Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

Why domestic violence is so prevalent?

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Following a number of high profile attacks on women this year we are seeing renewed community anger over the prevalence of domestic violence. At least six women and children died over the Easter holiday break bringing the issue of domestic violence back into the spotlight.

By Kat Galea, Socialist Party

Unfortunately these incidents are not rarities. Domestic violence is the leading cause of death and injury for women under 45. More than one woman is murdered by her current or former partner every single week.

The overwhelming majority of women who experience physical or sexual assault do not report it to the police. Even if women do report their assaults, and manage to get intervention orders against the perpetrators, a staggering 12,000 breaches of those orders are reported each year.

Domestic violence is not caused by a few evil men as the mass media portrays it. The problem is far more widespread. It is actually a symptom of a system that relies on class division, hierarchy and exploitation.

The fact that many men feel that they have power and control over women stems from ideas about men being at the head of the family. This is reinforced by material inequality that exists between men and women.

The capitalist system, based on production for private profit, is so perverse that it even affects our personal relations. What we see as personal, the capitalist state sees as economic. The traditional family plays a crucial role in upholding divisions and maintaining control in society.

By offloading responsibilities from the state onto individual families, the state is able to keep costs as low as possible. The jobs of feeding, clothing, housing and educating people, and caring for those unable to work, are palmed off to families. This creates unnecessary competition for services and divisions in society.

Formally the state recognises women as equal but in reality it is women who often carry out the bulk of family responsibilities. Domestic labour and family work is seen as less important than paid work. Even when in the workforce women still earn far less than men. Of the 20 occupations with the highest number of workers earning more than $80,000 per annum not one has a majority of women working in it.

Socialists see the root cause of women’s oppression in the way capitalist society is structured. We will not see real equality, and attitudes reflecting that, until we remove the conditions that relegate women to being second class citizens.

The fight against sexism in the here and now needs to be linked to the fight to change society as a whole. Side by side with education about the myths and facts of abuse we need to campaign for decent support for survivors of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence.

Practically this means fighting against budget cuts to domestic violence support services and for an increase in funding to services that help those affected by domestic violence.

Making sure women have somewhere to go should they choose to leave a violent relationship is also vital. This is why campaigns to expand public housing in order to ensure that affordable housing is available to all those who need it are so important.

In order to really address issues like domestic violence however we need more than just reforms. Fundamental social change is required. We need to develop an economic system that does not seek to exploit and divide people – one where women are equal not just in words but in deeds. This is the type of system that socialists are fighting for.

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