A vagina does not make me a niche interest group

I know, I know, there’s a joke in there about vaginas being niches. I’ll wait while you chuckle.

Louise Chappell has a great piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Coalition has won but women have lost:

Saturday was not just a bad day for NSW Labor. It was also a bad day for NSW women. If the results are as predicted, women now hold fewer positions in the lower house of the NSW Parliament than they have for 12 years, and for the first time in decades the number of women elected to the Legislative Assembly has gone backwards.

From 28 per cent of lower house seats, women look likely to drop to about 20 per cent, compared with 24 per cent federally.

This puts NSW on a par with countries such as Cambodia and Malawi.

Women make up just over 50 per cent of the population of the state and deserve to have their voices heard in Parliament in at least equal numbers with men.

Chappell writes that female politicians around the world have put issues like “maternity leave, equal pay, domestic violence protection, reproductive rights and childcare provisions” on the policy agenda. These issues are not just important for women. Anything to do with children is an issue for women AND men because women AND men have children and raise children. And domestic violence costs the Australian economy more than $13 billion a year. Does $13 billion sound like a niche concern to you?

On the NSW Liberal Party’s website they have policies for accountability and government reform, cost of living, disability services, economy, education, environmental sustainability, family and community, health, housing and planning, infrastructure, law and police, regional NSW, seniors, small business, trade and tourism, transport and roads. There is no policy for women.

Under their law and police plan, there is nothing about domestic violence. In 2007-2008, the NSW (Labor) Government spent around $351 million in agency costs as a result of domestic violence, yet the new State Government doesn’t seem to have a plan for it at all.

Under law and police policies, right at the very bottom, is this:

screen grab from nsw liberal party website

The status of women is less important that rewarding safe drivers

When you click on the Status of Women in NSW link, you end up in the family and community section. I wonder if this reflects a party view that women are just wives and mothers? Single women without children are invisible.

But this is all the new State Government has to say about issues affecting half the population:

A NSW Liberals & Nationals Government will shine the spotlight on women’s issues by:

1. Investing an additional $2.5 million to expand the Staying Home Leaving Violence program to an estimated five new sites. The program focuses on keeping women and children safe in their own homes and safe from reoffending by aggressors.
2. Creating the Bureau of Women’s Statistics (BOWS) within the Office for Women’s Policy that will retain statistics on a broad range of issues involving women including female employment, health, education and domestic violence and made available to the public.
3. Producing an annual report on the Status of Women in NSW using information from the Bureau of Women’s Statistics and reporting on the work undertaken by the Office for Women.
4. Ensuring all domestic violence related deaths are reviewed by the Domestic Violence Death Review Team in line with the Domestic Violence Homicide Advisory Panel’s 2009 report.

Woop-di-fucking-do. Seriously, is that all you’ve got? Sixteen years in opposition and you still don’t have a decent plan? The Staying Home Leaving Violence program has been around since 2004, so it’s not even theirs. And by “expanding” the program, they’re going to increase it from 16 sites to 21. Then there’s this, which makes me uncomfortable:

The removal of victims of domestic violence and children from the family home must become a measure of last, not first, resort.

I don’t know much of the research around homelessness and domestic violence, but it seems to me that making sure women who are being abused by their partners have somewhere safe to live should be the FIRST priority.

There is a link to download their Women’s Policy. It is only six pages. My uni’s code of practice for supervision of postgrad students is six pages but contains at least three times as much information as this pathetic “policy”.

The policy says the annual report on the status of women will cover women in leadership positions, the gender pay gap and the status of Indigenous women. Because, you know, this information is not already in the public domain. But yet they don’t have a single plan to address any of these issues.

22 responses to “A vagina does not make me a niche interest group

  1. My head just fucking exploded.
    Stuff intervenes though, I will be back to comment later.
    Just….epic rage balls.

  2. NWN, I agree with most of what you’re saying but you have misunderstood the significance of this statement:
    ‘The removal of victims of domestic violence and children from the family home must become a measure of last, not first, resort.’

    Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children and has numerous consequences, eg moving in and out of shelters is disruptive to education, employment, socialising etc etc. The research and policy on this issue in recent years (with which I entirely agree) is that the DV offender should be removed from the home and resources allocated not only to ensuring he can live somewhere (less money is spent on this than should be – this is where the feminist principles actually have prevailed to the detriment of good policy) but also to ensuring the woman (and children) are, as the title suggests, safe at home.

    In Tasmania, where this policy has been in force across the state since 2004 (and where I am currently doing research), this will include the government bearing the cost of locksmiths at any time of day or night to change all the locks and add security grilles, as well as securing rooms internally (eg making a bathroom a ‘safe’ room the woman can retreat to if the man does get back in the house), and providing mobile phones, panic buttons etc etc.

    In some instances it is not appropriate for the woman to stay at home (or she doesn’t want to) and then measures are required to help her get to a friend’s house or refuge (eg all Tas police cars are equipped with child car seats, nappies and baby formula if she has to leave in a hurry or doesn’t have access to a car). The women’s refuges of the 70s onwards did an amazing job but the discourse and practice has moved on to ensure that generally the victim faces as little disruption to her life as possible – so the Coalition policy about removing the woman and children from the home as a LAST resort makes perfect sense in this context, but more is required (eg a statewide rollout, not merely expanding from 16 to 21 sites.

    • Lorana, I’m glad you pointed that out because it did seem problematic to me. I read it as ‘the most important thing is to keep the family together’, rather than removing the abuser. I agree with everything you’ve said.

      Also, Tas police seem really progressive. Do you know if other states have the same policies towards safe rooms, locksmiths, car seats and formula?

      • Thanks Lorana, I was just about to post this and you did my work for me 🙂

        SHLV is administered by community organisations funded by the government, and some do use their funds to pay for locksmiths and the like.

        Of course, SHLV rests on the family home being something the victim can sustain. Many are owned by the husband or rented in his name or he is the sole/main income earner and therefore could afford mortgage repayments or rent. It’s a great program, but for women who aren’t financially secure SHLV doesn’t help them.

  3. No I don’t, though watch this space as I am just embarking on this project and will soon have a clearer idea of exactly who does what.
    You can also get some good info about each jurisdiction here: http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/women/progserv/violence/nationalplan/Pages/default.aspx#initiatives

    The other thing I wanted to say was to clarify my point about funding for men. There is often a sense of ‘why should they get anything?’, but generally the more settled they are, the more able they will be to able to reflect on their conduct and hopefully get some treatment through anger management programs etc. I am not saying they should be put up in a 5 star resort but treating them well makes more sense in that it will make them less likely to want to ‘get back at that bitch’, which is often the prevailing sentiment. As we saw recently in the tragic Freeman and Farquarhson cases, however unjustified such a sense of grievance may be, it can have tragic consequences. Putting appropriate funding and support in place for DV offenders is a vital part of the picture and one that is all too often overlooked, in my opinion.

    Slightly off your original topic, but other issues in this context are the lack of recognition of women as offenders (and treatment programs for them) and treatment and support for DV in same sex relationships (there’s next to nothing out there for lesbian perpetrators or gay male victims).

    • Lorana, I found your replies incredibly informative.

      NWN, I am unsurprised by the lack of policy. I’m too exhausted to say much more than that today. (I should know better than to follow the Bolt case…*sigh*)

      • I’ve stayed well away from it because of the rage balls.

        • I know. My stupid brain actually woke me up at 3am the other morning….to express its rage over the issue. Could not believe I was so wide awake. Right now, I’d pay to watch a midget smack him in the groin with a really really big piece of 4×2…

          Stupid court case. (That shouldn’t even be a court case) and continued ‘air time’ for a man we would be better off ignoring. (And yet my indigenous pride cannot let it go)

      • glad you found it helpful, Pirra.

        I haven’t been following the Bolt case because the thought of that man makes me want to combust. I think he is more irritating than Miranda Devine and Janet Albrechtsen put together, and that’s saying something…

  4. Yay! This is my area!

    The previous NSW government released a five-year domestic and family violence action plan last year. A sexual assault prevention plan is currently under development. A more general women’s plan was also released earlier this year. It is possible that the new government will continue with these, as they are all major pieces of work. Possible, but not certain. It is atrocious that they couldn’t release more on women after such a long time in opposition.

