia, as a multicultural society, and a developed nation in a developing region, has a great responsibility to be the example of gender equality for all women and girls in our world today.

It is therefore important to address harmful gender inequality practices such as the practice of child brides, female genital mutilation and the unequal pay gap that exists in Australia.

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Combating violence against women through existing international norms: 

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Resolution 1994/45, adopted on 4 March 1994[5], appointed a Special Rapporteur on violence against women, including its causes and consequences. The mandate was extended by the Commission on Human Rights in 2003, at its 59th session in resolution 2003/45.

In the same resolution the Commission on Human Rights:

"Strongly condemns all acts of violence against women and girls and in this regard calls, in accordance with the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence in the family, within the general community and where perpetrated or condoned by the State, and emphasized the duty of Governments to refrain from engaging in violence against women and to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women and to take appropriate and effective action concerning acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the State, by private persons or by armed groups or warring factions, and to provide access to just and effective remedies and specialized, including medical, assistance to victims. [6]

A State's Due Diligence Obligations: 

The 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women as well as other international instruments adopted the concept of due diligence, in relation to violence against women, as a yardstick to assess whether the State has met its obligation.

Under the due diligence obligation, States have a duty to take positive action to prevent and protect women from violence, punish perpetrators of violent acts and compensate victims of violence, without neglecting the obligation to prevent and compensate and the responsibility of non-State actors.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women[8], is often described as an international bill of rights for women.

In its preamble, the Convention explicitly acknowledges that "extensive discrimination against women continues to exist", and emphasises that such discrimination "violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity".

As defined in Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, discrimination is understood as "any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex...in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field".

Violence Against Women defined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

Article 1 of the same Convention declares:

“... the term "violence against women" means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life".

Article 2 of the Convention states that violence against women is understood to encompass, but not be limited to: physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment  and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere,  trafficking in women and forced prostitution.

The current challenge in combating violence against women is the implementation of existing human rights standards to ensure that the root causes and consequences of violence against women are tackled at all levels from the home to the broader community.

As stated in the Report of the Special Rapporteur Yakin Ertürk on violence against women, its causes and consequences[9]:

“if we continue to push the boundaries of due diligence in demanding the full compliance of States with international law, including to address the root causes of violence, against women and to hold non-State actors accountable for their acts of violence, then we will move towards a conception of human rights that meets our aspirations for a just world free of violence”.

Violence Against Women defined in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women:

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women[10] recognises the urgent need for the universal application to women of the rights and principles with regard to equality, security, liberty, integrity and dignity of all human beings, particularly women and girls especially those vulnerable to violence, including:

  • women belonging to minority groups,
  • indigenous women,
  • refugee women,
  • migrant women,
  • women living in rural or remote communities,
  • destitute women,
  • women in institutions or in detention,
  • female children,
  • women with disabilities,
  • elderly women and
  • women in situations of armed conflict.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines the term "violence against women" as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life, including:

Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non- spousal violence and violence related to exploitation[11].

The Beijing Declaration Standards: 

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action[12] declares that Violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace.

Violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Beijing Declaration calls on all cooperative governments to:

  • Condemn violence against women and refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination as set out in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women;
  • Exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the State or by private persons;
  • Adopt and/or implement and periodically review and analyse legislation to ensure its effectiveness in eliminating violence against women, emphasizing the prevention of violence and the prosecution of offenders; take measures to ensure the protection of women subjected to violence, access to just and effective remedies, including compensation and indemnification and healing of victims, and rehabilitation of perpetrators;
  • Enact and enforce legislation against the perpetrators of practices and acts of violence against women, such as female genital mutilation, female infanticide, prenatal sex selection and dowry- related violence, and give vigorous support to the efforts of non-governmental and community organizations to eliminate such practices;
  • Provide women who are subjected to violence with access to the mechanisms of justice and, as provided for by national legislation, to just and effective remedies for the harm they have suffered and inform women of their rights in seeking redress through such mechanisms;
  • Create or strengthen institutional mechanisms so that women and girls can report acts of violence against them in a safe and confidential environment, free from the fear of penalties or retaliation, and file charges;
  • Allocate adequate resources within the government budget and mobilise community resources for activities related to the elimination of violence against women, including resources for the implementation of plans of action at all appropriate levels.[13]

These measures are also reflected in Article 4 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Australia’s Context:

More than smoking or obesity, domestic and family violence is the leading preventable cause of death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 years.[14]

One in three Australian women aged 15 years and over has experienced physical violence[15] and nearly one in five has experienced sexual assault.[16]

We know that domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrated against women costs the nation $13.6 billion each year. 

