It is such a positive thing that violence against women is now more acknowledged, recognised and understood than it has been in the past. At all levels of our community we hear statements confirming that violence against women is wrong and that we should all be working together to address it. This year alone, we have heard positive and strong statements from women and men in powerful positions in government, law enforcement, the military, sport and entertainment.
Certainly, many women who are living with violence at the hands of their partners or family members will take comfort in these strong statements and may feel more encouraged to act. Perpetrators may feel less emboldened. Bystanders may feel more encouraged to intervene. And on a violence prevention level, workplaces and other organisations may be less inclined to tolerate sexist images or comments.
This is a fine achievement (back pat). So what are our next steps? What still needs to be done to further boost awareness about violence against women, and indeed to continue to work toward the ultimate aim of eliminating gender-based violence altogether?
It’s time now to ask some more complex questions that will take our work to the next level: including questions that address the ways that gender-based violence impacts on women who are marginalised by the structures of race, ethnicity, disability, migration status, as well as gender.
Our efforts to date have been based solely on an analysis of gender. This makes sense but also leaves them lacking. What is missing is a recognition of how gender intersects with other factors to create an experience of violence that is different to the ones we have ready to hand – the scenarios that we bring to mind and the situations that we have learned (or are learning) to understand.
Which isn’t to say that we should lose our feminist focus on gender equity as the key to violence prevention. Marginalised women need equity just like everyone else. But gender equity will only get us so far in the fight to end violence against women. Add to the wish list all forms of equality, including equality on the basis of race, disability, class, ethnicity, and sexual identity, and then we see more clearly our next steps.
Diverse experiences of violence require diverse violence prevention approaches. Without a tailored approach to violence against women that takes structural disadvantage into account, we often end up with inappropriate programs that lack meaning and have minimal impact. So while some might say that ‘a punch is a punch’, we also know that gender-based violence is never just a punch. It is a punch in context.
Along with strong statements, we need policies and programs that actively include and support the broad diversity of women’s experience. This inclusiveness goes further than asserting that all women’s experiences are different. We also need tailored programs that take account of those specific experiences. A dual approach that combines mainstream inclusion with specific programs will takes us further towards equity, and significantly add to the impact we will have, not only for some women, but for all.