In the Spotlight

Misogyny matters in May

Violence against women and their children is a prevalent, serious and preventable human rights abuse. – Our Watch

Earlier this week Caroline Overington penned a piece for The Australian entitled, “Misogyny keeps taking its toll“. She began: They don’t all hate us. All men. They don’t all hate all women. How could they? Some are fathers, some are husbands, some are brothers, all are sons. Most men love women. I know that. They love their wives, their sisters, their daughters, their friends.

Of course, we all know this. And yet, and still. It has been a dispiriting year for Australian women, especially those who want to believe that we are making ground in the battle — why is it even a battle? — of the sexes. Just this week, we have again seen the lid peeled back on some ugly behaviour: women treated not as human beings but as worthless, unimportant things to mock, poke and ridicule. To shame, and compare.

She spoke of the fact that One Nation’s Steve Dickson made some horrible comments about women and she noted how his diatribe highlighted women as less than human. Comments such as: “Done more Asian” Like they — the Asian women — aren’t people, each of them individual and precious, but somehow interchangeable, not full human beings.

She also noted that this week an Australian cricketer, Alex Hepburn, was sentenced to five years in prison for raping a woman in Britain. His defence was a game with mates to compete for the highest number of women they could have sex with.

These guys, their attitudes, are they just outliers? But how many men see the world similarly? We are all raised in the same toxic culture; we are all subjected to the gross objectification of women pretty much from birth. Are we all prone to such disrespect?

She further states that the misogyny is across the spectrum. All ages, all races, all classes. In Melbourne last week, we had a doctor, Christopher Kwan Chen Lee, saying on his Facebook page: “Some women ­deserve to be raped, and that supercilious little bitch fits the bill in every way … she needs to be repeatedly raped in order for her to wake up.”

She then outlined some of the most recent horrific domestic violence murders around the country:

Rest in peace, Natalina Angok, whose body was found slumped against a wall in Melbourne’s Chinatown, on April 24, her family left to crowdfund to get her remains home to South Sudan, the city of Melbourne being not quite the sanctuary they supposed. Her boyfriend? He has been charged with her murder.

Rest in peace also Syeda Hossain, whose body was found on April 20 in the garage beside her house in Minto, southwest Sydney, with her two children, both under 10, fast asleep next door, unaware that Mum was dead. Her husband? Charged with murder.

On April 18, a court in Melbourne handed down a jail sentence for Borce Ristevski who, having promised almost 20 years ago to love and care for his wife, took her life instead. Rest in peace Karen.

Rest in peace also Preethi Reddy, the accomplished Sydney dentist, stabbed to death in a hotel room during a health seminar on March 5, her body stuffed into a suitcase and wheeled across the foyer, before being found in the boot of her Volkswagen Golf. Reddy’s killer won’t go to trial, since her boyfriend later killed himself. No trial for him means no justice for her.

Overington concluded: Yes, it has been a dispiriting couple of months for Australian women, with the low hum of misogyny for some reason turned plangent. No, they don’t all hate us; certainly, they don’t all want to mock, stab, shame and murder us. No, it is #notallmen, and it will never be none, but there are still too many in the some.

Her words are particularly poignant as May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention (DFVP) Month. The aim of this month is to raise awareness of the multitude of issues that surround domestic and family violence and to send a message that it will not be tolerated in Queensland, across the country and in our families and communities. Misogyny is a key factor to address in the endeavour to eradicate the scourge of domestic and family violence but there are so many more issues to contend with.

DFVP month began with various Candle Light Vigils around the country to commemorate and honour those who have lost their lives. In Queensland the Queensland Domestic Violence Services Network (QDVSN) chose three candles for their vigils to represent the women, children and men who have died as a result of the act of domestic and family violence. The burning candle in the night is a powerful reminder to those gathered around it that a life, a person who once lived and loved, may be gone but not forgotten. In the observance, those in attendance are reminded to think of those who have been left behind.

Every week at least one woman dies in Australia from domestic and family violence. Australian Police Officers deal with domestic violence every two minutes. PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia estimates that violence against women costs the Australian economy $22 billion a year.

