The women who deserve medals for their bravery

Why don't we give medals to women who've survived violent or escaped their perpetrator?

Why don't we give medals to women who've survived violent or escaped their perpetrator?

There are a number of days on the global and national calendar which honour and acknowledge women. International Women's Day is perhaps the most well recognised, but there are others of great significance. For example, today marks the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a global campaign which aims to raise awareness about the impact of men's violence against women. Beginning on November 25 and ending on December 10, the campaign is bookended by the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and International Human Rights Day.

As Hillary Rodham Clinton said so powerfully in her famous Beijing speech in 1995, 'human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights'. If we are to seriously address the issue of women's rights (and particularly men's violence against women), it has to be understood as core to the rights of humans, not a peripheral issue for the too-hard basket.

But while we have campaigns and programs designed to address awareness around men's violence against women, I am unaware of any major efforts to globally recognise those women and children who have lost their lives as a direct consequence of it. Nor am I aware of any Australian memorials or remembrance shrines acknowledging their names and legacies. The Abbott Government won't even acknowledge that men's violence against women is a form of torture, so limited is society's ability to think laterally about how violence is expressed and experienced.

Make no mistake, men's violence against women is a sustained act of bodily and psychological invasion. It constitutes a mostly hidden and certainly downplayed war that has been waged on women since humankind first crawled its way out of the sea. Men's violence against women has seen 68 women murdered this year alone. Tragically, that number will rise before the clock's hand ticks us over into 2015.


Who is remembering these women and children? Why is there no government initiative to create a monument that will remember their names? So many have already been lost to history - but imagine what kind of powerful statement would be made against the violence women endure if we could actually see the names of those whose lives men wielding it have claimed? And what a powerful tribute it would be to recognise the women and children who have survived it, against all odds?

In Australia, we have a long and committed tradition of honouring those people (the vast majority of whom are men of Anglo Saxon backgrounds) who've died or triumphed while in apparent service to their country. There is no more solemn occasion on the nation's calendar than that of ANZAC Day. On Remembrance Day, we are urged to have a minute's silence to think of the sacrifices of others so that we might live 'in freedom'. The Australian War Memorial commemorates the "sacrifice of those who've died in war'. There are at least 80 individual war memorials or shrines in Australia devoted to the memories of fallen soldiers. There are 547 Avenues of Honour throughout the country, with most dedicated to those who've fought or died in war.

Elsewhere, we can see the marginalisation of women in more homegrown political conflict. In her excellent, Stella prize winning book The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, historian Clare Wright points out that the long held view of the Eureka Stockade as a kind of men's only frontier was actually false. In fact, one of the people killed in that bloody conflict was a woman. Unlike those 27 named men honoured every year as part of the anniversary of the Battle of Eureka on December 3 (an event which Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine has dedicated $300,000 to this year), her name remains unknown - because it didn't strike anyone as important enough at the time to record for history's posterity.

The point of this isn't to query why women's contribution to masculinised war efforts or invasions aren't acknowledged. It isn't even to critique the practice of honouring our fallen soldiers, many of whom were victims of bureaucracy and bloody minded ambition. Like many Australians, I have ancestors who are part of that legacy too. My grandfather was a radar operator with the RAAF in WWII. He was lucky enough to survive, but many of his peers did not.

But we have little such respect for the sheer endurance and commitment to survival exercised by women living in a world so hostile towards them that 1 out of every 3 will experience some kind of gendered violence in their lifetime. Instead, efforts to acknowledge women are derailed by utterly misleading and incorrect statements about an equal and opposite kind of violence - as if the greatest threat to men's health and safety are women.

Men's war against women exists. But it's much harder to rally public support against because, unlike our traditional understanding of wartime conflict, its enemies are within our borders rather than without. The casualties of men's violence against women are not honoured by official services or government recognition. There are no medals issued to women for showing extreme courage or fortitude in the face of immeasurable torture and captivity. We have no war memorial for our fallen. We have no titles of honour for our brave.

Over the next 16 days, government agencies and service providers will work very hard to highlight the issues of violence prevention. The White Ribbon Foundation will convince a number of people that wearing a ribbon is akin to 'doing something'. Awareness is, of course, absolutely key to the struggle.

But let's not forget the human faces behind this struggle. I'd love to see funding bodies join together to finance a memorial and education centre to acknowledge the lives of these women and children. War memorials function primarily to warn against the terrors of war, and a memorial for the victims of men's violence against women would be no different. If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Men's violence against women: It's everybody's business, it's somebody's life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT