• 19May

    Important Update:elsie


    May 18th saw people throughout Australia marching against the draconian Abbott government thanks to the March Australia

    We need to be mindful of the cost to women as a result of the ideology and misogyny of the current governments both at Federal and State levels.


    Where Will Women Go?

    Women beware! There is a real possibility that women-only services are at risk.

    When a woman escapes from an abusive partner; when a woman has been raped; when a woman has to go to Court to get a violence order to protect herself and her children – who can she turn to for help?

    40 years ago the Elsie women’s shelter was started in NSW. It was the first shelter established in Australia. It was started by women for women.

    Since then many women’s refuges, women’s health services, sexual assault services and women’s legal services have been established throughout Australia.

    Now there is a strong possibility that these services for women will be closed down. Services which have given women secure and safe places in their escape from physical, emotional and physical abuse – safe places for their children, both emotionally and physically.

    Services such as domestic violence services, women’s health services, sexual assault services and women’s legal services are at serious risk of losing their funds and having to close down. They are increasingly being audited and assessed by both State and Federal Governments. Their viability is being questioned.

    We are all aware that across state, territory and federal governments, funding is being cut – and particularly in health, legal and welfare services.

    For example, the current Queensland government is conducting an audit of all women’s services and have acknowledged that their preference is that, in future funding decisions, contracts will be made with the fewer, larger providers of social welfare. So large social welfare organizations will be taking over from community-based, women-only services.

    The NSW government appears to be making similar moves. It also is planning to close the current women-only services and shift a large bulk of services previously done by government into the not for profit or private sector.
    There is a campaign SOSwomensservices


    There are many advantages of having women-only, community based services.

    Experience has shown that women prefer these types of services because they provide for greater security and safety, both emotionally and physically.
    If we were to lose these services then we would also lose an incredible knowledge base which has been developed within the women’s sector. This knowledge has been based extensive experience and knowledge of those women working in this sector, alongside women, listening to women and their experiences.
    This has allowed women to raise awareness of their issues, based on direct experience. The women’s sector has a long history of advocating on behalf of women.
    These services were also set up based on feminist principles with an understanding of the history of feminist development and advocacy. A feminist understanding of sexism and the inequality of women and how it is the basis of male violence against women will be lost.
    A considerable advantage of the women’s services sector is that it was developed from feminist advocacy and that a major role of such services was to challenge the social constructs that perpetuate disadvantage for women. Part of the empowering aspect of their work is to join with women using the services to advocate and lobby for changes to systems which create barriers to women’s safety and well-being.
    It is possible that the larger NGO’s may sub-contract to existing agencies. We are aware that many women’s services are already being run by the larger Non-government organizations. We also acknowledge that in some cases, women-only services continue to operate effectively under this arrangement.
    However, with increased pressure on funding and the reality that funding is going to be increasingly difficult to obtain under the current political climate of funding cuts, there is a deep concern that women-only services will be jeopardized. There is a real possibility that this may lead to women-only services being absorbed into the more generic welfare services.
    According to Senator Waters the budget “…appears to slash $60 million from women’s programs.”

    As the ABC report states “PM has been told that a number of crisis shelters for women and children are set to close as a result of plans to “concentrate” services.”
    We need women’s voices to speak out loudly against these changes. Let us not lose what we struggled for so long to achieve.

    March in May Adelaide

    marchinmayadelaide6                                               marchinmay adelaide

    Benefits of specialist women’s only services

    There are many advantages of having women-only, community based services.

    Experience has shown that women prefer these types of services because they provide for greater security and safety, both emotionally and physically.
    • Overcome isolation – Women feel less marginalized and isolated and feel more able to express themselves in a women’s-only environment. Through sharing their experiences with other women they are able to make sense of the world together and develop a sense of solidarity.
    • Women often feel uncomfortable speaking to a man about their experiences. Evidence has shown that women with recent experiences of male violence are often fearful of speaking to an unknown man and feel safer speaking with a woman
    • Women using these services feel that their voices are heard and listened to.
    • Women feel supported and comfortable
    • Heterosexual women who often end up in abusive relationships may find it helps their progress to avoid male-dominated environments and to avoid relationships with men for a long period of time.
    • Women seeking shelter from men’s violence feel less safe in generic homelessness services environments.

