Enough! Women organising against Sexual and Domestic Violence

An inspiring recent forum (Setting the Agenda: Achieving Meaningful Reform for Women in NSW, 28 April 2021) organised by Jenny Leong (Greens NSW MP) – bought together a panel of mainly young women from a range of backgrounds and areas of work to discuss key issues for women. 

An inspiring recent forum (Setting the Agenda: Achieving Meaningful Reform for Women in NSW, 28 April 2021) organised by Jenny Leong (Greens NSW MP) – bought together a panel of mainly young women from a range of backgrounds and areas of work to discuss key issues for women.  

The forum came about in the wake of the allegations of sexual assault at Parliament House that surfaced earlier this year; the women’s march and increasing media attention to domestic violence and sexual assault. The forum was an opportunity to keep these issues alive. 

The panel members were:  

Erin O’Leary (Youth survivors for Justice) 

Dani Villafaña (organiser for School Strike for Climate and Girl Up) 

Saxon Mullins (Director of Advocacy at Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy), Dhanya Mani (Changing our Headline) 

Chanel Contos (Teach us Consent) 

Jaime Evans (Women’s March Sydney) 

Dr Amanda Cohn (Domestic Violence Border Network) 

Dr Karen Williams (Doctors against violence towards Women) 

For over an hour and a half participants listened to sharp critical analysis and insightful knowledge of current issues facing women in Australia today. These women are working at the forefront of practice, advocacy, campaigning and servicing in their different fields. A highlight of the forum was hearing the voices of young women who are articulate, clever and committed to bringing about social change with a focus on gender inequality.  

Throughout the forum the panel members spoke through the lens of the inter-relationship of race, class, gender and sexuality and all speakers demonstrated a high level of political analysis which centred these inter-relationship. 

Jenny organised the forum around two main questions: 

What are the shifts in your advocacy in the last few months? 


Setting the agenda – what needs to change? - a collective to do list… 

In posing the first question Jenny gave panellists the opportunity to voice their responses to the recent events including  

  • Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape at parliament house and what this exposed about the unacceptable sexual and gendered behaviour of many male politicians 
  • The unacceptable and vicious murders of women by intimate partners and ex-partners, exposing the dangers women in domestic violence face when trying to escape 
  • The extent of sexual violence against young women exposed by the recent survey conducted by Chanel Contos 

A number of the panellists highlighted race and class as points of difference for women  experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault, compounded by institutional policing responses. For example, the historical (and continuing) relationship of police with Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander women impacts the willingness of these women to report domestic violence and sexual assault within community.    

Another area of discussion was the privilege of being white. It was recognised that not enough has changed for women of colour and white women need to be aware to the space they take up that closes down the voicing of different experiences. The takeaway from this is that there is not a single way forward, we need multiple pathways to address these issues. 

In response to setting the agenda there was no shortage of suggestions for what needs to be done: 

  • Enthusiastic consent laws 
  • Resourcing women’s rape crisis centres, women’s refuges with particular attention to regional centres 
  • Recognition of coercive control as a criminal act and its significant role in domestic violence 
  • Police stations staffed by women police officers and for all police to be trained in dealing effectively with domestic and sexual violence 
  • Changing the laws that currently favour the alleged perpetrators in sexual assault cases  

It was exciting to hear how young women made the links between their campaign work in climate activism, gender and inequality issues. They strongly pointed to the links between race, class and gender and a number of times called out the evidence of white and class privilege. They also drew attention to the failure of the government to see COVID as an opportunity to address inequality, rather the government has overseen an increase in the inequality of women in the workplace which is critical to financial independence for women. 

What is very impressive about the work of the women panellists, is the day-to-day work of women, for example doctors in their surgeries (and many other areas of practice) confronting and responding to violence against women that then develops into campaigns around gendered violence. 


What’s next for SEARCH? 

How can SEARCH contribute to ongoing debates, campaigns and activities to keep up the pressure on politicians to take action against gender inequality? 

Join us for a discussion on how Search can contribute to this critical work - details of the SEARCH forum will be sent to all members.  



By Jane Durie and Jacquie Widin 

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