Portrait of Andy Hamilton

To mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25), ANDY HAMILTON SJ writes that understanding the connection between rigid traditional masculine norms and the use of violence is vital in implementing the Federal Government’s National Plan to end Violence against Women and Children.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is marked on 25 November each year. This year, this date is particularly significant because it arrived shortly after the Federal Government’s release of its National Plan to end Violence against Women and Children.

This Plan goes beyond exhortation and good intentions to offer a framework to eliminate violence against women and children in a generation. The plan will be followed by two detailed five-year action plans, backed up by set targets and reviews. Crucially, it has the support of Federal and State Governments.

The Plan is impressive in its seriousness and focus. Its focus is on persons who have been wronged, on the violence which they have suffered and on its lasting effects on their health and confidence. It accurately identifies this violence as overwhelmingly suffered by women and children, and as overwhelmingly perpetrated by men. The extent of this is shown in the statistic that one in three women have suffered from physical violence after the age of 15 years, and that one in five have experienced sexual violence.

The tight and practical focus on the persons who suffer from violence leads the Plan to consider the relationships that shape their lives. They include personal relations to parents, children, partners, friends and neighbours, institutional relations to police, courts, hospitals, schools, banks, churches, and Government departments of health and welfare.

They also include cultural relationships, personal history, religion, peer group influences and environment. These considerations dictate a separate plan to respond to violence suffered in Indigenous communities. It recognises that a plan cannot be imposed as a ‘whitefella’ solution to an Indigenous problem but must be shaped by the experience, situation and cultural needs of Indigenous people.

The complex relationships involved in domestic violence demand sustained support for women at risk from it. They need to recognise the early signs of abusive and manipulative behaviour. They must be able to access trustworthy advice, to know that their report of violence will be taken seriously and that any court orders will be policed, that they will be able to find safe emergency accommodation, assured accommodation after separation, and trained help in working through the trauma she has suffered. This will demand coordination and cooperation between a range of Government programs.

Because violence against women involves a destructive relationship with men, to understand and address it requires an equal attention to what leads men to abuse women, and to how they can be helped to form respectful relationships with them.

In dealing with men’s violence the Plan reflects many of the central themes of the experience and research of Jesuit Social Services, particularly through The Men’s Project.  It identifies the cultural elements in the way that young men see and express their masculinity. It describes how violent pornography and displays of abusive behaviour in social media and public life can inform and influence their relationships.

For the Plan to be implemented, we all need to be aware of the connection between rigid traditional masculine norms and the use of use of violence. Young men need to have role models who demonstrate alternative respectful relationships. This will require emotional literacy, conversations about dominant forms of masculinity  and a commitment to consensual relationships, supported by good public role models and the readiness of bystanders, young and old, to call out abusive attitudes and behaviour. It will also require special support for children who have suffered from domestic violence, educating young men to form respectful relationships with women, and ensuring that men are held accountable for violence against women and are supported in learning non-violent ways to deal with frustration.

The Plan is admirable in describing the respect that we all owe to one another and that society must demand and encourage.