    Research from the Women’s Resource Centre (U.K. 2007) found that women from all walks of life prefer to use women-only services within a range of different contexts.
    “Women often find it easier to talk in a women-only environment, particularly about such issues as childhood sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence, eating problems, Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS), depression, low self esteem, selfharm.” Women’s Resource Centre, 2007)

    The misconception that women’s equality has been achieved is widespread.

    This mistaken belief is influencing government policy, which is becoming increasingly gender neutral, and is affecting the sustainability of women’s organizations.
    Women-only services are being increasingly pressured to justify why their services are women-only. As a result, some women’s organizations report that funders and decision makers are pressuring their organizations to deliver services to men and viewing women-only services as irrelevant and unnecessary.
    Women’s only services are recognized internationally as a key mechanism to achieve women’s equality.

    Feminist understandings
    Women-only services have developed from practices grounded in feminist theory and practice.

    This is becoming increasingly lost as generic welfare services take over the provision of services to women. The coherence of values developed from a focus on women’s experiences of patriarchy has fragmented across profession-based models of human services provision.
    Medical/therapeutic models of service delivery have become increasingly apparent in the women’s sector, with an emphasis on women’s pathology, individual therapeutic responses and personal healing.
    Increasingly service delivery is based on a ‘helper’ model rather than an empowerment model e.g.:
    ● responding to violence as a ‘problem’ rather than as a crime, and seeing the effects of violence as pathology rather than as a normal response to a traumatic criminal event;
    ● seeing violence as a ‘relationship problem’ and offering couple’s counselling to perpetrators and victims. (Geddes, V. 2005)

    Many professionals in mainstream services do not recognize the effect of family violence on women’s health and well-being.
    Services must have an understanding of gender and violence. Staff at all levels of the organization must share this understanding, and it should be reflected in service delivery.

    Violence is a means by which men choose to enforce control over women and children, and workers and management should be aware of the ways in which the social context supports men to do this, and the way in which social context places barriers to women’s safety and empowerment. (Geddes, V. 2005)
    An understanding of the gendered nature of violence, the inequities that women face in being able to live fulfilling and problem-free lives, particularly when seeking help, support and safety, needs to be reflected in all aspects of service delivery. Workers and management need to understand that violence and sexism are a means by which men choose to enforce power and control over women and children and are aware of the ways in which the social context supports men to do this.

    Activism and Advocacy
    “Empowerment, consciousness-raising and self-help were prominent feminist philosophies in the movement.Del Martin, in her acclaimed publication called Battered Wives argued that the immediate predicament of women who had suffered domestic violence must be understood in broad political terms, namely through the institution of marriage, historical attitudes towards women and the inadequacies in legal and social services.In this sense, women-only refuges were more than just spaces of physical safety, they were ‘political’. Their very existence firmly located domestic violence as a gender based phenomenon – the systematic violation of women’s rights by men, enabled and supported by patriarchy.” Women’s Resources Centre.
    Knowledge based on the experiences of women inform advocacy for much needed reforms and the lobbying for funds and resources to provide such services (Dowse 1988). The push for services was, therefore, accompanied by political activism by feminists for legislative change in rape laws, other criminal laws and protective injunctions, as well as campaigns and awareness-raising.
    Women-only services continue to be involved in lobbying for essential changes in legislation and practice and are play an important contribution to creating equality for women.

