UN Women: Family violence isn't about 'why don't women leave'


Julie McKay

Rosie Batty on Q&A

Rosie Batty on Q&A

The fundamental question raised by last night's Q&A panel is one of power.  Who controls it, who doesn't and how it can be, and should be, redistributed.  In Australian society, without question or doubt, power is largely held by men.  Men make up the majority of our elected representatives, they make up 97% of our CEOs, 82% of board directors and they are over represented in decision making roles in nearly every sector.  Sex based discrimination continues to define women's experiences at work and in the home.  Are there men in Australia who are disempowered? Absolutely.  Should we be shining a spotlight on the issues facing these men? Without doubt.

But what I want to know, is why it has to be the very small, flickering torchlight that we place on women that needs to be shared with disempowered men, rather than the massive stage lights that are normally shining on men that need to be shared.

Last night's QandA once again reinforced that we are deeply uncomfortable having a conversation about power.  Violence against women is not an issue of 'why don't women leave' or 'how can we support men who are violent to control their emotions', it is about how do we fundamentally shake up the building blocks of our society to give women more power, and in doing so, remove the 'right' of some men to be violent.

Q&A panel on family violence

Q&A panel on family violence

Next week is International Women's Day.  Across Australia and the world, UN Women will hold celebrations, supported widely by the public, the business community and the government.  We will be raising money to support the world's most vulnerable groups – women and girls. But what will be the question I answer most frequently next week?  'When is International Men's Day?'   I, and other female advocates, will be approached at events, emailed and trolled on social media and somehow, will end up being portrayed as anti-male and anti-equality.


Every day is International Men's Day.  When we talk about politics, business, policy or discuss issues which have been written about in the media, most of the time we are discussing the views held by and represented by men.  For one week of the year, I think it is entirely reasonable to shine a spotlight on the contribution women make to our workforces, communities and families.  To reflect on where power continues to be held and to have conversations about how it can be better shared.  If there is a need to focus more specifically on groups of disempowered men, we can do that – but it doesn't need to be next week or instead of International Women's Day.

I am not for a second saying that the conversation should be had by women alone.  UN Women has launched the HeforShe campaign globally, asking men to step forward and play an active role in the achievement of gender equality.  This campaign will be launched in Australia by our Prime Minister and Opposition Leader next week.  Sporting stars, and leaders from business and the military will be announcing their commitment to the campaign.  Men's role as leaders is important to any debate about gender equality.  But, we need to stop defending why we are talking about women's empowerment.

Coming up: <i>Q&A's</i> panel on family violence (from left) Rosie Batty, Natasha Stott Despoja, Tim Cartwright, Charlie ...

Coming up: Q&A's panel on family violence (from left) Rosie Batty, Natasha Stott Despoja, Tim Cartwright, Charlie King and Simon Santosha. Photo: ABC

I think QandA should be recognised for the attempt it made to continue a conversation about violence against women in our community.  I think Rosie Battie and the women she represents, are possibly some of the bravest people in our country.  I miss Natasha Stott Despoja in our Parliament and wish there was a way to convince her to return.  But I also think that it might be time for QandA to think about how to better share power between men and women.  Every week, QandA gives people a spotlight and a platform – perhaps more of those people could be women.  Perhaps efforts could be made when women are on the show, not to interrupt them every time they speak.  Perhaps when considering an issue such as violence against women, consultation with the experts about who can best represent the issues is needed.

Next week, we have the opportunity to have a new conversation about power and equality in our country and across the world. Please join me in shining a spotlight on the experts, in giving them space to share their opinions and advice, and in focusing on the empowerment of women.  

Julie McKay is the Executive Director of the National Committee for UN Women and the Gender Advisor to the Chief of the Australian Defence Force.