The Unspoken Threat Facing Thousands of Australian WomenLeadership, Gender diversity
I have a bad habit of walking through my front door in the evening, flopping onto the couch and exclaiming “what a week”, to which my husband usually replies with a bemused, “it’s Wednesday”. Or if we’re in the middle of a particularly grim time, he might shockingly reveal that actually “it’s Monday”.
We’ve only just ticked off Easter but already I feel like doing the same thing with this year. One third of the way through 2021 and I’m absolutely wrecked by it. The return to work and school and some sense of normality after the extended lockdowns of 2020 is exciting but tiring. And the news cycle is utterly relentless.
It’s only been seven or eight weeks since Brittany Higgins, a former Liberal staffer, made public an allegation that she’d been raped by a colleague in Parliament House. Since that time there has been a rolling series of allegations of workplace sexual harassment, abuse and violence.
We saw women march in their tens of thousands on the streets of our capital cities and towns, demanding justice. This wasn’t about parliament, although that was bad enough, shouted their placards. This was about the realities women face on a daily basis, not only at work but at home too.
The devastating reality is that Australian women survived two pandemics during 2020, an invisible threat from outside the walls of their homes and a physical threat from within.
Family violence kills more than one woman a week in Australia, which means a sickening number of women feel frightened in their own homes. The very homes they were told to stay in, to stay safe, during the pandemic. And that violence takes many forms. The media tends to focus on physical violence but women are also subject to abusive language, emotional manipulation, financial and coercive control.
During those early weeks of social isolation, nationally the number of Google searches about domestic violence rose 75 per cent. Research by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that one in 10 women in a relationship experienced intimate partner violence during the pandemic.
The devastating reality is that Australian women survived two pandemics during 2020, an invisible threat from outside the walls of their homes and a physical threat from within. But homes are not something everyone has.
There is a proven link between family violence and homelessness. With the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reporting that more than 40 per cent of their clients have experienced violence in the home. Nationally, more than 10,000 women and children are turned away from refuges because there is no bed for them.
I realise that I have thrown a lot of statistics at you. Read all together, they can become meaningless, faceless, and a bit of a blur. So, let’s try and consider these devastating numbers another way.
Australian women are victims of violence in dizzying numbers, and tens of thousands of them are ending up homeless because of it.
Picture the Gabba on AFL Grand Final Day last year. It wasn’t quite as big as the MCG but for those of us who had been confined to our homes for most of the year, it was an overwhelming number of people. There were 30,000 of them, in fact. Well, keep that picture of what 30,000 people looks like in your head. Now double it.
That’s still less than the number of women who were supported by specialist homelessness services in Australia in 2019-20 who were there because of violence in the home. Take special note of the year I’ve just quoted. You can bet the figures will be worse post-pandemic, particularly in Melbourne.
This is not a handful of women. This is not an infrequent occurrence. Australian women are victims of violence in dizzying numbers, and tens of thousands of them are ending up homeless because of it – and without sufficient support services to help them. The result is more Australian women and children trapped in a cycle of temporary housing, couch surfing and living on the street.
That’s why this April, my family and I are taking part in The Roughin’ It Challenge. Introduced by Launch Housing, this is an opportunity to show solidarity with — and raise money for — people experiencing homelessness. For me, that means spending a night with no bed, one bag of belongings and living on just $10 a day, while thinking about the many Melbourne women for whom this has become their everyday.
It’s a small gesture and gives just a snatch of insight into what women experiencing homelessness in Australia are going through. There won’t be any miscounted days or nights, either. When life gets this tough, every painful, difficult minute counts.
Jamila Rizvi is an author and ambassador for the Launch Housing Roughin’ It Challenge. Between 16-23 April 2021, participants can show their solidarity for people experiencing homelessness. To get involved go here.
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