    Community education and political action
    Services must have a commitment to advocacy. Workers should understand that part of their role is to act as advocates on behalf of women and children. Workers should understand the importance of advocacy to assist women in dealing with service systems, and should also work to empower women to navigate the systems themselves. (Geddes, V. 2005)
    Women’s services operate from an understanding of the gendered nature of women’s inequality and their exposure to violence. Many services which women approach do not share this understanding and therefore often need support from women’s services to advocate on their behalf.
    In relation to domestic violence and sexual assault:
    • Women’s experiences of violence are complex. An incident of family violence can mark the point at which a “normal” life veers into a problematic life and provokes encounters with services. It affects women in a way that may eventually send them into a service system that sees them as having a problem – injury, ill health, addiction, disability, homelessness, educational setback, poverty, dependence, child protection, contacts with police and courts. (Statewide Steering Committee to Reduce Family Violence, Vic 2005)
    • Services also work to empower women in the process to navigate the systems themselves.
    Services need a commitment to making violence visible. To prevent violence, services must have a commitment to raising awareness about family violence in a community where there is a tacit acceptance of men’s violence towards women, and where that violence is still largely seen as a private matter. (Statewide Steering Committee to Reduce Family Violence, Vic 2005)

    Government Funding
    The conditions of government funding for women’s services has led to a greater focus on service provision and less on political activity.
    “A recent article by John McDonald argues that ‘the ascendancy of a neo-liberal, managerialist ideology has depoliticised and clinicalised domestic violence’ and that ‘this has effectively silenced structural analyses of domestic violence and displaced feminist service models’ (McDonald 2005).” (as cited in Geddes, V. 2005)
    Thus women’s ability to address social justice issues of male privilege and violence and to take collective action is severely diminished.
    Competitive tendering and Managerialism
    The introduction of case management and tighter specification of targets and service outcomes in government –funded services contributes to domestic violence, sexual assault and many other problems that women experience as a result of sexism and inequality being seen as an individual problem.

    Program funding is about achieving client outcomes not about structural change.

    Funding guidelines are pushing services into depoliticized service delivery.
    For example, women’s domestic violence services are being forced to focus on quantity rather than quality of service delivery.
    “He describes research by Egan and Hoatson (1999) that found that ‘the government’s imperative for high outputs (as measured by the number of women who receive a service) compromises an agency’s capacity to meet the complex needs of women escaping violence. These needs often require intensive work over extended periods. However, the quality of the work and the outcomes for the women are subordinated to managerialist formulae concerned with unit costs and throughput’ (McDonald 2005: 281).” (as cited in Geddes. V. 2005)
    Competitive tendering has also limited the capacity of services to work together on political action.

    Services for women are forced to compete against each other for funding, rather than working collaboratively and cooperatively to address broader social issues.
    Increasingly, services for women are being outsourced to generic, and often faith-based, organizations. These organizations operate from a managerial focus on key performance indicators, inputs and output targets. The result of such outsourcing is that women-only services are becoming less available.
    Domestic Violence Services
    Safety is the core business of women-only services.
    Assistance with planning strategies for keeping women and their children safe is the paramount consideration.

    Services see physical and emotional safety and safety planning as their core business. They work to ensure that the environment in which the services are delivered address the needs of women and children for physical and emotional safety. Services understand that safety is not just about housing.
    Safety planning is done in partnership with the women and in a way that works to develop her sense of agency.
    Homelessness and domestic violence
    The greatest cause of homelessness for women and children is domestic violence.

    But homelessness is neither the only nor the core issue for women escaping domestic violence. It is far more complex than that. And yet increasingly women’s refuges and shelters are being funded under the ‘homelessness’ banner.

    The result is that the aims and objectives of the service become that of housing rather than domestic violence and its broad range of complexities and problems for women.
    Once a women’s refuge becomes a ‘homelessness service’ they accept both men and women as ‘clients’ and also employ both men and women as ‘service providers’. Women seeking shelter from men’s violence feel less safe in generic homelessness services environments.
    For example, in one mainstream housing service, all family violence workers were told by management that they were housing workers, and to only work with women experiencing violence who had housing support needs.

