Australia’s Biggest Barrier to Gender Equality

November 16 2015

Australia’s biggest barrier to gender quality is not the glass ceiling. It’s not the gender pay gap (at 18.8% and rising). It’s not a ‘boys club’. It’s not a lack of confidence, despite us hearing so much about how we don’t have enough. It’s also not a lack of ambition. It’s not child rearing taking women out of the workforce. And it’s not a lack of 50:50 partners who are willing to share workload inside and outside the home – though we can’t get enough of those.

Statistically, almost every time you find yourself in a group with two other women, someone in that group has suffered from physical or sexual violence carried out by someone they know.

The biggest barrier to gender equality in Australia – and the world – is mens violence against women.

This is not a man hating post 

You won’t ever find a post on Sublime Finds that is. The majority of men are not violent towards women and thank goodness, most think violence against women is completely unacceptable. Unfortunately, the violence used against women by a small minority of men reflects poorly on the group as a whole.

This year we’ve heard a lot in the media about domestic violence

And it’s no wonder – on average, we’ve buried more than one woman every week as a result of intimate parter violence. Astonishingly, horrifically, unbelievably – this number has been growing.

The statistics we hear less of…

Intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and ill-health in Australian women aged 15-44. Not cancer. Not obesity. Not car accidents. Acts of violence carried out by the person who is supposed to love you most.

This stat surprised me until I learnt that 1,400,000 Australian women are currently or have recently lived in an abusive relationship. Think it’s sounding like a social issue and not a business one? 800,000 of those women are in the workforce and it costs the economy $14.4 billion per annum.

If you are a woman living in a remote area, the statistics are worse. And if you’re an Indigenous woman – you are 38 times more likely than the wider female population to be hospitalised due to family violence.

Australian police are called to an instance of domestic violence every 2 minutes. That’s 652 times a day. One in four children are exposed to domestic violence – this is recognised as a form of child abuse.

On a global scale

There are more women living in an intimate relationship characterised by violence – which is just one aspect of violence against women – than there are malnourished people in the world. 980 million women are living in a relationship characterised by intimate partner violence. I am often bothered by how easy it is to type millions and billions and not process the magnitude of the difference between them. If we were to spend one second, counting each of those 980 million women, without a break, it would take 31 years to count them all.

I haven’t been alive that long.

Why don’t the women just leave?

The six months immediately leaving an abusive relationship is statistically the time a woman (and her children, if applicable) are at the highest risk of attack. Many women in abusive relationships are financially dependent on their partner and leaving may mean living in poverty – domestic and family violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women. Men using violence against their partner typically use a range of strategies to ensure compliance and dependence: monitoring movements, destroying self-esteem, encouraging her to blame herself.

But the root of this problem is not violent men. 

Of course, violent men are the perpetrators we’re talking about. Their actions are inexcusable and they must be brought to account. But they are not the root of the problem… inequality is at the core of this problem and inequality did not start the first time a first hit a face.

Unfortunately, inequality starts when we are born. And it is so deeply imbedded in our society that we can hardly see it. As girls, we grow up learning how important appearance is, while the boys are learning how important it is to be tough. We wander down a toy store aisle lined with pink while the boys head down the aisle that are all blue. We learn the stereotypes around what it is to be female; caring, nurturing, submissive and we see how women are treated when they step outside those typical roles. We learn what it is to ‘run like a girl’. We grow up hearing fairytales about princesses that await their charming prince. We fantasise about the day a man will ask us to marry him, and our fathers will walk us down the aisle to ‘give us away’. These inequalities are so deeply embedded in our society that we still celebrate them.

But these inequities feed a culture where both sexes are not respected equally. These inequities also pave a path to an imbalance of power. And that imbalance of power can lead to control, manipulation, and violence. Especially when the foundation was a childhood where the children didn’t know any different.

I have not seen this story as eloquently explained as it is in this four minute video:

A tricky cycle

The biggest barrier to gender equality is violence against women.

And ending violence against women starts with gender equality.

There is something for all of us to do

Solving the problem of domestic and family violence does not fall solely to our government, it affects all of us and we all have apart to play. By nurturing caring and respectful relationships. By creating equitable communities. By understanding how gender stereotypes can constrain and limit us. By understanding that a lack of respect – be it crude jokes, cat calling, put downs – are behaviours that ultimately enable a culture with gender inequality where violence against women is tolerated and even normalised.

Its starts with us

By raising girls who are given the exact same opportunities as boys. In play, in school, in sport, inside the home and in society.

By normalising equal partnerships and respectful relationships.

By understanding the underlying behaviours that create a culture where violence against women is tolerated and finding our voice to speak up and offer a different opinion when disrespectful remarks are made about women.

By encouraging the good men in our lives to stand up, speak out and act to prevent mens violence against women.

And it starts with me

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In Australia we know it as White Ribbon Day.

This year, two wonderful women I treasure – Melissa McIntyre and Anika Wells – and I are holding an event to raise funds for White Ribbon Australia to continue their critical work around educating men, women, youth, workplaces and schools on primary prevention initiatives.

When: Sunday 29 November, kicking off at 1pm
Where: New Farm Bowls Club in Queensland
What: BBQ lunch followed by Trivia (with a twist!)
How much: $39 per person with all proceeds directly to White Ribbon
Tickets: available until Wednesday 25 November by clicking here
Trivia Teams: can be up to 6 people – bring a team or be assigned to one on the day!

We’d love to have your support at the event – ideally by purchasing a ticket and coming along on the day day, or alternatively by making a donation of cash or prizes as a sponsor for our event.

But most of all, we’d love you to make a difference in your own sphere of influence. “Do what you can, when you can – this is how you change the world” – Elizabeth Broderick.

I’d love to continue this conversation with you below, don’t just think it – share your thoughts in the comments. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *