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  • Writer's pictureJessica Taylor Yates

There's one thing we're forgetting to say in the midst of gender violence

There are still some areas where we as women, men, parents, sons and daughters, can make our mark to end violence against women- and it starts with recognising a woman's worth.

three women with arms around each other

As of July 2024, 38 women have died as a result of gender-based violence. Or in other, more graphic but no less true terms, were murdered by men. That's more than one woman killed every nine days.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that one in six women has experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15. In 2023, 75,000 women sought homelessness services due to family and domestic violence.


People across the country have been united in their fight to end the violence, with rallies, calls for action, cries for better support and education for those in need, and punishment for perpetrators.


Depending on your views, the government has listened to a degree, committing to various funding, education and legal programs to #StopTheViolence because #EnoughIsEnough.


However, there are still some areas where we as women, men, parents, sons and daughters, can make our mark to end gendered violence - and it starts with recognising a woman's worth.


Stop giving kids gender-based comments, compliments and punishments


"He's pulling your hair because he likes you."

"Oh, you look very pretty in that dress."

"Here's a play kitchen, want to pretend to bake daddy a cake?"

"That's not very ladylike!"


While comments like these may seem harmless, they build the connotation from a very young age that a woman's worth comes from being attractive to men, liked by men, and performing acts of service to men. And while we're all guilty of it here and there—I know I have told a toddler how cute or pretty she looks in her sparkly dress or rainbow shoes, and it is something I know I need to work on—it builds a pattern.


"Great throw there little man, you're so strong!"

"Come on buddy, get up, don't cry like a girl."

"Don't be a p*ssy."


Again, these are comments that are only ever thrown at young boys and men - being big and strong is a virtue, to show emotion or cry is to be weak and 'unmanly,' to be a 'p*ssy' (whether the connotation is a kitten or female genitalia) is weak and 'lower than.'


For both, why not try:


"Great reading! What other stories do you like?"

"Can you jump really high?"

"If you are feeling upset, that's okay. Tell me how you're feeling."

"Show me the toy you like."

"That behaviour is not okay."


We are all a work in progress with this. It doesn't mean every child needs to wear a neutral onesie with neutral pronouns, and never grow up to put on lipstick or go fishing (whatever the gender). Some girls may gravitate toward Barbie, and some boys toward trucks. That's okay. Some boys may gravitate toward Barbie, and some girls toward trucks. That's also okay. It's about acceptance, love, support and parenting children to be the best version of themselves, not to be a caricature of what a boy or a girl 'should' look and act like.


Keep funding educational programs like STEM for girls


Historically, women were in the home, while men were the breadwinners. While we have come a long way, the gender pay gap is real. As of 2023, the gap in Australia stands at 13.4%, meaning women earn $253.50 less per week than men on average. Over a lifetime, this gap can cost a woman nearly $1 million in lost earnings and superannuation.

Due to outdated views that a woman's 'place is in the home,' over time, women (and particularly minority women) have been looked over for promotions, have not been selected (or attracted to) male-dominated professions, and have worked in historically lower-paid, 'caregiver' roles such as nursing, aged care, hospitality, and childcare.


While these roles are no doubt important and in many cases, really are the backbone of society, the role women are taught to care and put others first (helping in the kitchen, organising the birthday presents, doing the school run during work hours) keeps them attracted to work that is low paying, meaning it can make it difficult to leave abusive relationships if they cannot support themselves and their families by doing so.


Continuing to educate women and girls that all careers are for women and men, from building and truck driving to science, tech, engineering and maths (STEM), we can continue to attract women and girls to higher paid roles, giving them more autonomy and financial freedom. Programs like 'Girls in STEM' have already seen success, with a 32% increase in female participation in STEM fields since 2017.


Have mandatory educational classes on consent, sex and fertility


While I was at school, I learnt about procreation, female periods, male erections, male wet dreams, male urges and contraception. While this was perhaps 'forward thinking' in the early noughties, we were not taught anything about consent, female pleasure, fertility issues, emergency contraception, or how to report a sexual crime.


I was never taught that saying no halfway through is still no; that if you are half asleep and can't say yes, then it is a no; that no woman should be referred to as a sl*t; that women also have discharge and orgasms; that just because you want to get pregnant later in life doesn't mean you will; that it isn't a woman's 'fault' if she cannot get pregnant; and that if someone took advantage of you, you're not a sl*t - that's a crime.