    In another mainstream service, women’s family violence services had to fight to maintain a focus on women’s safety as their core business. (Geddes, V. 2005)
    McDonald cites research by Wills and Craft (2003) who undertook a content analysis of SAAP policy documents. This revealed that ‘the concept of safety has become increasingly marginalized … The idea of safety is largely missing from emergency accommodation.’ (McDonald 2005: 282)
    The focus of the ‘service provision’ moves away from addressing the causes of homelessness, such as domestic violence or women’s economic disadvantage, to solely providing shelter and referrals to other services.
    Women’s Health Services
    A VicHealth report that found:
    ‘Violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15-44, being responsible for more of the disease burden than many well-known risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and obesity’ (VicHealth 2004).
    Research also shows us that family violence is the major factor associated with the killing of women in Australia (Mouzos 1999).
    Funding for women’s community health services has shifted focus away from their former focus on the health (physical and mental) impacts of women’s experiences of all forms of violence (as one manifestation of women’s ongoing oppression).

    These services now focus on specific health issues such as healthy eating, quitting smoking and physical fitness.

    There has been a sharp and deliberate movement away from responding to violence as a public health issue.

    Currently, for a woman to access such services it is far more likely that she will have to present with depression and/or anxiety to receive counselling.

    Needless to say, this again focuses solely on her individual pathology (she is the problem). Where once the question would have been asked “what has happened to this woman?” now she is being asked “what is wrong with the woman?”
    Once a site for consciousness raising and political activism, it is far more likely to see these centres offering healthy lifestyle groups rather than their one time focus on child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault.
    Women’s Legal Centres
    It is apparent that women’s services such as Women’s Legal Centres, who have an invaluable history in the area of policy development and law reform, are at risk of having funding to do this important work withdrawn, and their work curtailed to providing direct client services only and at reduced capacity.
    Women’s Legal Centres tends to specialize in legal issues arising from relationship breakdown and violence against women.
    And an important and valuable aspect of their work has been to undertake policy development and law reform activities to ensure that the needs and rights of marginalized women are adequately acknowledged, represented and met.
    This valuable work is about creating positive change for women through law reform and policy work.

    Women’s Legal Services have strongly influenced the development of law and policy:
    • by making submissions to parliamentary, government and law reform enquiries;
    • highlighting recent developments through media and publications;
    • engaging with government through consultations and advisory committees;
    • collaborating with partner organizations;
    • campaigning and lobbying;
    • and undertaking strategic litigation.

    Their reform work draws directly on their practical experience of assisting women with legal issues arising from relationship breakdown and violence.
    Women continue to express their desire to discuss legal problems with other women, in a service identified as a women’s service . Women are often distrusting of men after they have been abused or exploited in a relationship and are concerned that they will be subject to the same treatment at the hands of a male lawyer who may identify more closely with their ex-partner.
    Sometimes women are embarrassed by their lack of knowledge of the legal system, or their family finances, or simply the humiliation of having been abandoned. They feel much more comfortable talking to other women about these matters because they trust they will not be further humiliated by them.
    Marginalized women
    Research also indicates that Aboriginal women and women from non-English speaking backgrounds typically prefer to discuss personal issues with other women. Aboriginal women have long had a history of separate women’s and men’s business. Many non-English-speaking cultures rely on their own gender for personal matters.

    Statewide Steering Committee to Reduce Family Violence. Non-Government Organisations’ Position on ‘The need for Gender-Specific Specialist Service System Responses to Family Violence’ October 2005
    Women’s Resource Centre, Women-only services: making the case. A guide for women’s organisations. July 2011 (United Kingdom)
    Geddes, V. (2005) ‘Don’t Forget Gender: Why Gender Specific Services Must be Maintained. Domestic Violence and Incest Resource Centre Newsletter, Edition no. 3, 2005, Spring.
    Hume, M. et al (2011) Women’s services in the twenty-First century: where are We Heading?
    by Marie Hume, Elspeth McInnes, Kathryn Rendell and Betty Green, (Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination (WEAVE) Australia Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse Newsletter Spring / 2011 https://weaveinc.org.au/Papers&Research/Newsletter_46.pdf


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