I feel lucky to have a voice where thousands of women do not. I only have a voice because I’m educated, white, middle class…and Luke is dead. – Rosie Batty
Rosie Batty has spoken at hundreds of events this year, and turned down invitations to speak at hundreds more. As Australian of the Year for 2015 and the face of the revived campaign to eliminate violence against women, her voice has been more powerful, more present, and more pervasive than anyone, most of all herself, could have imagined.
I was amazed but not surprised last week when I saw her speak in Canberra for an event organised by UN Women. Amazed, but not surprised, at how genuine her words were, how strong she seemed, how she did not wallow in the tragedy of her own situation but rather used her voice to give a voice to so many women who are silent.
Rosie has spent 2015 as an advocate for real, measurable action on family violence and has raised an unprecedented level of awareness around the depth of the issue. Two things she said when I saw her last week really stood out to me, as someone who works to further gender equity in organisations: firstly, that family violence is fundamentally an issue of gender equity. “It’s about power, and control”, Rosie said. The power that men are so used to having over women, which can manifest as violence when left unchecked or when challenged. Gender stereotyping in the office, inequity in our pay checks, harassment on the streets, violence in our homes, all have a fundamental core of gender inequity. One of Rosie’s suggestions was to encourage training in recognising unconscious bias so that we can all, men and women, see when we are falling into gendered biases.
Secondly, Rosie made it clear that family violence is a workplace issue. Increasing understanding of this fact can largely be attributed to Rosie’s work, as well as that of former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who said this: “Domestic and family violence is a workplace issue. Having domestic/family violence as a new protected attribute in anti-discrimination legislation can provide another avenue of protection for victims and survivors who experience discrimination, as well as lead to improved measures for addressing domestic/family violence.” When one in three Australian women will experience domestic violence in their lives, and the majority of those women participate in the workforce, it is easy to see how violence can impact on the workplace and organisations.
The Australian Human Rights Commission states that family violence has a broad effect on organisations, including decreased staff productivity and higher staff turnover, as well its devastating impact on individuals. Women experiencing violence find it difficult to get to work and to perform well when they are there, reporting that they feel distracted, tired, or unwell. Many need to take time off for speaking with police, medical appointments, or court dates, and often do not have access to sufficient paid leave to do so.
Ensuring that organisations see the value in addressing family violence, through rhetoric as well as policies such as domestic violence leave and anti-discrimination policy, is essential to tackling what is a deeply ingrained societal problem. Employers are in a unique position to both help their staff see past gendered biases and support gender equity, as well as support their employees who are most in need.