Following on from the 2014-15 inquiry into domestic and family violence, the Senate referred an inquiry into domestic violence and gender inequality to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee. The terms of reference asked the committee to consider ‘the role of gender inequality in all spheres of life in contributing to the prevalence of domestic violence’. The committee received 76 public submissions and tabled a 53 page report in November 2016.
The report did not contain any formal recommendations. However, the committee made a number of statements in relation to the role of gender inequality in the prevalence of domestic and family violence. The committee stated that it was ‘encouraged by work undertaken to date to change gender roles and stereotypes’ but believed that more needed to be done. This was evidenced by Australia’s decline on the global gender equality index from 15th in 2006 to 24th in 2014.
The committee acknowledged progress had been achieved in some areas, as evidenced by the results of the National Community Attitudes Towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS). However, the committee was concerned that the survey indicated ‘more than a quarter of Australians still endorse attitudes supportive of male dominance of decision-making in relationships which is identified as a risk factor for partner violence’.
The report proposed that reducing domestic and family violence necessitates changing attitudes towards gender roles and relationships. In particular, the committee suggested the government continue to focus on the following:
Box 3.1: Promoting gender equality
The Fourth Action Plan maintains the focus on gender equality and respect for women as key drivers of change. Initiatives promoting gender equality and respect for women include:
the community-wide ‘Stop it at the Start’ primary prevention campaign;
primary prevention campaigns targeted to specific communities;
programs addressing intergenerational trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; and
programs in schools and in the media promoting ‘healthy and safe’ relationships for young people.
Women in leadership roles
The government has implemented programs addressing the underrepresentation of women in senior roles in the public and private sectors. These programs are being run in partnership with organisations including:
the Australian Institute of Company Directors;
the Australian Sports Commission; and
A new childcare subsidy commenced on 2 July 2018 which made childcare more affordable for some families. However, research by the Centre for Independent Studies concluded that, even with the new subsidy, childcare remained unaffordable for many families. The Centre found:
Formal childcare services remain unaffordable and difficult to access for many parents in Australia. Despite government subsidies for childcare, fees and out-of-pocket costs continue to grow above inflation.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian government initiated the Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package. The Package was designed to subsidise the childcare sector throughout the pandemic, preventing mass closures of childcare facilities. The subsidy was provided on the basis that centres must not charge parents any fees, making childcare free during the pandemic. The government has indicated that it intends to return to a system where parents are charged fees when the crisis is over.
Gender representation in the media
As part of the National Plan, the government has funded ‘Our Watch’. Our Watch:
provides advice and input ‘to influence public policy, systems and institutions to drive societal-level change’;
develops and implements campaigns that aim to change attitudes;
leads a public conversation designed to keep violence against women ‘on the national agenda’; and
provides evidence-based resources to the media, community organisations, educational institutions and workplaces.
One initiative is the Our Watch Fellowship Program. The program is administered by the Walkley Foundation and described as ‘a prestigious leadership opportunity for 14 outstanding journalists’. Fellowships provide funding and opportunities for journalists ‘to build and refine their knowledge of best practice reporting on violence against women, and deepen their understanding of the complexities of the issue’.