Five things you can do to advocate for change during the 16 Days of Activism

by Verve

Experts estimate the cost of violence against women and their children to the Australian economy was +$15.6 billion in 2022, with some figures suggesting the reality is far greater

We know that violence against women is endemic across every country and culture. That it takes a profound and long-term toll on women’s health and wellbeing, on families and communities, and on society as a whole. And in light of recent headlines that we are in the midst of a ‘domestic violence crisis’, many of us are wondering what more we can do.

As the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign wraps up across the world, here are five things you can do to raise awareness and advocate for meaningful change to create a more equitable and safe world for all.

#1 — Brush up on the stats

While the understanding of what constitutes violence against women, and attitudes towards gender inequality, have improved over the last decade, there are still some very concerning trends. According to the Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), who conducts an annual survey of Australian community attitudes towards violence against women, while the understanding of violence against women is steadily increasing, many people’s knowledge is out of step with the evidence, and with women’s lived experiences.

Despite decades of advocacy, there is still a substantial minority who misunderstand the gendered nature of domestic and family violence, and mistrust women’s reports of violence. In fact, four in ten Australians don’t trust women when they speak their truth. 

The way we see it — to solve a problem, you first have to understand it. And to understand it, you have to take the time to listen and learn

Get educated on the current definitions, laws, and stats in your state about what violence against women is and what it looks like, as a first step to taking meaningful action. 

It is also important to acknowledge that certain people, identities and communities within Australia are at greater risk than others and experience violence that intersects with other forms of discrimination and disadvantage. 

Here is a list of several trusted sources that provide a good starting point:

The difference between ‘violence against women’ and ‘gender-based violence’

According to Our Watch, the national leader in the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia — ‘violence against women’ is defined as any act of violence that is likely to create harm or suffering to women, whether it happens in public or behind closed doors. This includes domestic violence, family violence, intimate partner violence, financial abuse, and all forms of coercive control, online abuse, stalking, and sexual assault. 

‘Gender-based violence’ is a broader term that encompasses violence directed at an individual based on their (actual or perceived) gender identity or adherence to socially constructed gender norms. While it is a more inclusive term that recognises violence can be directed at anyone, the terms are often used interchangeably because the vast majority of gender-based violence is perpetrated against women.

#2 — Encourage your workplace to develop a family violence policy

To create the kind of systemic change we need to end all forms of gender-based violence, we need programs and initiatives across all levels of society, which includes workplaces. 

Most of us spend a significant amount of time at work throughout our lifetimes, and as such, workplaces have been identified as “key domains” for transformational change by the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032.

While you might be wondering how much impact a piece of paper or a policy in the workplace can have on preventing gender-based violence, what we know is that violence against women happens on a spectrum. And according to WorkSafe Victoria, workplaces can play an important role in preventing and responding to family violence by providing a safe and supportive working environment for all employees. 

The violence that exists in our communities has a devastating ripple effect throughout families, kinship networks, communities, and yes — workplaces. And while it is probably possible to get our heads around the statistical reality that there are people we work with who are currently experiencing, or have experienced violence, many of us probably haven’t stopped to think that we might be working with perpetrators too.

Recently, new laws were introduced under the Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Act 2022 to ensure that any employee (including part-time and casual employees) in the Fair Work system is entitled to 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave each year.

Employees who are experiencing family and domestic violence can take this leave, from day one, to deal with the impacts of family and domestic violence, where it is not practical to do so outside their work hours.

Beyond supporting employees who are experiencing domestic and family violence, workplace policies also help to: educate employees about family violence; its impact on the workplace; empower bystanders to take safe and effective action; and give employers pathways to support affected employees.

So, what should you be advocating for when it comes to workplace policies? What leading domestic and family violence policies have in common is that they offer clear definitions, and they provide expansive support mechanisms from paid leave, to flexible work, relocation help, and financial assistance. Some workplaces also provide free counselling, ‘first responder’ or ‘bystander action’ training, cash advances, and other initiatives designed to prevent perpetrators from accessing work resources like phones and laptops for carrying out their abuse.

Find out more about what best practice workplace policies look like and how to encourage your workplace to develop one:

Small Business, Big Impact — a podcast for small businesses about how to support employees experiencing family and domestic violence

Superannuation and leave entitlements

Did you know that some companies don’t pay employees superannuation when staff members are on leave? No matter whether it’s parental leave or domestic violence leave, Verve Super can help you advocate to your workplace about getting paid super while on leave. Get in touch with our friendly Member Services team to get the ball rolling → hello@vervesuper.com.au

#3 — Understand your rights when it comes to super

Money, power, freedom — three words we use more than almost any others at Verve. But they take on all new meaning when it comes to superannuation and gender-based violence. Because even though research from the Australian Government Department of Social Services found that 96% of Australians see violence against women as a criminal offence, 47% of young men and 34% of young women do not think that ‘trying to control your partner by denying them money’ is a form of violence against women. 

