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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Prevention of Violence Against Women

By Cath Davis

Research indicates that intimate partner violence is responsible for more ill health and premature death among women aged under forty-five than any of the better known risks, including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in three Australian women will report being a victim of physical violence and almost one in five will report being a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime.

Each year, violence against women is estimated to cost the Australian economy more than $13 billion. Significantly, domestic violence and sexual assault are now on the agenda of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and so Ministers are working together on this issue. But there is so much more that could be done.

With considerable consultation and work by the establishment of a new COAG National Advisory Council, the Federal Government has produced a National Plan to ‘Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children’ which includes the $41.5 million Respectful Relationships programs (some of which are delivered by schools), The Line campaign and various pilot projects like Victoria's "Stepping Out", all to help educate young people on ethical relationships. Criteria for the minimum standard for effective violence prevention and respectful relationships education in schools are being developed for inclusion in the national curriculum.

While education is key to violence prevention, appropriate support and responses to the victims of violence is also paramount, and unions along with employers have a clear role to play.

With the assistance of the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearing House, the ASU and Victoria's Surf Coast Shire <> have agreed on a groundbreaking clause entitling victims of domestic violence to 20 days paid leave each year to attend medical appointments, legal proceedings and other related events in recognition that employees sometimes face situations of violence or abuse in their personal life that may affect their attendance or performance at work. The Clearing House research (funded under the Government's national plan), explains how a supportive employer can make a huge difference in allowing victims of violence to leave an abusive relationship, as maintaining employment is critical to their economic independence.

To build on the positive efforts regarding attitudinal change, there are also several advocates (such as Associate Professor Moira Carmody, Dr Debbie Ollis and Nina Funnel) for health and human relationships curriculum to deal not only with violence and power within relationships but also issues around consent, sexual boundaries and diverse sexualities.

While there is a national policy focus on human relationships curriculum, there is also an opportunity to improve the content of teenage sexual health, reproduction and parenting education. The Australian Young Pregnant and Parenting Network (who have also campaigned strongly to ensure pregnant and parenting students maintain a link to education) is one important group advocating improved sex education in Australian schools.

Violence prevention is about generational change and this is the opportunity for our generation to make the most of an effort to lay the foundations.

November 25th is White Ribbon Day the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

For anyone in Melbourne, "Not 1 more" is a White Ribbon Day event of music, sports, performance and speakers in Federation Square, from 10.30am to 8pm. It's about remembering the victims of family violence, and sharing the work being done to prevent family violence. Everyone can play a part in eliminating violence and all are welcome.

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