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November 06 2018 By Patty Kinnersly, Our Watch CEO

As the weather gets warmer and a horse race vies for the nation’s attention, I ask that we urgently take stock of the month that has just passed, in which eleven women in this country died violently at the hands of men.

Violence against women in October Image

More women have already been murdered this year than in all of 2017, according to Counting Dead Women Australia’s researchers – and last month was only October.  

At Our Watch, we are all too familiar with statistics about gendered violence that say one woman a week in Australia is killed by a current or former partner. 
We don’t yet know everything about the women who were killed in October, but here is what police have reported: 

  • The men charged with killing Gayle Potter, Dannyll Goodsell and Erana Nahu were their partners.
  • The suspects charged with killing Jacqueline Francis, Kristie Powell and two unnamed women were men they knew.
  • Two unnamed men have been charged with killing two unnamed women. The women were aged 82 and 36.
Toyah Cordingley and Nicole Cartwright’s killers have not been found.  

This wave of murders prompted media and the public to look for answers and Our Watch was approached many times for comment. 

On more than one occasion, in the few hours that passed between journalists contacting us, and stories being published or going to air, the death toll went up, and the piece had to be edited accordingly. That’s the kind of activity you’d associate with a war, or a deadly natural disaster.  

The question everyone was asking was why? What is driving this terrifying and devastating rate of violence against women?  

To me, and to Our Watch, the answer to that question was strikingly clear, and it was also playing out in the headlines.  

Here are some examples: 
  • The results of a survey of 65,000 public healthcare workers in NSW found one in 20 had experienced sexual harassment or abuse. 
  • A report from the UK collated the stories of dozens of girls who had been sexually harassed or assaulted by their driving instructors. 
  • A men’s magazine found that 15 per cent of its young male readers don’t think taking ‘upskirt’ photos of female work colleagues constitutes sexual harassment. 
  • Google employees walked off the job in protest after an executive was paid $90 million to leave the company following sexual assault allegations.   
These stories spell out the answer to the question of what drives men’s violence against women. They show that this widespread violence is not a series of random or unconnected incidents. It is a pattern, a highly gendered pattern. And it is the most horrifying symptom of the deeper underlying conditions of gender inequality that continue to define our world.   

A world where a teenager going for her driver’s license may be abused by her instructor, and where a public healthcare worker starts every shift knowing she may face assault or abuse.  

A world where a worrying proportion of young men think it’s ok to secretly photograph their female colleagues’ underwear, and where, when a senior executive is accused of sexual assault, the consequence is a generous payout.   

The most galling headline – and I’ll share it with a content warning here – came from US researchers at Queen Mary University.   

They analysed global statistics and concluded that gender inequality is likely to be driving the deaths of millions of girls under five years old each year.   

This pattern of gendered violence driven by inequality is both global, and, looking at the statistics in this country, it is also Australian. It is clear we have a lot of work to do if we are to address the underlying conditions that drive this violence.   

Our Watch works with schools, sporting clubs, workplaces, the media and with young people to change the attitudes, behaviours and social norms that perpetuate gender inequality and lead to violence against women and their children. The evidence is unequivocal; achieving gender equality is the only long-term solution to this crisis.   

They say it is darkest before the dawn, and I hope that we, as Australians, can look back on our horror month, mourn the women whose lives were taken, and move into November with firm resolve to change this story, together.