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Open letter to current and aspiring members of Federal Parliament: We’re voting to end gender-based violence

To all members and aspiring members of Federal Parliament,  

We’ve just marked the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence and the International Day of Human Rights and we need to see you address gender inequality, specifically women’s safety and the housing crisis, as a core focus of your upcoming election platforms. 

For young people in Australia violence is an ever-present part of our lives that we won’t accept being part of our future. Research by the Australian Institute of Criminology shows that throughout the pandemic there was an “alarming” increase in family violence, including in homes where it had never occurred before, with almost one in 10 women in a relationship saying they have experienced domestic violence during COVID-19. Data also shows Google searches related to family violence increased by 75 per cent during this time. 

The last few years have brought unprecedented change and challenges for young people in Australia. We have watched the collisions of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate disasters, ongoing First Nations injustices, job losses, interruptions to education, a housing crisis, and barriers to our safety not just at home, but also at school, in our places of work and in our communities. 

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve thought a lot about what we want the ‘new normal’ to be and what kind of future we need. A future where bold action is taken to end gender-based violence. We have lots of different solutions, but collectively, we believe our future governments need to drive change and leadership that promotes justice and equity for all young women and gender diverse people. 

Over 1.6 million of us are enrolled to vote. Our votes matter, and we intend to use them to create a more equal future and end violence.  

We will vote for politicians who are genuinely leading us toward the future we need. Bold leaders who will: 

  1. Prevent violence from happening in the first place – violence is preventable and ending it would save governments billions of dollars. As the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022 states “prevention is the most effective way to eliminate violence against women”. To prevent violence, active consent, respectful relationships and bystander intervention education is required not just in schools but across all community settings and workplaces, from retail outlets to Parliament. We support the call from our friends over at Fair Agenda, for a consistent approach to consent education in Australia. 

Your policy platform should include:    

  • Investing in evidence-based respectful relationships education and expert-led training on consent for educators 
  • Primary prevention efforts that are co-designed with young people  
  • Holding your colleagues accountable and working with your fellow power holders so consent understanding and legislation is consistent(ly good!) no matter what your postcode is.  
  1. Support those experiencing all forms of gender-based violence (GBV) – everyone who experiences violence deserves to be supported with what they need when they need it, including women’s specialist supports and guaranteeing safe, accessible and affordable healthcare. During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to supports and healthcare has been much harder, including access to urgent procedures that are crucial for the sexual, reproductive and mental health of victim-survivors and young people.  

Your policy platform should include:   

  • Increasing family and domestic violence leave 
  • Increasing funding to First Nations women’s specialist services and supports 
  • Investing in the full implementation of the National Plan to prevent, intervene early and respond to all forms of gender-based violence including growing the capacity of specialist women’s services, expanding clinics that provide free services, including abortion, to support the sexual and reproductive health of young people, especially in rural, regional and remote areas and offering rebates to people on temporary and student visas, who are not eligible for Medicare benefits. For more information, please see YWCA’s National Plan to End Violence submission.  
  1. Give hope of a real housing future for young people – A safe, affordable and accessible home for everyone – Housing is a human right and yet an inaccessible pipe dream for so many young people, not to mention often unimaginable for those of us experiencing discrimination, violence and other barriers, and/or who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, disabled, migrants, refugees, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQA+) and/or on low incomes. Home ownership rates for people aged under 40 are declining, part of a trend of intergenerational inequality. We need leaders who are truly committed to addressing the drivers of housing unaffordability and investing in housing as part of a critical infrastructure and COVID-19 economic recovery plan.  

Your policy platform should include: 

  • Investing in the 16,800 safe and secure houses needed for those escaping violent relationships and increasing investment in the Safe at Home programs 
  • Investing in the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement to drive more social and affordable housing supply, including accessible housing for women with disability 
  • Developing a gender-responsive National Housing Strategy 
  • Support policies that address negative gearing, stamp duty, subsidised housing, re-zoning, and rental relief. 
  1. Prioritise First Nations led justice – There will be no gender justice without racial justice – The reality for First Nations women, children and young people is when reaching out for support in response to abuse and violence, they are too often met with racism and systemic discrimination. For real systemic change and to end violence, we must prioritise the voices and leadership of First Nations experts and victim-survivors in driving transformative change. Raising the age of criminal responsibility and ending Blak deaths in custody must also be addressed. First Nations peoples are best placed to lead change to end violence in their communities as well as nationally in all formally recognised places of decision-making. 

Your policy platform should include: 

  • Working with First Nations leaders, experts and victim-survivors on a dedicated National Action Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women 
  • Increasing long-term investment in First Nations specialist services such as violence prevention and legal services 
  • How you, as an elected representative, will integrate June Oscar’s Wiyi Yani U Thangani report recommendations when consulting and representing your constituents.  
  1. Fasttrack gender equality at home and away –  Globally, gender equality is still over 135 years away. There is no doubt in our minds that Australia needs a National Gender Equality plan of our own and luckily, our friends at ERA have made a start! We want to make sure our voices are included in the discussion and to share, support and respect the self-determination of young women, women and gender diverse people around the world. YWCA members are part of a global YWCA movement and we share solidarity with our Y siblings in over 100 countries facing compounding issues of war, water access, food scarcity and loss of life prior to and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Australia was leading the world in gender equality for decades but now France, Luxembourg, Mexico and Spain have all declared feminist foreign policies and we want to catch up! 

Your policy platform should include: 

  • A National Gender Equality Plan 
  • Working with experts to explore intersectional approaches to Gender-Responsive Budgeting (GRB) 
  • Super payments for people who are not in paid work due to caring responsibilities 
  • Ensuring foreign aid support and foreign policy supports victim-survivors of gender-based violence, improves the rights, resources and representation of young women, women and gender diverse people globally. This  must be gender-responsive and built on the values of  equality, human rights and democracy 
  • Increasing the Official Development Assistance (ODA) to .5 per cent of Gross National Income (we’re currently allocating .22, below the OECD average of .3 per cent). 
  1. Urgent action on the climate crisis – Safe in our shared home  – We have seen the severe impact on Australian communities over the last few years from the climate crisis, with bushfires, floods and other catastrophic weather events becoming more severe and more frequent. The climate crisis is worsening existing inequalities, increasing gender-based violence and exacerbating the exploitation of young women, women and girls all across the world. Our neighbours in the Pacific are already impacted by rising sea levels and the situation is only getting worse. 

Your policy platform should include: 

  • Exceeding commitments from COP26; investing in renewable alternatives; financially incentivising the rollout of innovative technologies, including carbon neutral housing and transportation 
  • Investing in more women and gender diverse people in climate STEM 
  • Including young people in task forces dedicated to climate action and gender-responsiveness. 

Lead change and ensure every person can live safe and free from violence and has a safe, affordable place to call home and you have our vote. 

When we arrive at the polling stations on election day, these issues will be at the front of our minds and we will be voting for those who are committed to genuine action. 

We welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how you will be working to create a safer, equal future. You can get in touch with us via comms@ywca.org.au to meet with women’s specialist support provider YWCA Australia and signatories of this letter.

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