Every two minutes police in Australia deal with a family violence matter. About one woman a week is murdered as a result of male violence against women and 95% of incidents involve men perpetrating violence against women. Half the time children are present. It is clear that male violence against women is an endemic problem.
In recent years the murders of Jill Meagher and Rosie Batty’s son have grabbed the nation’s attention. This has led to a higher level of awareness about both family violence and the sexual harassment and violence that women face. It is in this context that the Victorian government felt compelled to set up a Royal Commission into family violence.
That Commission has now concluded its work and has handed down 227 recommendations. In response the Victorian government announced that it will allocate $572 million to implement 65 of the “most urgent recommendations” over two years. This is eight times what the federal government has committed over the same period.
While these commitments are to be welcomed, even this amount is insufficient according to the government’s own figures.
For example, around 1000 women in Victoria are in need of emergency housing. The funds allocated will build a mere 180 temporary houses. That still leaves over 800 women in danger. The Victorian government has only committed to implementing about a third of the total recommendations and has not ruled out a tax on ordinary people to help pay for these reforms.
If such a tax was to be implemented it would essentially mean that, at least in part, the victims themselves would be forced to pay for what the government describes as the “faults of a broken system”.
The Australian Tax Office has recently confirmed that hundreds of major corporations in Australia effectively pay no tax. Similarly the Panama Papers have revealed that the rich and powerful have more than enough money hidden away to pay for all of the Royal Commissions’ recommendations, and then some.
At the same time we can not have any faith that these reforms will be permanent. Governments at both a state and federal level are preparing to make cuts as the economic conditions in Australia worsen. How long will it be before we are told that the budget position means the reforms can no longer be paid for?
If implemented a number of the Commissions’ recommendations would go some way towards providing relief for women escaping family violence. But in the main the reforms proposed do not address the root cause of the problem.
Family violence is a symptom of a deeply unequal society based on exploitation and division. Sexism and violence against women is an intrinsic part of capitalism, it is not just some accidental by-product.
Women are exploited in the workplace where on average they still earn much less than men. At the same time they carry the burden of the bulk of domestic work – cooking, cleaning and caring for the young and old.
A multi-billion dollar ‘beauty’ industry profits from promoting anxiety and insecurity about how women look. The idea that what women say or think is less important is pressed upon us all via the media, the advertising industry and in our schools.
All of these things combined reinforce the idea that women are merely objects and ultimately the property of men. The implicit message is that women need to be controlled.
In reality the reforms announced by the Victorian government have only come about because of the collective pressure of those who have fought against these backwards ideas and a number of brave victims who have spoken out. While the reforms are a small step in the right direction they are really only the equivalent of placing a band-aid over a bullet hole.
The day has passed for patching up this broken system. We need to overhaul the entire way women are viewed and the only way to do that is to rid society of exploitation, division and profiteering at women’s expense.
While backwards attitudes towards women would not disappear overnight, a democratic socialist society based on equality would have the potential to fund real reforms, and free the family from its role as a social and economic institution. On that basis real steps forward could be made to address women’s oppression and family violence.
By Kathleen Galea