The number one issue for women

Anne Summers.

Anne Summers. Photo: Carley Wright

International Women's Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women, to honour the struggles of those who fought to get us where we are today, and to remind ourselves of what we still need to do if we are to achieve equality.

There is still so much unfinished business. Women still do not participate in the workforce in the same proportions as men, we get paid less for doing the same work, and with sexism and misogyny rampant, we are not accorded the respect we deserve.

But of the many issues that clamour for our attention, I think we should on this IWD be focusing on one that destroys or ruins the lives of so many women around the world: violence against women.

There is no doubting that, as human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger has pointed out so eloquently, there is a global pandemic of violence against women. The details of what girls and women around the world are subjected to are horrific – from being raped by their teachers, to being jailed for adultery after rape, to constant beatings from their supposed loved ones.


Yet targeting such violence was not included in the UN's Millennium Development Goals adopted by the world's nations in 2000.

Perhaps to compensate for this, the Commission on the Status of Women – the UN body that addresses women's equality issues – currently meeting in New York has made violence against women its key focus, yet already we are hearing reports of language being watered down to reach consensus. There is no unanimity and no sense of urgency, it seems, when it comes to how to end this violence. Perhaps too many of the world's leaders are invested in this system.

Let's hope that we in Australia can do a little better.

We know that alarming numbers of women experience violence, most often at the hands of a partner or other close relative. The 2005 Personal Safety Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that 1,135,000 women, or 15 per cent of all women, had experienced violence at the hands of their previous partner, and 16,100 had endured violence from their current partner.

These and the other statistics contained in this report are confronting enough, but we get a better, albeit more chilling, picture of the daily reality of domestic violence in this country when we hear the following: "Victoria Police responds to close to 140 incidents … every day. In every suburb of Melbourne. From Doveton to Toorak – from Hawthorn to Epping. That's close to one every 10 minutes. And these are the ones we know about."

This is Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay speaking, on White Ribbon Day, last November.

He went on to say: "We often talk about this issue in terms of numbers and statistics so we can better understand the magnitude of the problem. But I sometimes think this takes us away from the reality of seeing women with broken eye sockets, missing teeth, broken arms and broken spirits."

There could be no more eloquent description of a plague of violence that is now of such proportions that increasing numbers of companies are now providing up to 20 days' special leave and other entitlements for people who are dealing with domestic violence.

Telstra recently announced free silent number fees for domestic violence victims, in addition to the free sim cards it already provides. These are welcome and pragmatic responses, but they are a horrifying acknowledgement of the extent to which such violence is accepted as a "normal" part of everyday life.

So what can we as ordinary individuals do in response to these ongoing attacks on our gender?


First, we can demand that our governments treat violence against women as a major crime epidemic and devote to it the kind of resources they would mobilise if this were, say, a terrorist attack.

Second, we must demand to know the extent of the epidemic. Let's record all those murders and car "accidents" and other violent incidents that are, in reality, attacks on women and children, and let's include them in the official statistics.

Third, there must be zero tolerance towards those individuals who are convicted of crimes of violence against women. They must be spurned by decent society.

And, fourth and finally, we must never forget the women who have died in this epidemic. Just as we honour those who have given their lives for their country in war, so we must honour those women who have died in the domestic wars that plague our country.

We don't always know their names. It is time we did. Let's start with Jill Meagher from Melbourne who, we will all remember, was raped and murdered last year. If we start putting names to the statistics, maybe we will realise the horror in our midst and the need to get really serious about it.


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. 


  • At Jean Hailes for Women's Health we couldn't agree more - particularly with regard to domestic violence.
    Our head of research, psychologist Prof. Jane Fisher, discussed this topic with Maya Avdibegovic (inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence) for IWD2013. Watch the video here:
    Every woman has the right to feel safe.

    Jean Hailes for Women's Health
    Date and time
    March 08, 2013, 9:35AM
    • Don't know about anyone else but I am also tired of us women being told WE need to take more responsibility for our safety. We have a right to walk the streets by ourselves at night and not be assualted. We have the right to wear whatever we want and not be raped. We have the right to leave our partners when they become abusive. How about a national/international campaign that teaches men how not to use there fist against women or anyone. A campaign that would teach them that they are completely responsible for the own actions and that a young woman walking alone a night is not a target and is certainly not asking for it!

      Date and time
      March 08, 2013, 9:50AM
      • This was a heated topic of conversation in an article on here yesterday. Despite our best intentions as a society, there are some men who will simply never pay attention to these messages. They just don't see committing these heinous crimes as being wrong. There have always been sick, twisted people out there and the reality is there will probably always continue to be.

