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We must use the outrage to work together to change the story

August 07 2018 By Patty Kinnersly, Our Watch CEO

Last week’s news cycle was dominated by the appalling story of four women, all clearly or apparently cases of homicide. Four more women, dead.

The Age front page Image

While each of these cases is still subject to legal processes, in the three where charges have been laid, the accused was the woman's husband or male partner.

As tragic and distressing as this news is, it is not a shock. These are the latest in at least 39 women who suffered violent deaths in Australia so far this year. As we have seen in the public response to this week’s dreadful news, there is now a tidal wave of anger over this issue. The message from the community is loud and clear: enough is enough.

Our Watch is the national body formed five years ago to tackle the causes of violence against women; to stop this scourge before it happens. We were formed as part of the National Plan to 

Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, and our first act was to evaluate the best national and international research in this area.

The research is absolutely clear: the drivers of violence against women are disrespect towards women, rigid gender stereotypes, male control and power, and social norms and attitudes that condone this violence.

The research suggests that these harmful norms, attitudes and behaviours exist on a wide spectrum – meaning that those sexist, disrespectful jokes and comments do matter; that put-downs and controlling behaviour do cause harm, and that these all contribute to an environment in which men's violence against women is more likely.

In my work, I travel around Australia having conversations about these issues with people in various workplaces including schools, universities, sporting groups, corporate and political settings, and there is a genuine appetite for change. People are saying: “what can we do, how can we stop this?”

Our Watch is working on a number of fronts, we’re talking to children, teenagers and young adults about respectful relationships, we’re working with sporting codes to build their capacity to prevent violence against women, and we’re partnering with media to improve the reporting of this violence. 

We want to see reporting that names violence against women, that puts each case in a broader context, and that assures survivors of this violence that when they tell their stories they will be believed, respected and supported.

While this week’s news was distressing and unacceptable, progress is being made and the Australian community has never been more united in supporting the need for change. 

But we know that changing attitudes, behaviours and social norms is a challenging and long-term process. It will only be achieved by the whole community working together. 

We endorse the comments by the Victorian Coroner, Judge Sara Hinchey this week, calling for a systemic review of family violence homicides where there had been previous family violence and for an annual review of the adequacy of resources and funding for family violence support services.
Social change takes time, but Australia has a proven track record. When we saw that too many people were dying from smoking-related illnesses, the Quit campaign made huge progress; when we understood the role of alcohol in road accidents and deaths, road safety campaigns were powerfully effective. 

In similar ways, we can work to prevent violence against women. But to do this we must tackle its underlying drivers. 

This means that we must have some tough conversations - about men and masculinity, about gendered power imbalances, and patterns of abuse and control. And about how we can all promote, and support relationships based on respect and equality.

As a whole community, we understand that violence against women is an unacceptable national crisis and that there can never be any excuses for this violence. We can and must work together to change this story.