Page 462 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 16 February 2005

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they can comfortably serve; ask security guards on the university campuses where women are warned not to walk alone after dark. It seems ridiculous in our enlightened society that we still have to defend interventions on behalf of women and girls, who have a grave vulnerability to sexual and other forms of violence. This is not to deny that some boys and some men are at risk as well, but we note that it is often on the grounds of their sexuality or the perpetrator’s perception of their sexuality.

One of the features of having the kind of government that we have nationally is the attack on many hard-line advances. For instance, indigenous people are suffering from the Howard government’s successful undoing of policy and political machinery which has been slowly developed over years. It is my sense that women and girls are also suffering from the Howard government’s approach on a number of issues: first, the family, where one form—the diminishing one of mother, father and children all living in the same house—is privileged over every other form. If we are not careful we will be going back to the old ideas that domesticity is sacrosanct and what happens in the home is no-one else’s business. This situation implicitly sanctions domestic violence.

Second, the defunding of women’s organisations federally has made it difficult for many groups to continue their work in countering gender violence and assisting the victims of it. This puts the onus on states and territories to make up the shortfall. I am glad to see the ACT government doing its bit in funding such activities by, for example, setting up the Betty Searle House for older women escaping violence. I understand that Betty’s place has unfortunately been quite busy, indicating that there is still unmet need for support services for women leaving violent homes.

Breaking the cycle of domestic violence is a societal problem, and the provision of shelter and refuge should be considered a necessary but a short-term solution. Victims of violence need somewhere to go after leaving refuges, and the shortage of transitional accommodation and government housing for the longer term has been emphasised over and over again in this chamber.

In the December sitting week, Zed Seselja spoke about a crisis in masculinity, implying that this is a result of women’s games. I believe that this is a furphy and adds to the unnecessary conflict between feminists and others. Social change is happening so rapidly that traditional masculine and feminine roles are no longer appropriate. I do not believe that appointing a minister for men would do more than set up an absurd conflict between that minister and the Minister for Women fighting for scarce funds for their various constituencies. Such a proposal is based upon the false assumption that men’s and women’s interests are opposed, not synergistic. We all benefit from a society where the human rights of all people are respected.

To find long-term solutions to the problems of violence against women and of boys and men failing to succeed in traditional masculine areas, we need to look at the context of their relationships and of societal pressures that provide women and men with unrealistic goals. Bob Connell, who has been studying issues related to gender and masculinities for many years, says:

Violence against women, homophobic violence, and racist violence have common roots in violent men’s beliefs in hierarchy, narrow conceptions of masculinity and anxieties about their own status.

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