Violence against Women
Violence against women is a global issue. It is amongst the least visible but most dangerous form of human rights violations. It has severe consequences on health and wellness of the victims and exerts significant economic costs on societies and nations. The World Health Organization (WHO) gave global recognition to the pandemic prevalence and grim consequences of intimate partner violence by regarding it as the leading public health issue for nations around the world in 2002 (WHO, 2002). In Victoria Australia, male intimate partner violence is in fact the leading cause of death, disability and ailment for women between 15 and 44 years of age (VicHealth, 2004). Violence against women though prevalent and serious, is preventable. This essay seeks to explore the extent of violence against women in Australia and the various strategies to curb violence against women in the country.
Forms of Violence against Women
The United Nations in its Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as any act of gender related violence that leads or is likely to cause sexual, physical or psychological harm to women, including threatening to carry out such acts, coercion, or intentional deprivation of liberty whether happening in private or public life. (UN, 1993). The most specific forms of violence perpetuated against women as stated by WHO (2003) include physical abuse and aggression including hitting, slapping, kicking and beating intimidation, humiliation, belittling and other types of psychological abuse female genital mutilation, dowry-related violence and any other practices that may harm women controlling behaviors including isolation of women from their family or friends, stalking them or prohibiting them from accessing information, help or any other resources rape and other kinds of sexual coercion, sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advancement, and trafficking for sexual exploitation purposes such as prostitution.
Normally, violence against women involve intimate partner violence or domestic and family violence. The extent of violence against women is dishonorably difficult to establish. Women experiencing violence are usually emotionally involved with, and or economically dependent on their abusers which makes it hard to disclose their experiences leave alone seeking help. In addition, persisting cultural and societal silence on the issue and anxiety of not being believed, ignored or re-victimized by those around them can also increase women`s unwillingness to take help seeking measures (WHO, 2002).
The Prevalence of Violence against Women in Australia
Although there is a general believe that violence against women is a phenomenon of the developing or uncivilized societies, the truth is that it is a global problem. Violence against women goes beyond ethnicity, color, race, social economic status, religious beliefs or nationality. In an incidence that recently occurred at a London restaurant where Charles Saachi an advertising multimillionaire was seen holding his wife, Nigella Lawson a television celebrity by neck probably shows the extent of violence against women in Australia (Browne, 2013).
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) carried out the Personal Safety Survey on 16,400 Australians of 18 years and older to establish the extent of violence against women in the country. It was revealed that, one out of three women was a victim of physical and or sexual violence. In addition, since the age of 15, a third of women had experienced improper comments regarding their body or sex life, with a quarter having experienced inappropriate sexual touching and about a fifth having been stalked at some point in their lives (ABS, 2006).
People who are at risk of experiencing sexual violence include young women, pregnant women, aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, disabled women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse populations, and women in the rural and remote areas (Tarczon & Quadara, 2012).
Health Implications of Violence against Women
According to WHO (2002), when a woman is killed by her male intimate partner, it is usually in the context of a persistent abusive relationship. In an Australian study of homicides for a period between 1989 to1998, it was revealed that women are over five times highly likely to be murdered by a close partner than men (Mouzoz, 1999). This trend persisted a decade later. Of all female homicide victims in Australia during the 2007-2008 periods, 55 percent were killed by male sexual partners as opposed to 11 percent of male homicide fatalities (Virueda & Payne, 2010). In addition, it was established that, for the male victims of murder by an intimate female partner, their actions are mostly as a result of response to continuous violence directed towards them in form of severe and sustained sexual and physical attack by their male partner (Victorian Law Reform Commission, 2004).
Non Fatal Implications-Mental and Physical Health
Non fatal consequences of abuse against women are extensive due to the period of time that women tolerate such experiences before seeking support, if they ever do. Besides, the health consequences of mistreatment can continue long after the occurrence of violent incidences (WHO, 2002). Thus, violence against women is a serious public health concern. Women who have suffered violence, experience more ill health as compared to women with no history of violence in their lives. According to VicHealth (2004), intimate partner violence accounts for nine percent of the entire disease burden of women between 15-44 years in Victoria. For this reason, violence against women is the leading cause of sickness disability and premature death for women in this group, surpassing other existing risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, illicit drug use and high cholesterol.
In addition, violence against women has a great impact on the social economic status of the victims, society and the country at large. In Australia the economic costs of violence against women can be understood on consideration of various components including pain, suffering and healthcare and untimely mortality. In addition, there are costs associated with absenteeism at work, consumption based costs such as replacing damaged property as well as costs related to children witnessing and experiencing violence such as child protection service. According to National Council to Reduce Violence against Women (2009), the cost of violence against women between 2008-2009 was about $ 13.6 billion. If no efforts are made to mitigate violence against women, the per annum burden to the Australian economy is projected to rise. (National Council to Reduce Violence against Women (2009) predicts that Australia`s economy will suffer over $15.6 billion during 2021-2022 period.
Australian Government Response to Violence against Women
Fortunately the Australian government has always been in the forefront in the fight against violence perpetuated on women. With the understanding that violence against women can be better addressed by dealing with the underlying causes all of which are adaptable and can be eradicated, the government has designed various approached to deal with the issue in both short-term and long-term basis. The following are the various programs and approaches that the Department of Social Services has put in place to stop violence against women in Australia.
The National plan To Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022
This is a National Plan designed by the government in 2011 to help minimize violence against women and their children in Australia for the period 2010-2022. Under this plan, the government has taken various initiatives to see that violence against women is reduced significantly in Australia.
