I was born in, raised in and shaped by growing up in the country.
I grew up with a deep sense of community, a straight-talking optimism and a belief that everyone should be equal.
Since then, I have dedicated decades to the elimination of violence against women, and today lead a national organisation, Our Watch, aiming to achieve just that.
I’m often asked what fuels me. I understand the question. There are times when the magnitude and complexity of the challenge ahead feels heavy. But for me it’s simple. My country values – community, equality and optimism – drive me.
Especially equality. Because research tells us that for women to be safe, they must be equal. Equal in our homes, workplaces, community, education institutions and all levels of government.
Inevitability breeds powerlessness, but decades of evidence tells a very clear story: violence against women is preventable, when they are equal.
Which leads me to another question I’m often asked: what can people do on an individual level to make a difference?
When it comes to preventing violence against women, we all have a role to play, and part of that is fronting up and understanding what is driving this issue.
In this sense it’s been an extraordinary few years. Fierce and compassionate voices for change – largely women, but with growing support from men – have put this issue firmly on the agenda.
It’s been powerful and inspiring. And, it’s been confronting. There have been tangibly raw moments, courageously shared by victim-survivor advocates. Moments where women right across the nation saw their own experiences in these stories.
In Australia, one woman a week is murdered at the hands of a partner or former partner, and one in five women has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. Women in rural and remote communities experience higher rates of intimate partner violence than those in our major cities.
For regional Australians, fear of stigma, isolation, lack of anonymity, access to resources and a lack of accountability can make it hard for women to seek help.
Rigid gender stereotypes that men have to be dominant, in control, aggressive or stoic can be harmful, and are more likely to result in disrespect and violence towards women.
However, I also see hope.
This week, Our Watch received a record injection of federal government funds – $104 million over five years – to bolster our domestic-violence prevention efforts.
But the good news is that everyone can play a huge part in stopping and preventing violence and disrespect towards women.
Talking seriously about gender equality in your own community, family and social circles sets a tone that it’s important. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reignite these conversations.
Our words matter. Speaking up is a powerful way to make change.
This op-ed was first published on March 8, 2022 in The Canberra Times.
Shannon McKeogh, Senior Media and Communications Advisor (firstname.lastname@example.org or 0412 612 039) or email@example.com
*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:
“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.”
To access guides for reporting about violence against women and their children, visit Media Making Change.
Our Watch is a national leader in Australia’s work to stop violence against women and their children before it starts. The organisation was created to drive nation-wide change in the practices, norms, and structures that lead to violence against women and children.