June has been a month of weekly Zoom meetings and visiting other people’s homes glimpsed from my computer. This report covers meetings I have attended during June.
National Council of Women of Victoria
National Council of Women of Victoria (NCWV) Zoom meeting was held on 4 June. The main agenda item was a briefing on the The impact of COVID 19 on family violence by Julie Kun, CEO WIRE, Women’s Information Referral Exchange (WIRE) www.wire.org.au. Located at 372 Spenser Street, Melbourne. WIRE is Victoria’s only free support, referral and information service on any issue for women, gender diverse and non-binary people. Julie outlined the impact of COVID 19 on family violence and how WIRE is working remotely to support clients. Julie explained that COVID-19 lockdown, has meant that many women are constantly close to their abuser. Staying at home can mean that there is no release of stress and finding a private and safe place to make a call for help can be difficult.
Also, it has become clear that some men are using COVID-19 pandemic to exert control over their partner by saying that she cannot leave the house. Victoria Police are assisting by randomly visiting women known to be under threat. These visits have been helpful however, they have also alerted abusers that their behaviour has been reported.
Julie noted that 320,000 women have lost jobs and are in financial stress, especially if they do not qualify for JobKeeper. This also applies to women on bridging visas, international students and non-citizens.
She said that abusers believe that “they can cause harm without any consequents and feel entitled to decide on family finances”. To assist women manage their finances during the pandemic, Wire website provides information on the federal government’s financial support and offers phone counselling.
In addition, wire is currently developing a financial training webinar to be delivered without face-to-face contact.
Julie stated that to produce behavioural change in violent men, “we need to focus on violence prevention at an early age”, citing the benefits of ‘Respectful Relationships’ program in Victorian schools. She also mentioned that WIRE has developed a program called ‘Lead for Change’ that instructs volunteers how to become leaders of change so that they can challenge attitudes that condone violence against women.
WIRE has also produced a 27-hour training program for the Victorian Education Department on how to support victims of partner violence. This program is delivered in Community Houses.
NCWV President, Elisabeth Newman thanked Julie for her presentation and noted that NCWV was instrumental in the creation of WIRE in 1984.
United Nations Association of Australia, Victoria, Status of Women Committee meeting 9 June 2020
Guest speaker Mmaskepe Sejoe, Principal Consultant at Human Rights Work, spoke about Covid-19 in Botswana. Mmaskepe said that Africa has had lots of experience with dealing with pandemics including TB and HIV AIDS and that at the early signs of the pandemic the public was already educated about the need to isolate.
The Republic of Botswana in southern Africa, is an upper middle-income country with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies founded on mining, cattle and tourism. Prosperity has allowed the building of well-maintained infrastructure and a well-functioning health system.
Mmaskepe mentioned that the government responded quickly to the presence of Covid-19 by introducing a multilayered strategy:
- The population was locked down early in the spread of the infection
- Social workers were engaged to check that households had enough food and food packages were provided where necessary.
- Health checks and mental illness support were provided in a timely manner.
- Radio, TV, phone messaging and social media resources in a variety of languages were used to spread health warnings.
- Boarders were closed and food was sourced from local growers rather than imported by truck from other African countries.
- Police set up roadblocks to stop sex workers spreading the virus.
- Medical clinics for sex workers were set up in villages.
- Social welfare workers ensured that old people were visited, and their health monitored.
- Social distancing was enforced by allowing young people one hour a day to shop for their needs
- The population was encouraged to report anyone breaking health instructions.
Mmaskepe Sejoe was born in Botswana. She stated that Botswana has no single sex schools, no gendered language and it has the third highest number of women leaders in the world.
Community Liaison WIZO Australia