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Refuges ‘overdue’: Cases of domestic violence soar in west

9 June 2015 |  Melton Leader
WITH reports of family violence more than doubling in Melton in the past four years, a leading women’s health service is calling for a refuge to be built in the municipality. Women’s Health West, in a submission to the State Government’s Royal Commission into family violence, states that population growth in the west meant women and children fleeing family violence were facing “huge unmet needs because our region doesn’t have anywhere near the number (of) women’s refuges to accommodate them”.

Refuges ‘overdue’: Cases of domestic violence soar in west

Vale Joan Kirner AM

Today we heard the sad news about the passing of Joan Kirner AM, Victoria’s first and only woman premier. We have been sharing stories in the office and would like to repeat some here in memorial of Joan.


‘I worked in the Women’s Policy Coordination Unit in Premier’s Department in the early 1990s when Joan Kirner was Premier and I remember attending a Reclaim the Night march. Joan walked around talking to each of the women who worked in government-funded women’s agencies; she knew everyone’s names and where they worked and treated them so personally. About fifteen years later I saw Joan at a forum and figured I’d re-introduce myself but she saw me and said, “Robyn Gregory! I hear you’re at Women’s Health West and you’ve just written a PhD on abortion? You need to get that published, let’s talk about who you need to talk to…”

What always struck me about Joan was her drive to improve the lot of all women. She truly embodied the phrase “the personal is political”. Her great skill was to remember women, to support them to lead work and collaborate to change the conditions for all, and then to go about the task of linking them together. It was never about Joan; never about ego; it was always about equity and justice for women. She inspired us at Women’s Health West – as a passionate “westy” and a great leader.’
– Robyn Gregory, CEO WHW

‘The WHW crisis accommodation refuge property is named after Joan – called ‘Joan’s Place’. This is still its official name in all our dealings with Department of Health Human Services (DHHS). We have a wonderful photo of the opening of Joan’s Place taken with her and the original board (in the early 80s) on the wall at the property.’
– Sophie Campbell, WHW Crisis Accommodation Services Coordinator

PreventingViolencelaunch - CopyIn 2010 we were delighted when Joan agreed to launch Preventing Violence Together, the western region action plan to prevent violence against women. She’s pictured at the launch with members of the Western Region Preventing Violence Against Women Working Group

‘I was lucky enough to hear speeches from this amazing woman. A number of years ago she was at the launch of Preventing Violence Together. She was not able to get onto the stage at that time due to illness but she held the room from where she stood with a speech inspiring all. When most would have looked at taking it easy and retiring, the lists of what she was involved in at the time was daunting. I also remember when she was in state politics many years ago and the flak she received from the media and the boys club that was politics at the time. She rose above all and did not receive the credit she deserved. She is one of the many women who have inspired me to advocate for women and children.’
– Evelyn, WHW Family Violence Worker 

Robyn Gregory and Joan Kirner with the history book

We were proud to have Joan introduce WHW’s 21 year history book, REtroSPECT. Joan ended her introduction to the book with congratulations to Women’s Health West’s on 21 years, and a ‘birthday wish’. It seems appropriate to use her own words to conclude this memorial, as surely this was also her wish, and captures the zeal that stands as her legacy. Vale Joan Kirner AM.

‘And now for a twenty-first birthday wish. Let’s mark this occasion by making new commitments to achieving even greater advances in gender equity, diversity, social inclusion and the elimination of poverty for women over the next twenty-one years.
We know we can do it’.
– Joan Kirner, AM

AGM and REtroSPECT launch, November 2009

20 recommendations for the Royal Commission into Family Violence

“Family violence is the most significant problem confronting our community with widespread detrimental social, health, economic and other effects”
– Commissioner the Hon. Marcia Neave AO

Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence has twelve months to develop recommendations that will influence generational change to prevent and respond to family violence. The commission is using various means to collect information to inform its work, including a call for written submissions, the deadline for which is 29 May 2015.