According to the ‘Cost of Financial Abuse in Australia Report 2022’ by Deloitte and CBA, at least one in 30 women have experienced financial abuse in 2020, costing victim/survivors $5.7 billion that year. The report also acknowledges that these figures are likely to understate the true reality of financial abuse due to gendered expectations around household finances, the gendered nature of care, and the systemic undervaluing of women’s paid and unpaid work.

Economic abuse, and its costs, is a pervasive yet frequently overlooked form of abuse. Many women who experience violence, especially those caring for children, are pushed into poverty and financial hardship due to loss of employment, income, housing and social support networks, as well as lost superannuation (and its compound interest). 

As a superannuation fund created by women, for women+, we see it as our duty to increase the financial literacy and long-term financial outcomes of people of all genders. 

Too often, as an industry, super funds see the often invisible chains that financial dependence and abuse can create, trapping victims in abusive relationships, and depleting their wealth, wellbeing and super balances. For example the forced early access to superannuation was a key way for perpetrators to enact financial or economic control, exploitation and sabotage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A few things to bear in mind when it comes to your rights:

  • Separating and securing your finances from a partner is one way to protect your financial safety. This will look different for everyone, and you are the best judge of what will be safe for you. The Women’s Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE) also recommends that you have easy and secure access to all important financial and legal documents at all times. And nowadays, the majority of banks and superannuation funds have processes and procedures in place to support members during financial hardship, including family violence and economic abuse. 
  • Superannuation is treated as property under the Family Law Act 1975, so if your relationship ends, it’s important to be aware of what can happen to your respective super entitlements. The ATO has some great information on Superannuation and relationship breakdown.
  • Seek professional financial advice, especially in the context of a separation or divorce. For Verve Super members, there is a Divorce and Separation Coach in the Verve Support Squad, which is free to access. Or you can call WIRE on 1300 134 130 for support about financial and legal issues any time from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Learn more about financial abuse and what to look out for ↗

#4 — Donate to an organisation on the frontlines

While we’re on the topic of money — one way you can make a meaningful and tangible difference is to donate to a local organisation that offers support services to survivors of gender-based violence, including financial counselling and legal assistance. 

Here are some of our favourites:

  • Djirra — formerly Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Service, and a culturally safe place where culture is celebrated and practical support is available
  • Share the Dignity — supporting those experiencing homelessness and fleeing domestic violence
  • WIRE — providing free counselling and support services for women, non-binary and gender diverse people in crisis
  • The Centre for Women and Co. — offering support for women and children in crisis including taxi and food vouchers
  • Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre (WAGEC) — a feminist, grassroots organisation that supports women and families in crisis and advocates for social change
  • LGBTQ Domestic Violence Awareness Foundation — working to end domestic, family and intimate partner violence and abuse within LGBTIQA+ communities

If you’re not in a position to donate money, there are plenty of other ways to support these great organisations — from organising a fundraiser, ‘donating’ your birthday or even snagging some merchandise to help spread the word.

#5 — Don’t shy away, start a conversation

We know that everything happening in the world right now is a lot, and you would be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. However, according to experienced workplace gender equality consultants, Jen Branscombe and Kathy Oliver from GenderWorks, silence plays right into the hands of perpetrators

“Like any complex and multifaceted issue, if it was easy to solve – we would have done it by now. And with everything else happening in the world, you would be forgiven for having to turn away in self-preservation. Ask no questions. Take no action. Seek no justice. But is that not what the perpetrators of these crimes want us to do?” — Jen Branscombe and Kathy Oliver, GenderWorks

By its very nature, violence against women is a complex issue to address, and ‘fixing’ it requires far more than a linear solution. But nothing changes if we stay silent. 

Instead, we must be brave enough to have difficult conversations and not shy away from uncomfortable truths — whether it’s in our homes, our communities, our workplaces, sporting clubs, media, and even where we invest our money. 

Change and respect starts with a conversation, so start one (safely) today.

We all have a role to play

In the words of The Centre for Women & Co., we must bring violence against women into the light. We must remember the phenomenal scale of this issue, both at home and abroad. We must remember that we can make a difference and have an impact that will be forever felt. How?

When someone doubts a survivor’s story, call it out.

When someone blames a survivor for the violence, call it out.

When someone makes excuses for the perpetrator, call it out.

While progress is happening, there is always more to do. A collective effort is needed, and we all have a role to play.

If you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse, free and confidential help is available.

1800RESPECT is the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling, information and support service. If you or someone you know is experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, domestic, family or sexual violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

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