Equality for women will help eliminate violence against them

The anger from tens of thousands of people on the streets demanding serious government action on men’s violence against women was palpable in the April 27-28 national rallies, called by the not-for-profit What Were You Wearing.

Labor’s announcement, on May 1, to spend $925.2 million over five years helping women escape violent partners is welcome but is not nearly enough.

Of course, victim-survivors are not going to say no to $1500 in cash and up to $3500 in goods and services over 12 weeks. But the Leaving Violence Program only starts in mid-2025, with pilot programs expected to address the gap.

To seriously address this national emergency, we need to be clear on what drives men to commit violence against women and address that, as well as assisting victim/survivors.

We need to interrogate the structural causes of misogyny and sexism and demand multi-faceted reforms which help women in a real, material, way.

We cannot do this without acknowledging that patriarchal capitalism, which priorities profits over people’s needs, thrives on the subjection of women in the home and the workplace.

Capitalism survives on the exploitation of the working class and, in particular, of women, who make up 51%.

Such discrimination depends on sexism being normalised. Women’s unpaid labor in Australia, including caring for children, older generations, is worth $650 billion annually.

This is the equivalent of 50.6% of gross domestic product.

If the state had to pay for unpaid care work, women would not only be better off economically, they would have more choices — including leaving violent men and finding safe places to live.

In the most extreme cost-of-living crisis in 100 years, rates of homelessness are growing and the average salary is not enough to afford basic housing, utilities, food and medicines.

The shortage of affordable housing impacts women, in particular. Public housing is being dismantled and privatised and, every day, women and children are turned away from emergency services.

Family violence is one of the key reasons women and children become homeless.

Secure housing does not, in itself, end family violence but without significant public investment into large-scale public housing the alarming rates of women becoming homeless will continue to grow.

Alternatively, women will remain trapped in homes with violent partners.

Gender inequality also means women are being denied equal pay for equal work: they are also more likely to work in industries which devalue the work they do (nursing, other care work, education) or work casually and part-time due to their (unpaid) domestic caring responsibilities.

Single women with children who are unable to work because of caring responsibilities are forced to live on appallingly low welfare payments, which have not increased in real terms in more than 25 years.

This vicious cycle continues as child care becomes unaffordable to those working in low-paid casual jobs.

The increasingly casualised workforce, affecting all industries, particularly impacts female-dominated sectors such as aged care, child care, disability work, community services and retail.

Women also find it harder to access to leave entitlements, leaving them even more vulnerable financially.

Without the means to leave violent relationships, where it occurs, women will continue to suffer.

These structural constraints impact all women, but they particularly impact working class women who want to flee violence but cannot.

Enforcing gender equality at work is an essential first step for women to have more choices. The Australian Council of Trade Union’s call for an interim 9% pay rise in feminised industries is welcome.

But more needs to be done. Governments could do more to train women in male-dominated sectors, helping eradicate the idea that gendered jobs and gender roles are normal.

Abolishing the 21% gender pay gap, making childcare and education free and ending punitive mutual obligation schemes that punish single mothers would also go a long way to give women more choices.

In addition to these structural changes, we need education to tackle sexism and stereotypes starting in preschool.

Schools can, and should, play a big role in challenging the sexualisation of women and girls in popular culture.

Just as anti-racist campaigns challenge stereotypes, so too anti-sexist educational campaigns in school can challenge popular culture’s sexual objectification of women’s bodies and challenge harmful behaviours.

This is urgent because the dark web, AI deep fakes and a younger generation attached to their phones means that they are exposed to a lot of violent material.

The establishment media must also be brought to brook for devaluing women in its reporting of family violence and murder.

The fact that victims are people is lost in their click-bait focus on how the person was killed or the alleged perpetrator, reducing the woman to an object.

When will the legal system catch up to reality?

It was only last month that non-fatal strangulation became a crime in Victoria. One of the highest risk factors and indicators of lethality in family violence is someone with a history of strangulation.

The justice system is also traumatising for victim/survivors and stacked in favour of perpetrators.

Only 15% of sexual assault survivors take their cases to court because the justice system puts the burden of proof on victims: the chance of conviction is often low.

The Coalition government’s decision to merge the Family Court with the Federal Court meant judges had little to no understanding of women’s safety: they frequently awarded child custody access to perpetrators of serious family violence under the guise of “rights for dads”.

Governments must ensure the judicial system can hold perpetrators to account. This means expanding family violence courts, setting up restorative justice programs, tougher sentencing and free legal services for women.

Working in the sector, I well understand that the structural causes of violence against women will take time to dismantle. But that cannot be an excuse to avoid implementing policies which undermine sexism and misogyny.

Talk about shifting attitudes among men is window-dressing, unless governments provide the material support for women to be able to make real choices in their lives.

Just as the 1960s and 1970s women’s movement raised consciousness about the structural causes of women’s oppression, we need to do the same again to be able to win the reforms women need to end violence.

[Angela Carr is a member of Socialist Alliance. Carr is running for the ward of Hamlyn Heights in the City of Greater Geelong Council.]