Why we need to keep discussing gender equality
Tens of thousands attended the Brunswick peace march in honour of Jill Meagher. Photo: Justin McManus
The past year has seen a spike in media stories around gender equality. Discussions around parental leave, equal pay and misogyny were prominent in the Australian media. Undoubtedly the biggest gender issue to captivate the public attention in the last year has been violence against women. We have been exposed in the last 12 months to many high profile, dramatic and horrific incidents of violence against women. The shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp, a woman burned alive in Papua New Guinea for ‘sorcery’, the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the gang rape and death of a young Indian student, the tragic death of Jill Meagher.
As dramatic cases of gender-based violence fixate the Australian media, it is important to remember the prevalence of violence in everyday life. It is easy to fool ourselves when reading of a girl shot in the head, a woman burned alive or of a young woman shot by a Paralympic star that violence against women only happens in other countries, in sensational ways, as isolated incidents. The reality is that violence against women is one of the most pervasive human rights abuses in the world. One in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. Not all instances of violence will involve dramatic or ‘newsworthy’ acts; much of this violence will be ‘ordinary’, everyday instances of violence perpetrated by people known to the victim. Women are victims of violence when they are routinely intimidated and abused by their partners or family members, when they are denied access to their finances, when they are accused of ‘asking for it’ after sexual abuse.
It is also important to look past the sensational nature of the violence and reflect on the root causes of violence against women. UN Women believes that violence against women is a consequence of gender inequality. When women’s skills and contributions to society are not valued equally to men’s, violence against women is rationalised and tolerated. When women’s roles in society are rigidly determined, it becomes acceptable to mistreat or physically punish a woman when she behaves in a way that is deemed inappropriate. The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, when visiting Papua New Guinea in March 2012 noted that sorcery allegations were commonly used as a way of depriving women of land and property. When looked at this way, the horrific killing of a young woman in PNG becomes not an isolated incident, but part of a systematic and pervasive trend of violence that occurs in all nations, to women of all backgrounds.
When looking at these pervasive instances of violence it is easy to be overwhelmed by the statistics. A woman is killed almost every week by a partner or ex-partner. Indigenous women in some rural and remote communities are up to 45 times more likely to experience violence than non-indigenous women. Women with cognitive impairments are up to 10 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women without a disability. These statistics are staggering and represent some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
This is why it is vital that we keep discussing gender equality. It is vital that we make our voices heard when speaking against violence. It is important that we continue to spark discussions around gender equality and while there is much to celebrate in terms of how far we have come, it is important to recognise the challenges we still have to overcome.
It is prudent of all of us to have these discussions and continue having them.
Julie McKay is the Executive Director of UN Women Australia.
Daily Life is hosting a festival of ideas, conversation and debate about the issues that are most important to women. Join us for the All About Women Festival on April 7. For more information and to get your ticket, visit The Sydney Opera House.