Instead, when I was at school, if a girl hooked up with more than one guy on the weekend, she was a sl*t. If she didn't shave her legs, she was gross. If she didn't have a proper bikini wax, she was disgusting. If she didn't shave her underarms, she was like a dude. That a girl was 'hot' if she was thin, talked smack about other girls with the boys, and could make a man ejaculate - but not too many, or she's a sl*t.


These extremely important issues need to be mandatory in every single school, regardless of sex or religious affiliation. Whether parents like it or not, teenagers are curious, their hormones are raging, they have access to more information than any generation before, so the correct, lawful information must be given from a neutral body rather than influencers with agendas, p*rn videos or conspiracy theorists.


They will probably see all that anyway - but at least they got an education on right and wrong from school first.


Teach financial responsibility from a young age


When our parents were at school, alongside classes like English, maths, and history, they also had classes like cooking, sewing, and woodwork. While these were unfortunately gender-based, the idea of modern, life-based skills (for all genders, obviously) could use a comeback.


Many people, particularly those from lower socioeconomic households or culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, are not taught financial literacy. This could include setting up a bank account; what terms and conditions and interest rates mean on loans, finance, and credit cards; how Super works; how to do a tax return; what to do if you are being underpaid; and basic budgeting and financial planning.


Again, financial responsibility affects every single one of us and needs to be taught to every individual, not just kids who get it passed down from investment banker parents or savvy financial planners. Finances can be a core source of conflict in relationships, even leading to violence and death. Give all genders the understanding to empower themselves not to get into debt, to understand laws around money in Australia, and how to have control of their finances.


Improve parental leave payments, childcare, and return-to-work policies


While Australia does better than many countries that have little to no parental support (hello, USA, land of the great, home of the brave), we still fall woefully behind countries like Sweden (over a year at 80% pay) or Bulgaria (over 400 days at 90% pay).


Our current policies mandate that a workplace must hold the primary caregiver's job for a year, and that women who are in the workforce are entitled to receive up to 22 weeks of government pay at minimum wage. This is a start—but we need more.


For instance, primary caregivers at home (the majority of whom are women) who were not in the workforce (perhaps caring for a child at home) and have another child, are not entitled to any payments. Theoretically, this means you could have two children under two, with no parental payments provided.


So, you may ask, why didn't she just go back to work in between? Therein lies many issues around workplace flexibility, availability, childcare costs and parental responsibilities, disregarding those that may be personal (a child with special needs, postpartum depression).


For many, financially, the childcare subsidy is so woefully inadequate that it can be almost on par, if not cheaper, for the primary caregiver (again, usually the woman) not to work, rather than put the children in care. Add in the fact that childcare placements are harder to get than a ticket to Taylor Swift, that parents are still forced to pay the day rate even when their children can't attend or on public holidays, with the emotional and physical labor of getting a child to and from childcare, and it just isn't worth it.


So instead, the man goes back to work full-time, the woman is at home, even if not by choice, becoming solely responsible for the children, the running of the household, the chores, and the mental load. Funnily enough, she probably feels guilty when dinner isn't ready or the kid didn't have a bath, because 'he' worked all day and provides the money, while she is 'just at home.'


Meanwhile, she is missing years of work—that's years of superannuation, of climbing the career ladder, of learnings, of making business relationships, keeping up skills and connections. And hey, for some, it really is a choice, and they love it, and that's great. But for many, it was more of a necessity, which in turn keeps the gender pay gap going, keeps the woman in the caregiver role for her partner, son, and daughter to model on, and the cycle continues. Instead:


  • Provide parental leave payments, regardless of when a woman was last in the workforce.

  • Provide 3x free childcare days for every single stay-at-home parent per year to encourage the parent to attend a 'Keeping In Touch day' at work, attend learnings on work-from-home opportunities, or, you know - sleep!

  • Overhaul the childcare system. Pay childcare workers (who are predominantly female) more. Open more childcare centres. Subsidise childcare at a higher rate. Remove the need to pay if a child is sick, away, or on a public holiday.

  • Make 3x 'Keeping In Touch' days mandatory for every workplace for the person on parental leave to come in and understand what the company is up to.