The National Our Watch Campaign and framework, Change the Story clearly articulates that violence against women and their children is preventable:

Violence against women and their children is a prevalent, serious and preventable human rights abuse. One woman a week is murdered by a current or former partner and thousands more are injured or made to live in fear. The social, health and economic costs of violence against women are enormous. Preventing such violence is a matter of national urgency, and can only be achieved if we all work together.

Whilst they acknowledge in the introduction to the framework that Australians no longer consider violence against women and their children to be a private issue, they assert that this isn’t enough: If we want an Australia free of violence against women and their children we have to challenge the historically-entrenched beliefs and behaviours that drive it, and the social, political and economic structures, practices and systems that support these. Although there is no single cause of violence against women and their children, the latest international evidence shows there are certain factors that consistently predict – or drive – higher levels of violence against women. These include beliefs and behaviours reflecting disrespect for women, low support for gender equality and adherence to rigid or stereotypical gender roles, relations and identities. What this framework makes clear is that gender inequality is the core of the problem and it is the heart of the solution. They further state that people who do not believe men and women to be equal and see them as having specific roles and characteristics are more likely to condone, tolerate or excuse violence against women.

Dr David Duriesmith, Luisa Ryan and Shannon Zimmerman in the Australian Institute of International Affairs article of November 2018, entitled Misogyny as Violent Extremism argue that misogynist violence continues to be seen as an individual, private problem when it in fact constitutes a major security issue. They assert that Australia is uniquely positioned to act due to its ground-breaking work on gender-based violence prevention:

Misogyny is not a private issue; it is a direct threat to broader public security. There is an undeniable link between misogyny – hatred of women – and violence. This link is clear to see in domestic violence, which experts say is a way for male abusers to impose and enforce “traditional” gender roles based on ideas of men having control over women. Not only are misogynistic attitudes and ideologies harmful to an entire society, domestic violence is a key correlate of public violence. Recent research in the United States has shown that more than 50% of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 were preceded by the murder of a partner, ex-partner or family member. This connection can be seen in Australia with prominent attacks such as the Lindt Café Siege and the January 2017 Melbourne Car attack both being committed by men with records of gender-based violence.

This May, Queenslanders are being encouraged to rise to the Not Now, Not Ever challenge to assist in ending domestic and family violence. The Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland in its Not Now, Not Ever report recommended that individuals, community groups and the private sector work together to prevent domestic and family violence and support those impacted. In working together, the Not Now, Not Ever challenge includes tips for workplaces, community groups and sporting clubs, schools and individuals to take up the challenge and play their role in thwarting domestic and family violence in Queensland.

Those leading the Not Now, Not Ever challenge articulate that domestic and family violence occurs when one person in a relationship uses violence or abuse to control the other person. It is usually an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear. Domestic and family violence doesn’t discriminate across age, culture or socio-economic groups, nor does the length of the relationship matter. It is important to consider all relationships and note whether they are safe and respectful.

The impact of domestic and family violence on children and young people is significant. The affect for children, even those who have not directly witnessed the abuse or violence can be multifaceted and includes many concerns for children and young people. For example, children may try to stop the abuse and place themselves at risk. Often, they will blame themselves. They may copy the abusive behaviour and bully others or be cruel to animals. They may be bullied by others. They often feel fearful, nervous, guilty or depressed. Their behaviours may regress to those of a younger child and they could wet the bed, suck their thumb or have nightmares. There may be changes in their school performance and behaviour. Illnesses could arise that are unexplained such as headaches, stomach aches or stuttering. They could run away from home or attempt suicide or self harm. Drug and alcohol abuse is also possible.

Whist May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention month, there are many ways to respond in communities and as a bystander every day, week and month throughout the year to be part of the journey to end domestic and family violence in Queensland. Much change has occurred in Queensland and our government has committed unprecedented resources to rise to the challenge of ending domestic and family violence. Change that involves cultural and perspective shifts takes time. We still have so far to go.

In order to increase understanding and awareness of domestic and family violence, many events, projects and activities are being held in Queensland during DFVP month. For example, in the far north, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Service North Queensland is holding the event: Empowering Women Against Sexual Violence. Featuring MC Florence Onus with speakers from the Sexual Assault Response Team, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Service North Queensland and Victims Assist, this event will take place on May 15th from 10am until 12.30pm at Brothers League Club, 14 Golf Links Drive, Kirwan. Organisers urge all to attend and continue the conversation about sexual violence in the community.

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