It is estimated that violence against women and children will cost the Australian economy $15.6 billion per year by 2021-2022 unless decisive action is taken to prevent it.[17]

Violence not only affects the victim themselves, but the children who are exposed to it, their extended families, their friends, their work colleagues and ultimately the broader community.

Domestic and family violence are significant risk factors for child abuse and neglect.

The prevalence of violence in Australia continues to be unacceptably high.

Only 98% of Australians consider violence against women and their children a crime. It is everyone’s responsibility to reject and prevent violence.   

Violence against women often results in homelessness for the woman victim and her children. 49% of women with children cited domestic or family violence when accessing homelessness services.

Unequal pay gap:

The United Nations has long recognised the link between vulnerability to women economically and vulnerability to women through violence, especially sexual violence and domestic violence.[18]

The UN Women Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016 Report on Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights notes that social policy is fundamental to the quest for social justice, women’s rights and gender equality, realising that it is crucial to the reduction of inequality, the strengthening of human capabilities, and the realisation of human rights for women and children, the enjoyment of which has long been enshrined in international human rights treaties.

The major concern with the unequal pay gap in Australia is the massive effect on the living circumstances for the vulnerable woman and her children –particularly after she experiences domestic violence and has to leave her family home. If women had equal access to employment opportunities at equal pay, women experiencing violence would not have to experience homelessness, sleep in dangerous women’s shelters, couch surf with their children, and apply for government housing options.

Australian women are over-represented as part-time workers in low-paid industries[19] and in insecure work and continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in the private and public sectors.[20]

In 2014, one in two (49 per cent) mothers reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace at some point during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work, and one in five (18 per cent) mothers indicated that they were made redundant, restructured, dismissed, or that their contract was not renewed because of their pregnancy, when they requested or took parental leave, or when they returned to work.[21]

The national gender “pay gap” is 18.2 %and it has remained stuck between 15 per cent and 18 per cent for the past two decades.[22] While women comprise roughly 46 per cent of all employees in Australia, Australian women have to work an extra 66 days a year to earn the same pay as men for doing the same work, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. 

Older women in the community are also affected by an unequal pay gap into their retirement. In 2009-2010, average superannuation payouts for women were just over half (57%) those of men. Average retirement payouts in 2009-10 were $198,000 for men and only $112,600 for women.[23] As a result, women are more likely to experience poverty in their retirement years and be far more reliant on the Age Pension.[24]

Australian women also account for 92 per cent of primary carers for children with disabilities, 70 % of primary carers for parents and 52 per cent of primary carers for partners.[25]

The threat of homelessness as single parents as a result of domestic violence: 

Many women victims of domestic violence and abuse I have worked with as a counselor and as a human rights advocate find themselves financially destitute – during the time of their abuse, and after they leave their situation -  which leads to the women having to make undignified choices, for their safety, and for the safety of their children.

The unequal pay gap in Australia needs to be addressed, not just for human rights reasons, not just to ensure Australia is compliant with international standards, not just to give women their due dignity, worth and value in the workplace without discrimination, but also to address the adverse affects unequal pay has on single parent incomes, and the lost opportunities that can be afforded to their children, their education, their way of life – as a whole.

Women who have experienced domestic violence I am currently in contact with are having to rebuild their whole lives. Women, through no fault of their own, have had their lives threatened by homelessness and live under the assessed Australian standard of a poverty line[26] with children, simply because of a lack of access to employment opportunities part time as mothers, and the adverse affects of the pay gap once employed.

The crisis of safe, affordable housing for women and children leaving violence is made worse by the uncertainty of funding through the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. This partnership agreement must be extended for a minimum of 10 years to guarantee states can provide the housing options needed for all women and children made homeless by family violence.

What should we do about it all? 

Men need to think about the standard they wish to set for their daughters, mothers, wives and partners in our community. 
Men need to take the stand against violence against women! 

As a society, we need to be conscious of those women living on the fringes of our communities because of homelessness, domestic violence, the gender pay gap and other gender- based disadvantages, and have a more compassionate response.

Can we bring creative ideas in seeing Corporate businesses donating their money, time and professional skills in further equipping these women for promotions? 

It has been suggested that the Federal Government introduces a new Medicare item number for family violence counselling and therapeutic services that will allow the victims of family violence to access the support they need, when and for as long as they need it. This will have an immediate and invaluable impact on their recovery and rebuilding their lives. This requires a national commitment.