  • Make larger businesses at certain levels (for example, with certain earnings, size, or number of employees) pay mandatory 12 weeks of parental leave, super on leave, and allow part-time return.


Women who are already going through the biggest change of their lives require more support and assistance with their emotional and financial well-being before, during, and after welcoming a child. This encourages return to the workforce, in turn, increasing a woman's financial position, self-worth, and abilities for herself and her children.


Provide greater migration support and education for gender-based violence


In many minority and CALD communities, religious groups, and outer-city areas, marriage is still viewed as a sacred partnership, where to leave or divorce would be a sin, bring shame, and ultimately the fault of the woman. Women in these communities have been reported to be more vulnerable to financial abuse, reproductive coercion, and immigration-related violence.


Family violence is also worse for Indigenous communities or for those with a disability, with Indigenous people 32 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence in 2019 alone. Among migrant and refugee women, the rates of family violence are similarly alarming.


Unfortunately in many of these communities, breaking years of stigma, family trauma, teachings and abuse is not something that can be changed overnight. Many women stay in abusive marriages because of a lack of education, income, not having an understanding of where to go, and being told to obey or support their husbands, no matter what. Even if they do leave, with more than 72,900 people fleeing in 2021-22, they require assistance from specialist homelessness services.


Again, while not a quick fix, educational resources on where to go, information on domestic violence leave, financial assistance, and support for women in the workforce and key contacts for these communities can help to assist areas where women feel leaving is not an option.


Remind our boys and girls about respect, sex, and the law


While much of this has been touched on during the rallies and rightful cries to stop gender-based violence, continue the rhetoric with our boys and girls that any form of violence or assault against women is never a woman's fault, and she was never 'asking for it.'


Even if she wore a short skirt—she wasn't asking for it.

Even if she drank five vodka sodas—she wasn't asking for it.

Even if she racked up a large credit card bill—she wasn't asking for it.

Even if she cheated—she wasn't asking for it.


If you hear your son saying a girl at a party was dressed sl*tty, pull him up on it. If he calls his mate a p*ssy, pull him up on it. If your daughter just wants a guy to take care of everything and 'all the money stuff', pull her up on it. If your husband says a woman got fat or isn't good looking, pull him up on it. If your mother asks your daughter if she has a boyfriend yet, pull her up on it.


Allow your boy to cry, and your daughter to get (non-violently) angry. Keep the conversation open with your children into the teenage years and adulthood. Teach them how to appropriately deal with their feelings if they are hurt, angry or upset, particularly by a partner or member of the opposite sex.


Understanding that violence against women is never okay needs to start at home, and continue well into adulthood.


Teach women from an early age that they are enough


And here, we get to the crux of it all, what women need to hear from the day they are born.


That they are enough.


That success, completion, fulfilment and finality do not come from finding, pleasing, keeping and having the desire of a man.


Make no mistake - the main perpetrators of gender-based violence are men. Men are at fault, men are the culprits, and men are the ones responsible for violence against women. In Australia, one in every six women has experienced physical or sexual violence. But women need to also know that they don't have to 'stay', they are not a 'failure' or a 'disappointment' if they leave, they are not bringing 'shame' to their family, they are not 'breaking a home,' they don't need to 'give him another go,' they are not spinsters, unwanted, unloved or unworthy if they are not with a man.


From reading books about finding Prince Charming to believing that we will somehow be 'complete' when we find our other half, that the life goal is to 'get married,' that she 'finally got a boyfriend' - the constant rhetoric that a woman is somehow 'less than' because she does not have a man has got to stop.


We need to be teaching our girls where they can turn, that they will be welcomed back home if they need to leave an abusive partnership, that they should never put up, stay, give him another chance, that he was just a bit angry or upset, what will you do if you're alone, that you need to have a man, that you're nothing without a man.


Our girls are strong. Our girls are powerful. Our girls are smart. For too long, they have been told the opposite.


Provide women with the education, finances, resources and support to succeed so that if they are in a relationship with a man, it is a choice, not a need.


Because they are enough.


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If you are experiencing, or at risk of, violence or assault, call the free, 24/7 hotline 1800-RESPECT (1800 737 732).


More helplines are available on the White Ribbon website: https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/helplines/



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