The Future of Women’s Refuges: A Vision for the Future, A Voice From the Future


by Tillie Prowse, CEO, Patricia Giles Centre (The following article originally appeared in the March 2018 edition of Parity magazine. Read the article in 3D Issue here or subscribe to Parity

Imagine a future where the passive acceptance of family and domestic violence (FDV) has been replaced by conscious activism. Where legislation, social and economic policy, and societal responsibility triangulate for the sole purpose of achieving gender parity; thereby ending FDV.

 

This future exists, and it is from this future I write today.

 

Our future world is not perfect. There remain small pockets of FDV. However, the frequency and severity of incidents has been greatly reduced. We have achieved this by challenging long-held paradigms of what women and children experiencing FDV needed to feel safe, and by shifting our philosophical thinking in two key areas;

 

Firstly, a recognition by politicians, legislators and policy writers that gender inequality is both the core of the problem and the heart of the solution. (1)

 

By focusing our energies on addressing the key drivers of FDV (condoning violence against women, men’s control of decision-making, rigid gender roles and stereotypes, and, male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women) we were able to significantly reduced rates of FDV. A key focus was the reversal of several historically inherited, ill-informed public policies that failed to consider impacts on women. Notable among them was a decision in 2017 to increase the wait time for migrants claiming welfare assistance from two to three years. The extended wait time applied to Paid Parental Leave, the Carers’ Allowance and Family Tax Benefit, all of which significantly impacted and disadvantaged women experiencing FDV especially now that our borders are more open and inclusive. Our success in this area has the result of strong leadership and a move towards true bipartisan agreement for reform.

 

Secondly, there has been a philosophical shift was a move away from seeing victims as the passive recipients of services, to one that sees them as informed, self-determined, and empowered consumers. This has led us to implement consumer-driven approaches that increase choice around when and how services are received. It has included the choice to stay in their own home, to access independent accommodation within or external to their community, or to move into specialist therapeutic communities. In our future, women’s safety is assured through enshrined policies and enforced laws; holding perpetrators accountable through a range of integrated options including custody, electronic tagging, therapeutic programs, and alternative accommodation options for perpetrators and couples wishing to remain together.

 

In this future, the cookie cutter mould that saw women’s experience of FDV homogenized and their service needs undifferentiated has been replaced by an individualised customer-centric model, a model that empowers women through recognising them as self-determined decision makers.

 

I will not pretend our journey to this point has been easy. For a time, we were distracted by the so-called “Nordic paradox” (2) that suggested an anomaly in countries scoring highly on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index who also experienced higher rates of violence against women than the European Union average. On review, what we learnt was that progress toward equality in the socio-economic sphere in these countries had not worked to redress the power imbalances between genders at a micro-level (3); put simply, women in Nordic countries were still undertaking more unpaid domestic work than men even when their paid work hours were the same.

 

This brought us back to the simple truth that preventing violence against women must do more than just normalise equality in public life. Preventing violence must also challenge the condoning of violence against women, promote women’s independence and decision-making in all spheres of life, challenge gender stereotypes and roles, and strengthen respectful relationships between men and women, boys and girls. (4)

 

In this future world, we have done much to enable gender parity. We learnt from a plethora of research and recommendations that first emerged in early 1990. Common themes included a recognition that:

 

(a) refuges/shelters met the needs of only a small number of women and children;

(b) access to economic independence increased women’s choices and options

(c) that a model that resulted in the dislocation of women and children in preference to the perpetrator remaining in the home was unjust.

 

Informed by the recommendations of these studies, we created an FDV model that recognised the triangulation between refuges/shelter, economic independence, and perpetrator interventions. We started by challenging long-held orthodoxies, including the beliefs that all women want to remain separated from their partners; that women and children need to leave their home to feel safe; and, that all women are disempowered by their experience and need protection. (5)

 

Our model moved away from a sole focus on crisis, to one of primary and secondary prevention/early intervention. (6) We started by drastically reducing the number of refuges/shelters in favour of permanent alternative housing options while concurrently investing heavily in the extension of Safe at Home; a program that supports women and children to remain in their home.

 

Our focus was on keeping/or returning women and children to the community as quickly as possible thereby maintaining their support networks, access to employment, and long-term stability. Advances in the Internet of Things technology has made it easier than ever to set up ‘smart homes’ in which women can control door locks, lights and camera’s and telephones remotely, thereby increasing their safety in the home. Evidence collected from these devices is now submittable in court cases.

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Endnotes

  1. Our Watch, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and VicHealth 2015, Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia, Our Watch, Melbourne, Australia p.8
  2. Grace E and Merlo J, 2016 ‘Intimate partner violence against women and the Nordic Paradox’, Social Science and Medicine, volume 157, pp, 27 – 30.
  3. Campo M 2017, Gender equality, violence against women, and the “Nordic paradox”, Australian Institute of Family Studies: https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/2017/03/22/gender-equality-violence-against-women-and-nordic-paradox
  4. Our Watch 2015, op cit.
  5. Chung D et al 2000, ‘Home Safe Home: The link between domestic and family violence and women’s homelessness’, Social Policy Research Group University of South Australia, p.2.