Taking action against gender-based violence
Did you know 16 Days of Activism is run by over 6,000 organisations in 187 countries? Since 1991, this campaign has been taking a stand against gender-based violence from 25 November and 10 December. On average, one woman is murdered every week by a partner or an ex in Australia. Marianne Ibrahim, Domestic and Family Violence Program Manager at Open Support, talks about the multitude of obstacles for women who experience domestic violence.
How important are the 16 days of activism?
These 16 days are a great opportunity to continue raising awareness around violence against women, and as part of that, around domestic violence.
Campaigns like this are still very much needed, because some people don't fully grasp what domestic violence means. Many associate it with physical abuse only, or think it's not that common. In reality, it touches everybody, directly or indirectly - if it doesn't impact someone personally, it touches a colleague, a friend, or a child's peer at school. In addition, domestic violence cannot be summed up to bruises. Most of the time the emotional trauma takes far longer to heal – if it heals at all.
That’s why campaigns like 16 days of activism are essential: it gives organisations a platform to lift the veil on issues like domestic violence, which is more and more recognised but still not quite understood.
Is raising awareness around domestic violence also helping women who are experiencing it?
To a degree, yes, because by raising awareness we help reduce the sense of guilt that usually haunts these women as they realise they’re not alone. We also make domestic violence more and more socially unacceptable, which means acquaintances or neighbours are more likely to intervene compared to a few years ago.
That being said, there is a long way to go between raising awareness and actually reducing the impact of domestic violence.
Many people wonder why these women don’t just leave. But it’s not just that simple, is it?
No, it’s not. There are a myriad of reasons why a woman may not be able to ‘’just’’ leave.
Let’s start with the basics: where will she live? About 40% of people who receive homelessness services are escaping domestic violence. If she has children, that’s an extra challenge: does she really want her children without a roof over their head? The financial challenges alone can be very heavy. In addition, a mother can worry about how leaving with her children will disrupt their relationship with their father.
There is also the social pressure of having a marriage perceived as ‘‘successful’’. The pressure is even more substantial for women from culturally diverse backgrounds and whose communities value marriage and family, and consider divorce as shameful.
Going to the police for help involves a lot of stigma and judgement. In some communities, women can be disowned by family or threatened. With all this pressure comes a lot of emotions: shame, guilt and fear of not being believed or of retaliation.
On top of all that, most of these women are vulnerable and can suffer from mental health issues, so leaving can simply seem too overwhelming for them.
What's unique about Open Support is that we actively take in women from culturally diverse backgrounds. Helping women transition into independent living, which is our end goal, can become extremely difficult when they are on temporary visas or with a complex immigration status. It’s incredibly challenging to get them access to the services they need. Instead of backing off because it’s too hard, Open Support is diving right in.
How does Open Support help these women?
Open Support offers crisis accommodation and support services to women and their children who experience domestic violence. Past the crisis stage, we provide them with support to empower them to lead an independent and safe life. For example, we can help them write their resume, show them how to search for accommodation, or how to plan a budget. Women who have been socially isolated or who are quite young may never had the opportunity to learn all this.
What's unique about Open Support is that we actively take in women from culturally diverse backgrounds. Helping women transition into independent living, which is our end goal, can become extremely difficult when they are on temporary visas or with a complex immigration status: how can they become independent with no access to Centrelink, to Medicare, no source of income, no right to work? Most of them don't have a lot of social connections, and English is their second language. For them, it's barrier, after barrier, after barrier.
There is a huge gap there, and it’s incredibly challenging to get them access to the services they need. Instead of backing off because it’s too hard, Open Support is diving right in. These women need help, and only a few services will help them because of their situation. This is where you truly see our mission, continuing the commitment of the Sisters of Charity to addressing unmet social needs.
Should the government do more?
Absolutely! A few months ago, the federal government launched the Fourth Action Plan of its National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022. That's definitely a step in the right direction, but I think the government needs to tackle this issue a lot more aggressively. Women that die at the hand of their partner are becoming statistics. How many women have died since 2010, and how many more are going to die before we reach 2022? If we want to address this phenomenon of an issue, we need more than a plan from the government. We need action now.
What kind of actions?
Right now women who experience domestic violence don’t have enough protection, especially women on temporary visas, who fall through the cracks. The government needs to change its policy to help and empower these women: let them access social security, work and resources to support their children’s education. Only the government can clear all these obstructions.
This is also why the government should involve people who work in the community services a lot more in the decision-making: we are close to the issue, we see each of its challenges first-hand, so we are best positioned to advise and drive these policy changes that are so essential.
The government also needs to provide more financial support to frontline crisis services.
In a first-world country, women who are in need of help should receive help. There's got to be a better way than just closing the doors to any form of support they could get.
The festive season usually sees a rise in domestic violence. Donate now to Open Support to help women and their children escape a violent Christmas.