Commonwealth action is also needed to bring about better information sharing on family violence between state-based Magistrates Courts and the Commonwealth-based Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.

One single national database for family violence, child protection and family law orders, judgements and other documents to be accessible to all relevant state, territory and Commonwealth courts and relevant agencies is required.[27]

[1] 66 women died in Australia in 2015 due to domestic violence homicides: The Guardian and the Counting Dead Women project by the anti-sexism group Destroy the Jointhttp://www.theguardian.com/global/ng-interactive/2015/mar/17/these-women-are-not-statistics-deaths-in-australia-in-2015
[2] Reference to Victorian Jurisdiction in The Australian, Pia Ackerman, “Frightening Rise in Domestic Violence”, 31 August 2011: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/frightening-rise-in-domestic-violence/story-e6frgczx-1226125910364
[3] Melissa Davey,  “Huge increase in domestic violence cases reported in Victoria, report finds” The Guardian, 19 March 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/mar/19/huge-increase-in-domestic-violence-cases-reported-in-victoria-report-finds
[4] World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2013 (2013) pp 8-9.
[5] The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was lastly renewed in 2013 by resolution 23/25.
[6] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, The Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences,  Resolution 23/25, 2013: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx
[7] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, The Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences,  Resolution 23/25, 2013: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx
[8] Adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, and ratified by Australia on the 28 July 1983.
[9]  Economic and Social Council: Commission on Human Rights Sixty-Second Session; INTEGRATION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND THE GENDER PERSPECTIVE: VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN THE DUE DILIGENCE STANDARD AS A TOOL FOR THE ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Ertürk, 20 January 2006: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G06/103/50/PDF/G0610350.pdf?OpenElement
[10] The General Assembly’s Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women; RES/48/104, 85th plenary meeting, 20 December 1993: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/48/a48r104.htm
[11] Article 2 of the General Assembly’s Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women; RES/48/104, 85th plenary meeting, 20 December 1993: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/48/a48r104.htm
[12] The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women Beijing, China - Action for Equality, Development and Peace PLATFORM FOR ACTION: Violence against women 112 to 124, September 1995: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/violence.htm
[13] The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women Beijing, China - Action for Equality, Development and Peace PLATFORM FOR ACTION: Violence against women 112 to 124, September 1995: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/violence.htm
[14] Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), The health costs of violence: Measuring the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence (2004), p 8.
[15] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4906.0 - Personal Safety, Australia, 2005 (Reissue) (August 2006).
[16] Australian Bureau of Statistics, above.
[17] The National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, The cost of violence against women and their children (March 2009), p 4.
[18] Women’s Social, Economic Inequality leads to trafficking, domestic violence, exploitation, Women’s Commission, United Nations Press Release 5 March 2003: http://www.un.org/press/en/2003/wom1390.doc.htm
[19] For example approximately 45 per cent of women in the workforce are employed part-time compared with around 16 per cent of men. See: Australian Bureau of Statistics,6202.0-Labour Force, Australia, Table 03: Labour force status by sex (September 2009).
[20] For example, in 2012 women held only seven CEO positions and made up only 10.1 per cent of executive management positions in ASX 200 companies (see: Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Australian Census of Women in Leadership 2012 (2012) and, despite making up more than half of all Commonwealth public servants, they comprise only 39.6% of the Senior Executive Service (see: Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2013-14 (2014), p 71).
[21] Australian Human Rights Commission, National Review on Discrimination Related to Pregnancy, Parental Leave and Return to Work (2014) pp 4-5.
[22] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Gender pay gap statistics (August 2014) p 2.
[23] R Clare, Developments in the level and distribution of retirement savings (2011), pp 10-11.
[24] R Tanton, Y Vidyattama, J McNamara, Q Ngu Vu & A Harding, Old Single and Poor: Using Microsimulation and Microdata to Analyse Poverty and the Impact of Policy Change Among Older Australians (2008) p 15.
[25] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4153.0-How Australians Use Their Time, 2006 (February 2008).
[26] According to the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne, September Quarter Poverty Line in Australia Report in which a single parent plus one should be earning $6700.42 per week, and a single parent plus two should be earning $811.47 per weekhttps://melbourneinstitute.com/downloads/publications/Poverty%20Lines/Poverty-lines-Australia-Sept-2015.pdf
[27] Fiona McCormack, COAG and Domestic Violence: Victoria throws down the challenge for action, The Drum, 31 March 2016: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-01/mccormack-coag-and-domestic-violence/7290848

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