    I would guess that their policy on women was placed in families and communities because Pru Goward is (most likely) going to be the Minister for Community Services as well as the Minister for Women. But, yes, women are still seen primarily as wives and mothers. The federal Office for Women is within the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. At the very least, the NSW Office for Women’s Policy is in the Department of Premier and Cabinet and is likely to stay there, so they’re given a bit more clout in the departmental hierarchy.

    I think Pru is going to be a good women’s minister. She knows her stuff. Baz is a moderate, which bodes well. The likely AG, Greg Smith, is a serious concern – he is very conservative and has said some very problematic things about violence against women in the past. But that was the same in the Labor government. Verity Firth, Linda Burney and Jodi McKay were all good ministers, the premiers were all receptive to violence issues, but Roozendaal was bloody awful as an AG (when it came to social policy, at least).

    • WEL held a forum before the election with Jodi McKay, Pru Goward and Cate Faehrmann, and Goward’s responses did not fill me with confidence. Particularly around the issue of increasing the number of women in leadership positions. When someone believes we live in a meritocracy – despite all the evidence indicating that we do not – how on earth are they going to do anything useful?

    • Frances, did you mean Hatzistergos as AG? I heard mixed reports on him (including a very positive rap from his DG, whom I work f0r). I used to work with the prospective AG, Greg, and yes, he does have a somewhat worrying past record in this domain (and I once got in a fight with him on a case we were working on as to whether a de facto partner can ever be a stepfather).

      • Sorry, I’m getting myself mixed up. I meant Rooz as treasurer – he was reluctant to hand out much money to social issues.

        As for Hatz, yeah, I got mixed reports on him too.

  5. When my marriage broke up, after a couple of weeks in a shelter I was able to move back to the family home (ex was no longer there, and I had a restraining order). The problem was that he knew where I was.

    A few weeks after the kids & I returned home the ex broke in one night. He had a long, sharp knife with him, he said he was there to kill me and the kids, and he held me prisoner for about 8 hours. Fortunately for my family, he bottled, and we’re all still alive to tell the tale. I have post traumatic stress disorder as a result of that incident combined with the violence during the marriage and the stalking that took place afterwards.

    After that incident, Family & Community Services (as it was then) fitted my house with security screens on all the windows and installed a personal alarm. I wore a panic alarm around my neck night and day for about a year. It was a daily reminder of what I’d been through at the hands of my ex, a continual reminder that I had good reason to be afraid. I constantly felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop – for the next incident of violence or harassment from him.

    In hindsight, I think I would have been better off if I’d relocated to somewhere where he didn’t know where to find me, or at least somewhere where he didn’t already know how to break in. Writing this now, over a decade later, I can remember the feel of the weight of that alarm around my neck and I can feel the fear.

    Staying in your own home may sound good in theory, but it isn’t always the safest option.

    • Kyna62, welcome to the News with Nipples. That is an absolutely awful awful story. I’m speechless. I hope you feel safe now. And thank you. I feel honoured that you shared such a personal story with us.

      PS: It’s lovely to be able to talk to you in more than 140 characters.

      • I am safe now, and thank you for your concern. Long-time reader, first-time poster.

        I realise that for every story like mine (and there are plenty of stories like mine, many of them much worse, out there in the community), there’ll be another family who would be better off if they could stay in the family home and have the abuser removed. I think in theory giving victims the choice to stay is a great idea, if adequate protections and supports are put in place, and as long it’s not the only option presented to them.

        I do get concerned when I see such ideas pushed as cost-saving measures. The cheapest option isn’t always the best option. Since governments don’t have unlimited budgets, then yes, cost consideration should be a factor, but I am concerned that the cost factor might become more important than the welfare of those involved.

  6. I’m a single female with no children. Apparently I don’t vote, and unless I have a “career” (whatever THAT means) I’m of no value to society… I’m broken somehow, because I haven’t achieved my purpose which is to reproduce. I’m selfish, a crazy old cat lady, a spinster, a bad girlfriend who can’t keep a guy around…

    I’m 24 and already society hates me. If I were a man I’d be just fine.

  7. Aaaaand the NSW Office for Women’s Policy has been moved to the new Department of Family and Community Services. Whoopee.

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