The National Plan incorporates the government efforts across Australia to make a real and sustainable reduction in the prevalence of violence against women. The plan coordinates action across jurisdiction and is aimed on prevention strategies (Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community, Services and Indigenous, Affairs, 2012). The plan focuses on building respectful relations and working to enhance gender equality to stop violence from happening. It is also focused on bringing perpetrators to book and encouraging behavior change among the population. This plan is based on the idea that, involving all the governments in Australia and the community is significant in reducing violence against women in short and long term basis.
Equal Place in Society
As part of the National Plan, the Australia government is dedicated to making sure all women from urban, rural, regional and remote communities have an equal place, equal value and equal voice in the society (Katzen, 2000). This is accomplished by engaging women`s organization, recognition of International Women`s Day, AppointWomen (a register that offers women a chance to be considered for appointment to various boards in the Australian Government and other decision making entities).
The Australian government realizes the importance of women empowerment in the fight against violence directed to them. As such, the government has established various policies and considerations to ensure that women are equally financially empowered like men (Young, Byles & Dobson, 2000). This is achieved through Business Toolkit for Indigenous Women, pay Equity, Office of work and Family, Women in male dominated industry strategy toolkit, the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, workplace gender Equality Procurement Principles and User Guide, review of the Equal opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act and Agency.
The Office of Women upholds women`s human rights and gender equality at global level. It works with other agencies and departments in developing and coordinating the Australian Government`s policy advice on international issues affecting women. The government is a signatory to CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), engages in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and carries out regular reviews of the Beijing Platform for Action.
Limitation of the Current Approaches
The main limitation that the current government efforts have is the fact that, they are targeted at addressing violence against women in maturity. There is no program that considers the prevention of violence against women at a tender age. In addition, the approaches fail to explain to children the consent, sexual assault and domestic violence as put by Johnson (2013). As such, women who are victims of violence tend to be blamed, ignored and stigmatized. Laing (2013) also points out that, women tend to shy from reporting incidence of violence due to the complexity involved in reporting and the judicial process.
Australian Government has taken the above models in fighting violence against women due to the socio-economic status of the population. Australia is a high income country with majority of the population living in the urban. Most of these approaches also assume that most women are educated. Unfortunately there are women in the rural Australia who may not particularly benefit from these approaches. Ending violence against women need to address disparities in education, income level and religious and cultural differences, evident in the population. Nevertheless, the economic security such as business toolkit for indigenous women can be particularly beneficial to rural based women.
Alternative Approach to Violence against Women
Despite the efforts made by the Australian Government, the issue of violence against women requires early intervention approaches. Anna Johnson, a lawyer and gender equality advocate argues that, education is the only way that violence against women can be stopped. An anti-violence education program needs to be embedded in the Australia school curriculum, be taught in every school and made available to every child at a tender age (Johnson, 2013). Although Johnson agrees that rolling out the education program to the whole country may be an expensive venture, she confirms it is a worthwhile investment if reducing violence against women in the coming generations is anything to go by.
Australian Health System
The Australian health system plays a significant role in addressing issues concerning violence against women. The Department of Health has engaged fully in ensuring that victims of domestic violence particularly women are treated and offered the support that they require. The Department of Health has a guide meant for health care professionals including social workers which guide them on identifying, handling and helping victims of violence (Eastern Perth Public and Community Health Unit, 2001). Social workers or health care professionals can work with relevant authorities including support groups and the police in helping victims of violence. Also the health care system in Australia is aware of the extent of violence against pregnant women. Most women of domestic violence visit hospitals during pregnancies times only (Taft, 2002). As such health care providers are trained to handle pregnant women and identify if they are victims of violence. Thus help them with the necessary support and therapy.
However, as identified by Tower (2007) despite health professionals overwhelmingly acknowledging that intimate partner violence is a health issue for women in Australia, the existing responses to the issue to meet the needs of women remain inadequate (Wangmann, 2010). The author notes that, health care professionals have inadequate knowledge regarding intimate partner violence, and have attitudes and values that prevent them from responding effectively and that they never have time to attend to these women.
Major limitations occur due to the professional code of ethics which emphasize on confidentiality. Health care professionals are not required to disclose information of abuse of a patient without their consent, which may make it difficult to deal with perpetrators or helping the victims effectively.
However, World Health Organization in a report published early this year provided new clinical and policy guidelines to address the lack of knowledge and response to women victims of violence. The guidelines emphasize on the need for training all levels of health professionals to identify when a female may be at risk of partner abuse and know how to respond appropriately. The guideline also recommends that some health care departments such as HIV testing and antenatal services to offer opportunities for violence survivors` support as long as they meet some minimum conditions including health workers being trained on how to ask on violence consultation done in private there are standard operating procedures a referral system is available to enable women access related services confidentiality is observed and in the instance of sexual violence, health care setting has to be ready to offer the comprehensive response needed by women to address both mental and physical health consequences.
In addition, the report emphasizes the need to use these guidelines to integrate violence issues into the medical and nursing curricula and in service training (WHO, 2013).
Australia is one of the developed countries in Europe with a high GDP. The literacy levels are relatively high yet the issue of violence against women continues to haunt its progress. The current approaches particularly under the 12 year National Plan to reduce violence against women and their children is inclusive of most factors and if followed to the letter stands a great chance to achieve its target of significantly reducing violence against women. The new guidelines and policies by WHO also present hope for health care system to respond to cases of violence against women by offering treatment for physical and mental harm, while offering long term solution through engaging relevant authorities through referrals. Nevertheless, there is need for the government to include education regarding violence against women in the school curriculum where children can learn on positive behavior and healthy relationship to be able to live with their partners in future. Also the government should review the reporting and legal procedures involving violence against women to encourage women to come forward and bring perpetrators to book while getting help and support.
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