Women’s Safety Summit missed the opportunity to really tackle domestic violence

This article originally appeared as an opinion piece for news.com.au 

While it was an honour to be part of the delegation to the 2021 Women’s Safety Summit, I can’t help but feel a level of disappointment.  

The two-day summit was unable to address the complexity of designing a national strategy to end sexual, domestic and family violence. We continue to be blown away by specialist services doing it tough right now, and by the frontline workers who continue to show up every day to save lives. We want more for them, and this summit should have addressed that.  

But it was a missed opportunity.  

There was extensive advocacy from the sector leading to the summit including a Federal Inquiry, which as a positive step. But it’s now time to stop the discussions. It is time for real change. All the solutions have been provided. We need to get on with the real work, but this cannot be done in isolation and without governments walking with us side by side. 

The issue of accountability for action and resourcing of initiatives were recurrent themes in the summit, but there were no major announcements from Federal Ministers or the Prime Minister to suggest that there will be significant changes in either of these areas. 

We need to listen to the frontline women’s services who are overworked, under-resourced and turning away women in crisis every day. We need to listen to the victim-survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and put them at the centre of our policies and reforms. The rigour of the draft plan will be evidenced when we see that the community, sector and lived expertise knowledge collected in this process has translated into a National Plan – one that can truly transform the response to gendered violence. 

Without action, a plan is just that – a plan.  

We’re asking that the next National Plan be bold. Courageous. Action-focused. We are driving home the point that it’s time to stop talking – it’s time to start doing.  

The fact that the priority for safe, affordable housing for women’s safety didn’t even make the Summit agenda highlights the fact that critical issues raised by the sector were not considered. In Australia, 7,690 women return to perpetrators of violence each year because they have nowhere to live, and 9,120 women a year become homeless after leaving violent homes and not being able to secure long-term housing. There was also a clear exclusion of key population groups including LGBTIQA+ people, children and young people, women with a disability and women from refugee and migrant backgrounds. These are the communities that desperately needed to have a voice in a summit that was designed to highlight women’s safety. 

Have we forgotten why we’re here? That a sexual assault allegation was made in Parliament house, and it resulted in thousands of women marching across Australia to demand respect, equality, and above all, safety?  

We need a solid action plan on implementing practical change. We already know the critical issues – we live and breathe them every day. We need primary prevention, early intervention, and respectful relationships programs so we can stop the violence before it starts. We must teach consent in schools. We need measures put into place to ensure women’s economic security. We need significant and long-term investment to specialist domestic, sexual and family violence services that includes recovery.  

We need Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s voices to be not only heard, but listened to, and for a separate national plan specifically on responding to and preventing gendered violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.  

The greatest tool we have is our collective voice.  

We aren’t a sector divided – we are unanimous in our ferocity, in our calls for the investment in long-term, systemic change. Actions that have the power to change the way women feel when they walk home alone at night. To ignite the flicker of hope into a flame when a woman leaves an abusive relationship, because she knows she will be listened to, believed, and safe.  

We aren’t just speaking up in the face of adversity – we are roaring. The domestic, family and sexual violence sector exists for a reason – to save lives every day. We are advocating until we are hoarse. But we are redundant if the government isn’t meaningfully listening to the very people who are working towards the solution.  

Our Prime Minister is trying to tell us he is listening. But we need more than platitudes, and we won’t be silent until we see real change.  

Delia Donovan is the chief executive of Domestic Violence NSW. 

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