OPINION: When will we stop violence against women

A WOMAN is killed almost every week in Australia by a male partner or ex-partner.

Violence against women isn’t something that happens in isolation in developing countries, and more work needs to be done to protect females locally and internationally from sexual harassment and domestic violence.

In neighbouring countries such as Kiribati, Samoa and Papua New Guinea the instance of violence against women is at near-pandemic levels, yet the statistics are also frightening in Australia.

Nearly 20per cent of women have experienced sexual violence after the age of 15.

Aboriginal women in remote and rural communities are 45 times more likely to experience rates of family violence than non-Aboriginal women.

In NSW, 19 out of the top 20 local government areas for domestic assault are rural or regional.

That’s our backyard.

For those of us who have wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, nieces and female friends, this is a dismal reality.

Last week, the Newcastle Herald reported an aggravated sexual assault on a young unsuspecting woman out jogging in Warabrook in the early evening. This is simply too close to home to ignore.

The police caution women against walking alone in the early evening as a strategy to protect them from similar attacks.

We must be careful not to shift the blame for any assault from the perpetrator to the victim.

Hopefully, the police will  identify and charge the offender, however it is abhorrent to suggest this young woman put herself at risk.

Recently we have seen the widespread reporting of violence against women, prompting open conversations about how it occurs and what can be done to end it.

The  outpouring of emotion for Jill Meagher, raped and murdered in Melbourne last year, is an example of a necessary shift in attitude.

This is also evident globally, in the fallout from the gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old Indian woman  in December last year.

There have been strong and sustained calls in India – where roughly half the female population think it’s justified for a man to beat his wife – for societal change so  more women are not assaulted, harassed and mistreated based on their gender.

In order to break the cycle of domestic violence against women in our community, there needs to be a commitment to providing sustainable, effective assistance and support services to victims.

Assistance includes immediate and ongoing support for women who experience domestic violence, education programs for school children as well as adults and specialised training for police officers on how to respond to incidents of domestic violence.

Assistance costs money, and our government has supported many initiatives to help end violence against women. But the community must play a role as well.

March 8 is International Women’s Day and the global theme for 2013 is Ending Violence Against Women.

Money raised from official  events will go directly to the Critical Services Initiative  that funds projects in countries, including Australia, that need assistance in providing these important support services.

Attending these events is also an opportunity to learn more about the work being done all over the globe by organisations such as UN Women to bring about legislative and attitudinal change to gender equity, pay equity and domestic violence.

The Hunter’s official event is being held on March 8 at Wests Leagues Club New Lambton, and will feature guest speakers Terry Lawler and Helen Cummings. 

Ms Cummings, herself a survivor of domestic violence and author of the bestselling e-book Blood Vows will share her  story in a bid to make a difference.

For more information, go to  www.unwomen.org.au

Belinda Smith is the chair of the Hunter Chapter of UN Women Australia

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