Women’s Health West welcomes the commission’s focus on sustainable, system-wide improvements that build on achievements to date. We are especially pleased that the Victorian Government has promised to accept all of the commission’s recommendations.

Drawing on years of experience working in both response and prevention, we worked with staff, board and partners to develop a submission. These are Women’s Health West’s 20 key recommendations for the overall approach to family violence response and prevention, for an integrated and coordinated response system, and for measuring and evaluating our efforts. To read the complete submission, and other collaborative submissions we support or were involved in, visit our submissions page.

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Recommendation 1. The continuation of system-wide improvements to Victoria’s family violence system must be achieved through the completion and embedding of the reform agenda and integration process that have been in place for almost a decade and for which there is mounting evidence of achievement and success.

Recommendation 2. As an immediate priority, there must be stand-alone, long-term policy, comprising an overarching strategic framework and shorter-term action plans, to guide the completion and embedding of Victoria’s family violence reform agenda and integration process. This policy must be for a minimum of 20 years with five-yearly reviews. This policy must have
bi-partisan commitment so it can withstand successive governments.

Recommendation 3. As an immediate priority, there must be established appropriate cross-ministerial governance arrangements to provide an authorising environment for the completion and embedding of Victoria’s family violence reform agenda and regional integration process.

Recommendation 4. As an immediate priority, there must be adequate long-term funding of the family violence system to complete and embed Victoria’s reform and integration efforts; and this resourcing must be able to keep up with the progress that is expected to continue across the state for some time, with progress indicated by increases in service demand and police referrals, and the ongoing innovations (whether statewide or regionally) that enable reform and integration.

Recommendation 5. Supporting legislation must be introduced as a key element of continuing family violence reform and integration to underpin the establishment and embedding of a world’s best practice integrated family violence system for Victoria.

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Recommendation 6. As an immediate priority, there must be stand-alone, long-term and evidence-informed policy to guide Victorian primary prevention programming, partnerships and the development of its workforce. The policy could comprise an overarching strategic framework with accompanying shorter-term action plans. The policy must be for at least 20 years, with five-yearly reviews. The policy must be whole-of-government and whole-of-community; and it must be developed with bi-partisan support so it can withstand successive governments.

Recommendation 7. As an immediate priority, there must be adequate long-term funding for the implementation of evidence-based primary prevention initiatives under the new policy, including funding for Victoria’s women’s health services to continue to coordinate and facilitate regional action plans, and funding for the delivery of settings-specific programs such as best practice respectful relationships education in schools. Resourcing commitments to Victorian primary prevention must be separate to and over and above that for Victoria’s family violence response system, and must be assured for the lifetime of the policy.

Recommendation 8. Appropriate governance arrangements must be immediately formed to oversee implementation of the new policy, maintain its primary prevention focus and assure monitoring and accountability. All structures formed must involve high-level representation from across government departments and the community.

Recommendation 9. There must be strong government leadership on the achievement of gender equity at the societal level through strategies that will ultimately render violence against women – and family violence – as no longer conceivable across Victoria, in communities and organisations, and interpersonally.

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Recommendation 10. There must be continued resourcing and support of Victoria’s family violence system to improve its capacity to respond in consistently appropriate ways to the family violence experiences of diverse groups in the population. There must also be initiatives implemented for Victoria’s family violence system to support shared understandings of children’s risks and needs, and shared frameworks for responding to these.

Recommendation 11. Victoria’s reform agenda and integration process must continue to recognise and support the unique role of women-centred specialist family violence services – their experience, expertise and the way they organise their work.

Recommendation 12. Several more women’s refuges must be funded for Melbourne’s west, especially its growth areas of Wyndham and Melton, to match current population realities and future population trends.

Recommendation 13. There must be a coherent statewide housing policy and scheme introduced that can provide women leaving family violence with more options for safe, affordable and secure housing than currently exist – from social housing to private rental to home ownership options. Government leadership and investment is essential here.

