• Print this page

White Ribbon points the way

Ann Sathasivam* reflects on a Melbourne march on 25 November to protest family and domestic violence.

Breaking the silence around this issue is imperative. Intergenerational change will only come as more men role model behaviour that respects the rights of women.

White ribbon day marchCaitlin is eight years old, and a veteran of three previous White Ribbon Day marches – this is her fourth. At just four years of age Caitlin (accompanied by her guardian) started participating in White Ribbon Day marches, she explains, because of ‘Mum and Dad’.

The emotion and memories are too overwhelming to share with strangers, her little eyes, tearing up, revealed how deep those wounds still are on her tender soul. Her guardian is very proud that she is so courageous to stand and march on an issue so close to her own heart.

A sticker badge states that ‘kids hurt 2’. The message, written in red, sits on Caitlin’s left shoulder. It’s a stark reminder of the grim reality of the havoc that family and domestic violence wrecks on innocent lives within our communities.

How many other children in our country could wear the same badge? How much trauma is being inflicted, without any consideration of the long-term damage violent behaviour has on children who are caught in the vortex of aggressive manipulative and controlling behaviour?

Was it coincidence or deliberate that the scorecard of gender equality was released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on the same day? It seemed deliberate, and certainly communicated a powerful message.  

It was a day of startling statistics on the overt and covert barriers that can prevent women from participating fully in our society.

White ribbon day march cityThe statistic state that women comprise only 20.6 % of full-time employees, compared to 37% of full-time male employees. Women are three times more likely to be employed in part-time jobs (15.3% vs 5.1% of part-time male employees).

In casual positions, female employees comprise 12.6% of the workforce, compared to 9.4% of male employees. All these numbers point to the financial vulnerability of women.

It doesn’t stop there.

Working women are disadvantaged financially across all industries and occupations; women are renumerated at a 24.7% lesser rate than their male counterparts.

The vulnerability of women is exacerbated by barriers to participate more fully in the workforce, and by their limited access to resources that enable them to progress further once they are in the workforce. Just one in four (23.7%) directors, including chairpersons, are female. Only 26.1% of Key Managerial Positions (KMPs) are held by women.

The majority of power and influence in our society and in our industries remains predominantly male; women’s capacity to achieve is being actively blocked through a combination of apathy, inertia and poor policy decision and implementation.

It’s in terms of family and domestic violence that we see the clearest disregard for women. On average, one woman a week is dying as a result of family and domestic violence. Thousands of others will phone helplines for advice and counselling, trying to find a way to cope with an increasingly complex web of dependency and control.

As the names scrolling on a massive screen at Federation Square highlighted those women and children killed as a result of domestic and family violence, the marchers and passers-by recognised those victims who had made the news. Others were mourned in silence, as they weren’t named but identified by their age, gender and state.

Women escaping domestic and family violence face homelessness for themselves and their children.

Isolated from their support networks and communities, temporary accommodation provides a small window of reprieve from the trauma. Multiple challenges require support and courage to deal with the complexities of modern living in the midst of family breakdown.

Breaking the silence around this issue is imperative. Intergenerational change will only come as more men role model behaviour that respects the rights of women.

There is power in numbers. The collective is flexing muscle, and it can make a difference.

The backlash on social media and in mainstream news items against ‘executive dating coach’ Julien Blanc earlier in November led to his visa being revoked by immigration minister Scott Morrison. According to the Guardian (UK) (Nov 20 2014), Blanc, who is employed by the US-based Real Social Dynamics, had his visa to enter the UK rejected by the Home Secretary, Theresa May. Over 150,000 people signed a petition on change.org to deny him entry into the UK. Tom Meagher (partner of Jill Meagher) is campaigning to deny Blanc’s entry into Ireland.

Blanc’s videos and pictures on his website suggest that men are encouraged to harass and lower women’s self-esteem in order to have sex with them. What is also deeply disturbing is the numbers of gullible men willing to part with their hard-earned cash to learn more of his techniques. This proves that there is still some way to go to encourage a respectful dialogue on gender issues.

Let’s be optimistic: change is happening. Let’s be optimistic that change of attitudes towards gender based violence means young Caitlin can grow up in a society that values her, encourages her to realise her potential, and celebrates her unique God-given gifts.

It’s not too much to ask.
* Anne is the Melbourne-based community organiser coordinator of The Salvation Army’s ‘Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery’.

Ann Sathasivam