International Women’s Day is described as a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
It is a day to reflect on progress made, but also on future action that should be taken.
Though it is referred to as International “Women’s” day, it is a day for both men and women. Every human being evolves from the womb of a woman. Women not only give birth to human beings, they also nurture and care for them. They may juggle many roles ranging from the family home to the workplace, the community and broader society.
Australia is a peace-loving and diverse nation, yet violence against women continues to be a serious problem with at least one woman a week dying at the hands of her partner or former partner. The World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap won’t close entirely for about 169 years (by 2186).
Women comprise more than half the population in Australia. There are significant economic, social and moral arguments for increasing women’s participation. According to the Australian Treasury 2015 Intergenerational Report, a 4 per cent increase in female participation would result in Australia’s GDP being $25 billion higher than it was in 2015.
A new report by Deloitte Access Economics indicates that government, community and business must work together to prevent the economic cost of Australia’s domestic or family violence rising to $15.6 billion annually by 2021-22 – which is $2 billion more than the cost to Australia in 2008-09.
The Deloitte report also states that workforce related costs associated with DV include: reduced productivity of the survivor due to reduced workforce participation and/or ‘presenteeism’; absenteeism of the survivor, perpetrator and family members; the cost of replacing lost output through overtime by other workers; reduced productivity of survivors’ and perpetrators’ co-workers, friends and family; and loss of unpaid household and voluntary work by the survivor, perpetrator, and family and friends.
Though violence against a woman can occur irrespective of her age, socioeconomic, religious, cultural or linguistic background, violence experienced by culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women tends to be unique.
Women from CALD backgrounds can be less likely to report violence. They also experience more barriers in accessing support services and are less likely to leave a DV situation than other Australian women, according to the third national plan of action on family violence.
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, CALD women who experience domestic violence face additional challenges and a fear of speaking out, including due to possible exclusion or persecution by their community. As an Indian Australian, I’m grateful for the cultural values that were instilled in me. But backward manifestations of Indian culture (or any culture), may lead to a woman feeling apprehensive about speaking up for herself.
Numerous people from the Indian community and other communities have publicly or privately commended me for having the courage to vocally raise issues that are normally taboo or not talked about. Publicly airing and discussing concerns in a constructive way is conducive to identification of key issues, which can inform better solutions.
It’s not well known or understood in CALD communities that DV extends beyond physical violence and also comprises psychological, mental, emotional, financial and sexual violence. This is exacerbated by the fact that people from CALD backgrounds may come to Australia from countries where DV is not even recognised, and women’s rights are virtually obsolete.
Physical bruises may be acutely visible but mental scars run deep. Mental, emotional or psychological abuse is not only less visible, it may be harder to prove and may have long-term detrimental effects such as depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
It is pleasing to note that some workplaces have Harassment Contact Officers (I formerly served as a Harassment Contact Officer at a workplace), and Wellbeing officers (trained to identify mental health concerns in employees). However, I think that it’s important for training of existing officers or specified officers for proactively identifying the possibility of an employee experiencing DV, especially since some people may be hesitant to open up about their suffering. Encouraging open conversation in family homes, schools, workplaces and the broader community of the topic of DV that may have been considered ‘taboo’ to talk about is imperative to stop DV at the start.
Just as it is said in Chinese philosophy, ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ are seemingly opposite or contrary forces which are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world. The word ‘woman’ and ‘women’ include the words ‘man’ and ‘men’ respectively. Human beings can reach their full potential if one realises that helping a woman also helps a man, and results in a better society for all.
Pallavi Sinha is Principal of Lawyers with Solutions and will be speaking on 15 March at a launch of the Department of Social Services national CALD campaign to reduce domestic violence against women and children.
Dateline: Married at 13