Trigger warning: this item deals with abuse and may be distressing for some readers or…
There is a growing fire in women around the world, their voices demanding justice. There are stories that need to be told and heard.
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women—and you’ll see landmarks around Canberra lit up orange in support. On this day each year, communities across the world also participate in 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, seeking to inspire action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
During these 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, I want to firstly pay my respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women whose struggle is also bound to the continued injustice of colonisation and dispossession. I also want to acknowledge the work of generations who have fought in the campaign that continues today.
Gendered violence is an epidemic, and it takes a whole of community approach from the ground up to create lasting change. As Australian of the Year Grace Tame says, “Lived experience informs structural and social change. When we share, we heal”.
This year I began a journey, led by the ACT’s sector, to establish a piece of work that put victim-survivors at the centre.
It began with a meeting of four incredible ACT experts in this field: Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates, Associate Professor AM and Senior Specialist Sexual Health and Forensic Medicine Vanita Parekh AM, Former CEO of Women’s Health Matters Marcia Williams, and CEO of Canberra Rape Crisis Centre Chrystina Stanford.
In meeting with this group, I heard the call for a different approach to change. An approach guided by hope, not shame, that recognises experiences are diverse. Our response must provide more than just one pathway.
The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program is already making change, by bringing together so many important perspectives.
An overarching Steering Committee and three working groups focusing on Prevention, Response, and Law Reform have been dedicated to this work, alongside a Workplace Reference Group and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultation Committee. This work is directly informed by victim-survivors who have generously shared their stories, so we can improve our service system and make the ACT a safer place for all.
Thank you to the experts, advocates and victim-survivors who are contributing their valued time. I look forward to receiving the Steering Committee’s final report in the coming weeks and working on the reforms required to make real and lasting change for our community.
The pandemic has illustrated how crises are not gender-neutral. Women have been particularly affected by the impacts of COVID-19 due to economic insecurity, the feminisation of the ‘frontline’ education and healthcare sectors, and the disproportionate burden of unpaid household and caring responsibilities. Isolation and restrictions have increased the risk of domestic and family violence.
The next 16 days provide an opportunity for the Canberra community to take a stand and share the message that violence against women in any form is not ok. I encourage Canberrans to start conversations about gender-based violence with your family and friends. Learn more about the facts and what you can do to help. Help make gender-based violence a thing of the past.
Feminism is about collectivism. It must be inclusive. Importantly it must embrace diversity, including the diversity of LGBTIQ+ communities among many other intersections and oppressions. Creating change includes unpacking ideas that have forever normalised gendered violence.
It’s a challenge. But what I hear in women’s stories is, it’s not impossible. In fact—it’s unavoidable. Change is already happening.