        Yes, we all (men and women) have the *right* to go where we want, when we want, but sadly the reality of the world we live in does not allow us to safely exercise these rights. Until such a time as we rid the world of violent predators I believe we *all* should take responsibility for our personal safety and heed such warnings as those given by the police. To believe and act otherwise is simply being naive (sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's the sad truth).

        Date and time
        March 08, 2013, 10:12AM
      • No, SK, what is harsh is being told that women simply need to employ common sense in order to not get raped, as you asserted yesterday.

        Donna Joy
        Date and time
        March 08, 2013, 10:42AM
      • @Julz - I'd suggest having a read of the comments on this article from yesterday. There were plenty of men who stated quite clearly that they would not feel safe walking alone at night. I'm 6"2, well built and in good shape and there is no way I would try to walk home by myself in most Australian cities. As was also pointed out, as a male I am far more likely to be assaulted than a woman is to be raped. I'm not trying to compare the level of the two crimes but it certainly isn't safe for me to walk by myself and therefore I take the appropriate precautions. I'm sure we would all love to live in a world where we could walk freely at any hour of the night, the reality is though that we do not.

        Date and time
        March 08, 2013, 10:55AM
      • Whilst you are very correct SK, we'll never stop violence or any crime without stopping the perpetrators at the source, this also means that our efforts to avoid victimisation is ultimately futile. A predator is going to find a victim, and as horrible as it sounds, improving an individuals safety is shifting the predators target rather than stopping them.

        So Jill Meagher might be alive if she'd done something different, but some other poor girl would be dead. So I understand a parent desperate to keep their child safe, and I will definitely drill it into my kids to stay with friends, stay in lit areas etc. But as a society, telling people to be safe achieves absolutely nothing, so why are we doing it?

        The stats on crime to not go down because the victims did something to protect themselves, they go down when we cut the perpetrators off at the source, through education and enforcement.

        Date and time
        March 08, 2013, 11:01AM
      • SK_, if you look up above your head you'll be able to see the point whizzing by.

        Date and time
        March 08, 2013, 11:28AM
      • @Donna Joy and Woman. The point SK_ is making today is the same as he and many other commentators were making yesterday, that whilst we would all like to live in a world where we can freely walk down a street alone at night, the reality is that we do not and therefore taking some simple precautions reduces (not eliminates) the risk of something bad happening to you. This applies to men as well as women, and although we men are very unlikely to be raped we are far more likely to be assaulted than a woman is. It really is a pretty simple point so I'm not sure why it is so difficult for so many people to grasp.

        Date and time
        March 08, 2013, 4:56PM
    • I think schools can take a far more active part in educating young people - from an early age and certainly in high school years - about respect for others and what is acceptable in a civilised and democratic community. INterpersonal skills and concern for others is often hidden behind 'social studies' and does not give specific emphasis for young boys about growing up into responsible young men who respect young girls, then young women. Young women also need more positive role models and information about how to increase their self worth and self esteem rather than through pandering to the media scrutiny and expose of celebrity and cult status and the associated anti social behaviour that often results - drugs, drunkenness, consumerisim and self-first mentality. Of cousre all of this positive role modelling starts in the homem, but where that might be lacking, i think other social structures like schools and workplaces can provide a lot of information on acceptable behaviour.

      Date and time
      March 08, 2013, 10:26AM
      • Fantastic Article Anne!
        Thank You to ALL the People who are fighting this Horiffic Epidemic Worldwide. As a Child I was brought up with an Abusive Father that left My Mother when I was 4. My oldest Sister who is 10 years older than me, then married an incredibly Abusive Man, Physically Mentally & Sexually Abusive. My other Sister who is 5 Years older, & Myself, was Molested by this Predator. Our oldest Sister knew it happend, but didn't & couldn't do anything due to her Violent Abusive Husband. When we became Adults, we realised he molested us both & reported it to Police, & Criminal Charges were laid. As My sister and I got older, we both didn't have good Role Models for Marriage, BUT we had a Great Mother who was Intelligent, and raised us to Never rely on a Man for Financial Security, & instill Self-Esteem and Confidence in us to achieve a Great Education, & Financial Independence. My Mother Never raised us to Hate Men!!
        Needless to say, Both my Sister and I went to University, both Graduated with Honours,& Post Graduate Masters Qualifications. We are now in our 40's in Great Jobs, & we both have wonderful Loving Respectful Husbands. We tried to get our Sister & her 3 Children out of that Horiffic Violence so many times, but we were unsuccessful. It is Incredibly Complicated. BUT we did everything we could. Our Beautiful Mother Passed away 8 Years ago, she was very supportive of us, and so very Proud we were OK. We have no contact with our Older Sister, she has chosen her path, However, we know what it takes to have a Wonderful Loving Respectful Relationship, because we were taught to demand nothing less!!
        Thank You!!

        Date and time
        March 08, 2013, 11:05AM

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