Recommendation 14. There must be continued investment in police and courts initiatives to support the family violence specialisation that has been a hallmark of these two statutory service providers since the beginning of Victoria’s reform agenda and integration process.

Recommendation 15. Government must take steps to redress the pay inequities that exist in the family violence sector.

Recommendation 16. Capital funds must be made available to ensure family violence services are able to secure affordable and accessible premises from which to deliver services.

Recommendation 17. There must be greater emphasis placed upon systems-level mechanisms for holding perpetrators to account, including (but not limited to) the use of corrections more swiftly and consistently to change the behaviour of men who use violence.

Recommendation 18. There must be a review of all current data systems and the introduction of a single, improved system that can hold the information needed for an integrated and coordinated family violence response.

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Recommendation 19. As an enabler of continued family violence reform and integration, a well-funded and well-designed research project must be undertaken to establish the most meaningful measures of systems-wide improvements in the context of reform and integration over the next 20 years. The findings of this research should then inform an overarching monitoring framework comprising agreed and shared measures of family violence system improvements. Efficient data systems need to be established; and the family violence system should be supported and resourced to undertake all measuring and monitoring activities.

Recommendation 20. As an immediate priority, there must be adequate resourcing for best practice evaluations of all initiatives under the new policy for Victorian primary prevention (Recommendation 6). This includes funding for Victoria’s women’s health services to lead the development of proxy indicators that can determine the value of women’s health service led regional action plans (Recommendation 7).

Women’s Health West would also like to highlight our support for and involvement in the following collaborative submissions:
– The Western Integrated Family Violence Partnership
– The Preventing Violence Together Partnership
– The Women’s Health Association of Victoria
– Our Watch: ‘Getting serious about change: the building blocks for effective primary prevention of men’s violence against women in Victoria’
– ‘Family violence, homelessness and affordable housing – a joint submission’

The commission is due to deliver its report and recommendations by the end of February 2016.

Working for reconciliation: Sorry Day commemoration

Deadly-HealthSome of the participants of the ‘Deadly Health’ sexual health and respectful relationships half-day education session with Aboriginal young people in Melton. Photo by Amanda Wimetal

Adapted from a speech by Robyn Gregory

On 26 May every year, ceremonies, marches, speeches and presentations are held around the country to commemorate Sorry Day, the day on which Australians express regret for the oppression of Aboriginal people, including the systematic removal of children from their families.

The first National Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998, one year after the tabling of the report Bring them Home, which outlined the extent and impact of the stolen generation. Following Kevin Rudd’s apology in 2008, Sorry Day gained a more formal strength that was missing with John Howard’s refusal to issue a formal apology.

Since the first Sorry Day the focus has been on the healing needed throughout Australian society if we are to achieve reconciliation. It is an opportunity for organisations such as ours to report back on what we are doing to work towards reconciliation.

Here at Women’s Health West (WHW), we have developed a Foundational Reconciliation Plan (January-June 2015), designed to lay the foundations for a comprehensive Reconciliation Action Plan. That work will be consultative and shaped by the recommendations of our local Aboriginal communities, Elders and community controlled organisations, as well as staff, clients and community women.

However, WHW recognises that before seeking to develop respectful and reciprocal relationships with local Elders and communities, we must publicly recognise the past and ongoing injustices perpetrated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

We must also begin building our organisation’s capacity for understanding and engaging in the work of reconciliation. We see this action as the foundation on which respectful and meaningful partnerships and relationships can be built to ‘close the gap’ in health outcomes for first nations communities.

