Women across the world rose in solidarity once more this International Women’s Day. This year the UN Women’s theme is ‘Empowering women, Empowering Humanity’. Improving health, education, work and peace in women’s lives benefits families, organisations and nations. This month, March 2015, marks twenty years since the first Beijing Women’s Conference and its global Declaration for Action. The call has been made for nations and organisations to improve their progress in supporting women’s equality, to Step it Up in enacting change.
Although significant changes have made lives better for women over this past century since the first International Women’s Day, inequality and violence against women is still endemic across societies. Even in democratic countries where women are supposedly equal, such as Australia, the statistics about physical, psychological and sexual abuse of women stop you in your tracks. In other parts of the globe the situation is worse. Women regularly suffer horrendous abuse and have extremely limited or no access to support. The scale of the problem is so enormous that it’s difficult for an individual to grasp what he or she can do to help.
One Billion Rising for Revolution is a global action campaign demanding an end to violence against women. Since its instigation in 2012, it’s grown exponentially. Its focus is on women (and men) rising to dance together in solidarity on V Day, 14th February, to empower women and raise awareness for change. The number, one billion, is estimated to be the number of women and girls at risk of violent abuse. This year, widely publicised events took place in over 200 countries, from Mogadishu to Mumbai, Khartoum to Kabul. Events are organised locally to address local issues. It may seem a simplistic way to address violence, but women taking ownership of their own bodies is central to developing the strength to walk away from violence where they can.
Making Rosie Batty Australian of the Year for 2015, because of her eloquent and heartfelt pleas for change, has sharpened media, political and society’s focus on the issue of violence against women. Rosie has become a voice for the thousands of women who live in fear, because much intimidation, control and trauma happens behind closed doors. As Rosie argues, increasing community awareness of and passion for change is important, but systemic policy, legal and economic changes must be made for the situation to improve. Rosie has highlighted how the system fails to protect women who reach out for help and may even traumatise them further. Available services are stretched and always at risk for funding cuts. This crucial support for women in crisis is still seen as an optional add-on to social services, rather than central to determining the quality of women’s and their children’s future lives.
In Queensland, Quentin Bryce’s report ‘Not Now, Not Ever: Putting an end to domestic and family violence’, lays out the situation and enormous task ahead. It makes sobering reading but points out how dramatic changes for the better have occurred in society with enough bipartisan and community support. The report sets out challenges for individuals and organisations on page 16, that range from supporting neighbours and work colleagues, through challenging unacceptable behaviours when we see them, to continuing to raise awareness online and through conversations. The protea flower was chosen as a representation of the challenge because it symbolises diversity, courage and transformation.