Going…going…gone – women-only services are in the process of closing down.
SOSWomen’s Services have highlighted the plight of women-only refuges in NSW.
Under the ‘Going Home Staying Home’ program, the NSW government is failing to support women-only domestic violence services.
“336 individual services have been consolidated into 149 packages operated by 69 non-government organizations.” Sydney Morning Herald
And it is not just women’s shelters, but women’s legal services, women’s health services, women’s sexual assault services – along with other marginalised groups such as services for our First Nation’s people, refugees, migrants, disability services and many more are at risk with cuts to funding and tendering processes which ignore the real needs of women.
When we lose women’s services then we lose our voices.
Women experiencing violence and abuse will no longer have a place to tell their stories; there will no longer be a women’s sector to bring these stories, these voices, to society’s attention.
We are at risk of losing local women’s networks; regional women’s networks; state-based women’s networks and national networks, representing the women’s sector to advocate on behalf of women.
How can we have national networks representing the women’s sector when we no longer have a women’s sector?
And not only in NSW.
Because beware – the Queensland government has already signaled its intentions to follow the same path and concerns are being raised in SA about the closure of women’s health services and Victoria too is watching on with interest. We can predict that other states will follow.
Our Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse which actively engaged with grassroots women’s sector has already been closed down and replaced by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety with its focus on academic research.
Large Generalist Providers
“Some services have decided to close their doors after decades; others will continue to operate under the management of new generalist providers such as St Vincent de Paul, Mission Australia, the Salvation Army and Wesley Mission.” (Sydney Morning Herald)
Make no mistake these generalist services are corporate organizations where quantity, not quality are what matters; where the managerial focus is on key performance indicators and inputs and output targets and who operate from a ‘case mix’ model.
“Women’s refuges don’t do ‘case mix’ models, they do real women and children with real life problems who need safe places to sleep and the environment to improve their lives.” (SOS Women’s Services)
What’s so Important about Women’s Services?
I have written before about the importance of women only, feminist services in providing specialist services based on years of experience and also being informed by a feminist perspective. (see post on Women’s Services)
We are losing the ability for women escaping domestic violence to collectively meet in an environment where their stories of violence are placed in a broader social context.
It is their experiences which inform the need for political and structural change.
This will likely be replaced by a corporate system where only homelessness is addressed; and where violence and oppression will be treated as an individual personal pathology and women will be redirected to family therapy and individual counselling.
At the heart of all of the significant and structural changes that have occurred for women in the last 40 years has been the stories of women’s experiences and women working together to create change.
Our advocacy in regard to changes in criminal, civil and family law to protect women from violence and abuse; changes in police practices; changes in how our health systems respond to women victims of violence –just a few of the changes that have come about as a result of the advocacy of the women sector – all have come from the grassroots of experiences of women who have been involved in the women’s sector.
We will no longer have a women’s sector.
Why would we need organizations such as WESNET, the National Women’s Health Network, and National sexual assault services? They would be operating in a vacuum because they would have no sector to represent.
During the Howard era much of the funding directed towards non-government services came with a clause preventing services from criticizing government policy.
The most recent example – Community Women’s Legal Centres have lost funding for advocacy work.
We are in this era again.
In a neo-conservative, patriarchal era the concept of democratic critique and dissent is being destroyed.
Tim Dunlop has written in ‘Sheilas’ An Initiative of the Victorian Women’s Trust’ of the silencing of dissent and how it is being re-enacted under the present Liberal-National government.
This is not only happening at the Federal level but also at state levels.
Once these services have been lost, once women’s voices have been silenced a change in government at state or federal levels will not bring back these services.
It will take years for women to win back what we have now – and there will be no avenues which will be available for women through which women will have their voices heard. And once lost they may be difficult, perhaps even impossible, to recover.
WOMEN’S VOICES ARE BEING SILENCED – NOW, ON OUR WATCH, IN OUR TIME!