Here are some examples of ways we are working to build our capacity as an organisation towards reconciliation with first nation peoples:

  • Our health promotion and family violence managers conducted a ‘Making two worlds work’ cultural audit of Women’s Health West in April. The results will be used to inform the four-year Reconciliation Plan.
  • WHW was approached by DHS in late November 2014 to auspice funding for the Indigenous Family Violence Regional Action Group. The funds, which must be held and distributed by an incorporated body, support the business of the IFVRAG in educating, preventing, reducing and responding to family violence in Indigenous communities. We were pleased to be approached and to be able to assist.
  • WHW, in partnership with the Wulumperi Sexual Health Unit, the Department of Education’s Koori Engagement Unit and the Secondary School Nursing Program, delivered a sexual health and respectful relationships half-day education session with 13 Aboriginal young people in Melton. This ‘Deadly Health’ event will be held in Wyndham in early June and is a bi-annual activity for our health promotion team.
  • WHW hosted a meeting in April between the Preventing Violence Together Partnership and members of the West Metro Indigenous Family Violence Regional Action Group. The meeting was held to develop a series of recommendations about the primary prevention of family violence within Aboriginal communities, for inclusion in the PVT Partnership’s submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
  • Cross-cultural training will be provided for staff and board at the end of June on developing culturally-appropriate solutions to the difficulties confronting Indigenous people in a way that empowers individuals and communities to look to the future.
  • Our new policy development worker, who has extensive experience in working with Indigenous communities, will support the completion of the Foundational Plan before beginning the process of developing a four-year Reconciliation Plan. This plan will be developed in close consultation with staff, the board, and Elders and community members.

For personal inspiration on reconciliation you might like to watch BabaKiueria – a satirical film from 1986 that is unfortunately still relevant 30 years later. You might also watch Paul Keating’s Redfern speech, which he made as Prime Minister on 10 December 1992 to mark the Year of Indigenous People.

Five programs for diversity and inclusion

Happy World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development! It’s a bit of a mouthful but, long story short, May 21 is a day for remembering to celebrate our differences, deepen our understanding of diverse cultures, and learn to live together better.

On this day we are encouraged to ‘Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion’ – take concrete action as individuals and as organisations to support diversity. At Women’s Health West, one of our guiding principles is to value the diversity of our region and work to actively recognise and respect women’s diverse strengths, experiences and goals. Here are our top five practical programs promoting diversity and inclusion.

1. Financial literacy program for women from newly-arrived communities

This program aims to help women understand Australian financial systems and their social and economic rights. Together with Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre, we ran this program with Eritrean women in February and March, and there’ll be another program run for Ethiopian women later this year.

‘Because of this course, I have confidence now’ – Eritrean participant

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2. Culturally and linguistically diverse crisis housing program

This program is a family violence case management service supporting women with diverse backgrounds to access culturally appropriate crisis accommodation. In 2013-14, we assisted 53 women and 97 children from a variety of backgrounds across the western region. Women from more than twenty different countries were represented.

‘Without your encouragement and support for my family violence situation and helping me and my children move into a permanent house, I would not be able to live in a family violence free situation’ – Woman assisted through the CALD housing program

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3. Lead On Again leadership program

This program for culturally and linguistically diverse young women supports participants to build skills, knowledge and capacity to be community leaders. Together with the Western Young People’s Independent Network we recently ran our tenth successful year of the program, with a mix of young women from Thailand, Sierra Leone, China, Sudan, Chile, Burma and Ethiopia.

‘Lead On Again has changed me and got me believing in myself more, it’s also got me interested in planning events and being a better leader and much more…’ – Lead On Again 2015 participant

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4. Family and Reproductive Rights Education Program

This program works to ensure culturally appropriate services are available to women affected by female genital mutilation/cutting. We work in both community education to raise awareness and improve access to services, and in professional development to help healthcare professionals to respond appropriately to women who are affected.

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5. Our Community, Our Rights

This program is designed to build recently arrived women’s understanding, skills and confidence in the areas of human rights, civic participation and advocacy. We recently launched a series of short films where some of the past participants reflect on their experiences as human rights advocates in their communities. And there are fact sheets with ideas for how to design culturally responsive projects, and how to advocate for human rights in specific situations.

‘I believe that knowing your rights is really precious for your physical, emotional wellbeing and safety.’ – 2013 participant

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These are just some of the ways we work hard to bring about a world where diversity is valued. To find out more about any of these programs, check out our annual report, call 9689 9588 or send us an email!