Domestic violence is the leading cause of death and injury among women aged 14 – 44 in Australia. Australian women are being murdered by intimate partners at a rate of more than one per week. Another woman is hospitalised every three hours. It is estimated that more than one million children are affected by domestic violence.
After being ignored by politicians for decades, the reality of domestic violence is beginning to gain mainstream attention. This is due to the development of social movements here and abroad, the bravery of victims who are speaking out, and the day-to-day campaigning work of activists. So what has been the response from government?
Under Abbott, nothing. He wasn’t lining up dozens of flags and calling press conferences about the “death cult” that is violence against women.
Malcolm Turnbull, on the other hand, has been pressured into action. One of his first announcement as prime minister saw him pledge $100 million in funding over four years to tackle the issue of domestic violence.
However, this money goes nowhere close to repairing the damage done by the $300 million in cuts to services to help women escape domestic violence in the current term of government alone. Added to this, cuts to health, education and welfare funding have worsened the lives of women across the country.
On top of damage already done through recent budget cuts, the Turnbull government is planning on dishing out more pain.
The government’s proposed cuts to penalty rates will disproportionately affect women who make up a majority of those in low paid jobs, making financial independence that much more difficult. This is on top of a current gender pay gap of over 18.8%, the highest rate on record. And it’s growing!
The lack of affordable housing for women fleeing violent relationships is evident with tens of thousands already on waiting lists for public housing across the country. The lack of long-term affordable housing also puts strain on women’s refuges, which remain overflowing and underfunded. Rather than investing in public housing, the government is protecting the interests of commercial property investors to keep the property bubble growing.
The Turnbull government’s plans to spread welfare quarantining from Aboriginal communities to other low income areas will also put women further at risk. ‘Financial abuse’ is a common manifestation of domestic abuse, in which the abuser limits access to money to maintain compliance from the abused. Around 90% of women who have experienced physical violence and abuse in a relationship have also been victim to some form of financial abuse.
Welfare quarantining, or ‘cashless welfare’, imitates this humiliating denial of financial independence. Women who don’t have control of their own finances are less able to take control of their living arrangements, leading to women remaining in abusive environments.
Rather than adopting real measures to target and prevent family violence, the government prioritises reforms which do little for those experiencing violence, or to prevent those experiencing it in the future. The Turnbull government’s measures will not address the cause of domestic violence or offer any real method for eradicating it.
Violence against women is an expression of power, so to address it women must be empowered. The material conditions that keep women in abusive relationships are real and largely economic. This can only be overcome by ensuring access to a decent job, free public healthcare, quality education and childcare, accessible legal services, and secure, affordable housing. None of these things are on the agenda of either of the major political parties.
Domestic violence is one of the darkest and most dangerous examples of women’s oppression in capitalist society. It will not be overcome until the source of this inequality is addressed. This requires a dramatic reorganisation of society along socialist lines, where the necessities of life are afforded to all. To achieve this, women must join with other oppressed groups, primarily working class people, in a struggle for economic, social and political liberation.
By Emma Davey & Mel Gregson