If we were in any doubt about it, this month has clearly demonstrated that the urgent need to prevent violence against women has well and truly reached both public consciousness and government attention. The international campaign for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence is in full swing, and continues to gather momentum with the influence of champions like Rosie Batty and media coverage like Sarah Ferguson’s Hitting Home. As Moo Baulsh has put it: “2015 is the year that Australians finally admitted that we have a serious problem. It is fatal, far-reaching and has reached epidemic proportions.”
Although it’s clearly no cause for celebration, it is a victory to finally have this issue loudly and publically acknowledged. The conversation is deepening to encompass a broader understanding of violence, beyond physical violence, and a broader approach to addressing the issue, beyond police response.
The national framework for primary prevention Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia, has put Australia at the forefront of primary prevention of violence against women. The message has never been clearer that gender inequality is the core of the problem and it is the heart of the solution. Not only this, the framework stresses that gender is always contextualised. We have the framework we need to prevent violence against all women.
Yet, at this critical moment for the future direction of violence prevention, there are signs that as a nation we have not fully embraced all women within this definition. The alarming increase in public violence against Muslim women, the devastating findings of the coronial inquiry into Ms Dhu, and the rates of Aboriginal women being jailed: so many acts of violence against women often fail to enter the wider conversation because they are seen as marginal. The recent apology issued by Destroy the Joint in relation to their comment moderation of a number of disability activists, provides a clear and recent example of the way in which women can be marginalised even within feminism.
Violence affects women regardless of their age, ability, postcode, beliefs, relationship, income, education or cultural heritage. But that “regardless” doesn’t mean that these other factors shouldn’t be regarded. By pushing the diversity of women’s experiences out to the remote edges of what is a shared or universal experience, we do more than lose sight of the marginal. We actively marginalise these women’s experiences and contribute to their ongoing oppression.
We also ignore reality. While immigrant and refugee women’s experiences of violence rarely feature in broader discussions of violence prevention, 46% of the Australian population has a direct link to the migration program, 32% were born overseas and 20% has at least one parent born overseas (ABS 2014): marginal or marginalised?
Any woman can experience violence, but the way in which she experiences that violence, the circumstances in which violence takes place and the opportunities available to that woman to escape violence are often shaped by factors which are not separate from her gender, but are not confined to it either. Violence against women takes place in the intersections of systems of power and oppression. Discrimination, racism and other structural inequalities must become part of the universal understanding of violence against women, not just additional to it.
An intersectional approach to violence against women requires a different starting point, one which starts with diversity instead of commonality: if we want to speak for all women we need to bring the voices and experiences of marginalised women to the centre of analysis.