The National Summit on Women’s Safety, held on September 6 and 7, was billed by the Federal Government as an opportunity “to guide the development of the next National Plan to end violence against women and children”.
After a national spotlight was placed on the toxic culture at Parliament House following a number of allegations of sexual assault and harassment earlier this year, many were hopeful the Summit would be an opportunity for both sides of politics to come together to agree on genuine and innovative proposals to empower and protect women.
The Summit’s mandate of a 12-year plan to end domestic violence against women and girls left some hopeful; though partisan politics, a lack of past action and the challenges of the Summit being held online due to COVID-19 have left many pessimistic about real progress being made.
An Essential Poll released this week found that around 48% of people were not confident that the Summit would result in meaningful changes to address violence against women and children, with only 38% optimistic.
While some politicians at the Summit attempted to turn discussion into a partisan blame game, many activists and politicians including Federal Minister for Women Marise Payne called for unity on the issue.
“We have moved past so many of the political differences that bedevil governments these days, exacerbated by clickbait efforts on social media, exacerbated by small-minded political point scoring when we are, in fact, together so much stronger and so much more than that,” said Payne.
Federal Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston said it was important the Summit lead to “real and practical outcomes”.
“We cannot look back and say the summit was just a talkfest and the next national plan cannot be a document that just sits on a shelf,” she said. “It must translate into real and practical outcomes and actions because we have to change the dial and we have to make a difference – lives depend on it.”
In her closing statement, Ruston noted some of the issues that need addressing in the new Plan in order to combat violence against women and their children:
- Firstly, that the focus on prevention must continue to be a priority and be a foundational element of the next National Plan.
- That there must be a dedicated, focussed action plan for Indigenous Australians to allow community leaders to lead the delivery of these outcomes – including a dedicated indigenous action plan.
- That early interventions for perpetrators must be a focus, so we can support men not to use violence, and interact with them early in the cycle.
- That including the experiences of victims and survivors are central to sexual violence justice and healing responses.
- The rise in technology-facilitated abuse and financial abuse, including apps and devices to track victims and using children to inflict abuse against a parent.
- The ongoing focus and listening to survivors voices, and particularly supporting victim-survivors support to recover and heal.
- That housing is vital to providing women and their children with safety and security, and housing responses must be appropriate for the diversity of groups, including Indigenous Australians and older women.
Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly said she feels “hopeful” after the summit but that the focus must now shift on how to bring the key priorities discussed into action.
The Federal Budget’s major focus on spending measures for women this year holds some promise for real change. The focus on safety initiatives for women and children fleeing domestic violence situations, including funding for frontline services as well as cash payments for individuals, and further support for emergency accommodation are a very good start.
Calls have been made for the National Plan to take into account needs of individual communities, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
While it will take more than just throwing money at the problem, a real funding commitment from governments needs to be made to allow services supporting women to get down to business, focusing on the work instead of the finances, and allowing them to plan longer term.
With one woman dying every week in Australia at the hands of abusive partners, this is an issue that affects us all. It is crucial that partisan politics and point scoring are put aside in favour of solutions for the future that we can all agree with and get behind.