Australia says ‘Not on Our Watch’ – lessons in preventing violence against women

Around the world, there is an increasing awareness of the scale of violence against women. But how do we tackle the problem at its roots, gender inequality? In Australia, Our Watch is creating awareness about the underlying cause, and developing ground-breaking initiatives.

Nearly three years ago, I left old blighty for the sunnier shores of Australia. Following seven years in the UK, much of that time spent working on media and communications campaigns for the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) and later the Equality and Human Right Commission (EHRC), a new chapter in Australia began.

I took with me happy memories (and hopefully a bit of expertise) gleaned from working alongside so many dedicated and talented colleagues committed to gender equality in the UK, the Fawcett Society’s new CEO Sam Smethers among them.

The introduction of the right to request flexible work, the annual Sex and Power report highlighting the under-representation of women in positions of influence, women’s pensions reform, and, well, quite a few efforts to crack that old chestnut the pay gap are a few that spring to mind. I also had the opportunity to work closely with Prof. Liz Kelly of the End Violence Against Women Coalition on ‘Map of Gaps’, which highlighted the post code lottery of services to support women who experience violence.

I didn’t know quite what to expect on the other side of the world. What I found was a wonderful opportunity to be a part of something quite extraordinary at Our Watch. Since joining this newly established national foundation to prevent violence against women, I’ve been struck by the innovative, and quite frankly ground-breaking, work on violence prevention happening in Australia today — not only by my colleagues at Our Watch, but many individuals and organisations in this part of the world leading change.

You can’t talk about the current momentum to prevent violence against women in Australia today without mentioning Rosie Batty. In February 2014, Rosie propelled the issue of domestic violence to the top of the national agenda after her former partner murdered her son Luke at cricket practice in the outer Melbourne suburb of Tyabb.

The day after her son’s murder, Rosie emerged from her home to tell a shocked nation that ‘family violence happens to everybody. No matter how nice your house is, how intelligent you are. It can happen to anyone, and everyone.’ Rosie became a tireless advocate for domestic violence victims and 2015 Australian of the Year, a position with significant influence. As one corporate CEO who heard Rosie speak (and now works with the Australian Human Right’s Commission’s ‘Male Champions of Change’ project) said: ‘Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.’

Over the last year, many have ‘seen’ the problem, and something that once happened behind closed doors now dominates the national headlines.Our Watch, a primary prevention organisation, officially launched in September 2014 to help drive nation-wide change in the culture, behaviours and attitudes that lead to violence against women and children. I joined as National Media Engagement Manager just two weeks before the launch.

Our Watch – along with many others – is seizing on this extraordinary momentum. Together, we are saying, ‘Not on Our Watch‘. At Our Watch, we believe violence is preventable –  if, and only if, you tackle the underlying causes of violence.The weight of international evidence points to gender inequality, particularly the condoning of violence against women, men’s control of decision making and limits on women’s independence, rigid gender stereotypes, and male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect as the key drivers.

We will never ‘turn off the tap of violence’ unless we tackle the underlying causes. This is where Our Watch concentrates its effort. In a world first, Australia now has a framework developed by Our Watch, which brings together the evidence on the drivers of violence and provides a guide for a consistent and integrated national approach to prevent violence against women and their children.The framework makes clear that gender inequality is the core of the problem and it is the heart of the solution.

Harnessing the power of the media towards prevention is a key part of Our Watch’s broader program of work, and where I now concentrate my effort (along with my job-share Jess Strickland) as co-managers of the National Media Engagement Project.

Over the last year, the Australian media has played a vital role in raising awareness of the scale of this epidemic. Sadly, barely a week, and sometimes a day, goes by without reading another tragic story about a woman who has paid the ultimate price for this violence.But the media also play a vital role in shaping community attitudes around this important social issue: who is responsible, what leads up to the violence and what we can do to prevent it. In Australia, media representations of violence against women have traditionally lacked an informed analysis of the links between the causes of violence (sexism, gender inequality, community attitudes) and this violence.

And sometimes, in the worst case scenarios, some media have perpetuated the attitudes that gave rise to a culture of silence (the traditional view that domestic and family violence is a ‘private matter’) or minimised or excused violence against women and their children.

I believe this is changing. The media is increasingly taking a leadership role in informing and sustaining a national conversation to prevent violence against women, as we have seen via the high quality entries submitted to the inaugural Our Watch Awards, which were administered by the Walkley Foundation. A champion of innovation and a respected thought leader, the Walkley Foundation encourages journalism that enriches our communities.

The Awards were launched by Australian of the Year and Our Watch Ambassador Rosie Batty earlier in the year with a live address to the National Press Club. She said journalists were ‘uniquely placed to help stop violence before it starts.’ Following on from the awards, the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hosted a ‘Media Stand Up Against Violence‘ event in November 2015, calling on the media to adopt the Our Watch Reporting guidelines.

More informed media commentary will help create a common, community-wide message of respect and non-violence.More than ten years ago, the Australian media industry responded to calls for responsible reporting of suicide and mental health by embracing Mindframe reporting guidelines and welcoming the accompanying training into their newsrooms. Today, Australia stands out in the world (according to the World Health Organisation) for its ethical and sensitive reporting of this issue. Australia and its media once again have the opportunity to lead the world by example.


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Kristine Ziwica
Kristine Ziwica is the National Media Engagement Manager at Our Watch, an Australian-based foundation established to drive nation-wide change in the culture, behaviours and attitudes that lead to violence against women and children. She was previously Head of Media at the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission.