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National Summit on Women’s Safety goes virtual, with government under pressure to address domestic violence problem

6 September 2021

ABC News

Advocates are demanding a “sincere commitment” from political leaders to reduce sexual, family and domestic violence, backed by more funding, as the federal government’s National Summit on Women’s Safety gets underway.

The summit was supposed to bring together hundreds of women’s advocates, business and community leaders and experts in Canberra to help shape the next national plan to address violence against women and their children.

But due to lockdowns, the two-day event is now taking place virtually, with panel presentations and speeches to be publicly streamed online.

Discussions will include a focus on sexual violence, coercive control, financial and technology-facilitated abuse, sexual harassment at work, perpetrator interventions and violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Remind me: why is this summit happening?

A silhouette of a woman's head and shoulders
The summit hopes to shape a national strategy to address violence against women and children.(Unsplash: Molly Belle)

The summit was announced earlier this year after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins went public with her allegation that she was raped in Parliament House and accused the Morrison government of treating her complaint as a “political problem”.

In the weeks that followed, thousands of women took to the streets around the country demanding greater action to end gender-based violence and inequality.

The summit, which technically began last week with a series of private roundtables, has been described by the government as both the “cornerstone” and “culmination” of consultation for the next national plan, but some are sceptical the event will deliver any meaningful outcomes.

The existing 12-year strategy to reduce violence against women and their children was drawn up more than a decade ago and has almost run its course.

First unveiled by the Gillard government in 2011, the plan was designed to coordinate state and federal policies, with the goal of making a “significant and sustained reduction” in family, domestic and sexual violence.

It will lapse in June 2022 and the government is currently drafting a new 10-year plan to “end” violence.

What do people hope will come from the summit?

Sally Stevenson standing in a room inside Centre with a determined look on her face.
Sally Stevenson says a lack of leadership has stifled progress.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

More than 100 health experts and community leaders have penned a letter calling for “bold, focused and courageous” action to make Australia safer for women and children.

The ideas being put forward are not necessarily new, but they do require political will, according to Sally Stevenson, the general manager of the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre.

“We’ve learned through decades of experience what is necessary. Give us the money, give us the support, allow us to do our jobs, and we will change things,” she said.

“We really need to reframe the way we think about violence against women, we need to understand that it’s men’s violence against women, and that is supported by a culture of patriarchy and toxic masculinity.”

On average, one woman a week is killed by her current or former partner in Australia and approximately one quarter of women have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner.

The letter calls on all levels of government to set a target to reduce current rates of domestic and family violence by 80 per cent by 2031.

To achieve that change, the group wants 20 “women’s trauma recovery centres” to be set up to offer “one-stop wrap-around” health and legal services to women traumatised by violence.

Other demands include building more safe housing, funding a victim-survivors expert peak body to co-design policy, and undertaking a national study to delve deeper into perpetrator behaviour.

What about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women?

A close up of Antoinette Braybrook she has blonde hair and a small nose ring, looking straight at the camera.
Antoinette Braybrook says violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children is “a national emergency”.(Supplied)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 11 times more likely to die from assault, and 32 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence, with higher rates of violence linked to intergenerational trauma, colonisation, and racism.

Earlier this year the federal government established a 13-member Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory council to inform the next plan and develop “community-led solutions to on-the-ground challenges”.

Antoinette Braybrook is the CEO of Djirra, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation which works to prevent family violence.

Along with other leaders, she has been campaigning for a separate dedicated plan to address the disproportionately high rates of violence faced by Aboriginal women.

“We become invisible under a mainstream plan, it also does not cater for the diversity amongst our people and our communities,” she said.

Ms Braybrook said self-determination must be a top priority.

“The mere fact that a mainstream service exists in an urban area doesn’t mean our women will feel safe or our people will feel safe accessing that mainstream service,” she said.

“There needs to be a commitment to investing into culturally safe Aboriginal community-controlled specialist organisations, not just for our women, but also for our men who use violence against women, also for children.”

What did the previous National Plan achieve?

Hayley Foster
The previous plan failed to help people from non-English speaking backgrounds, according to Hayley Foster.(Supplied: Women’s Safety NSW)

A parliamentary inquiry earlier this year found that “the rates of family, domestic and sexual violence has not decreased over the life of the National Plan, and the rate of sexual violence is in fact increasing”.

“The stark reality is that all Australian governments have much more work to do in preventing family domestic and sexual violence,” the report stated.

CEO of Rape and Domestic Violence Services, Hayley Foster, said the previous plan had some major shortcomings.

“It was very light on addressing the intersectional issues, the issues impacting people from non-English speaking backgrounds, our First Nations people, people with disability,” she said.

However, she listed 1800RESPECT, violence prevention body Our Watch, and the Australian National Research organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) as “key wins”.

“Some really good infrastructure has been put in place, but I guess what we’re hoping from this plan now is to is to build on that,” she said.

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