Together we UNiTE to End Violence Against Women and Girls

Gender Equality – through the lens of our health care workers and community partners.

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Denise O'Dowd

Family Violence Team Senior Manager, Berry Street

What is your role?

I am the Senior Manager of the Family Violence team at Berry Street. We provide a range of interventions and support services to women, LGBTIQ+ people and their children who have experienced family violence. We assist women, LGBTIQ+ people and their children to remain safely within their community wherever possible, whilst also addressing the emotional and practical impacts of the violence they have experienced.  We also provide various services for people who have used abusive behaviours in their relationships.


I am also the Deputy Chair of the Central Highlands Integrated Family Violence Committee (CHIFVC). The CHIFVC membership is comprised of Victorian Government funded family violence services and we who work together to improve the safety of women and children experiencing family violence. The integrated system includes both specialist support services such as outreach case support, counselling, refuge and referral services, and statutory service providers including Victoria Police.

How does family violence impact the health of women and children?

The choice to perpetrate family violence against women and children has a profound and long-term toll on victim-survivor’s health, wellbeing and relationships.  As well as on broader families, communities and our society as a whole. You only have to look at the statistics from the Our Watch website to see the impact the family violence epidemic has across Australia: 


  • Intimate partner family violence is the third greatest health risk factor for women aged 25-44, with the first being childhood abuse and neglect.

  • Perpetrators of family violence cause an average of three women each week to be hospitalised with a traumatic brain injury.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 35 times as likely to be hospitalised due to family violence assaults as non-Indigenous women.

  • Based on 2015 analysis, perpetrators of violence against women cost the Australian economy $21.7 billion each year.

  • Women who have family violence perpetrated against them during pregnancy, are three times as likely to experience depression than other women.

  • The perpetration of family violence is a leading driver of women becoming homeless.

  • Police report children to be present at one in every three occasions in which they respond to a person using family violence.


How do you think COVID19 has impacted gender equality and family violence?

Covid-19 is having an unprecedented impact across the community and on community services.  People choosing to commit family violence are doing so at greater rates, and social distancing, quarantine and associated increases in isolation are exacerbating the risks of harm. Additionally, the increased exposure, opportunity and external stressors on individual and family functioning appear to have exacerbated people’s surveillance and coercive control, making it difficult for many victim survivors to safely phone specialist family violence services. For example, with the closure of schools, and healthcare providers move to predominantly telehealth options etc, it will be more difficult for these services to recognise and respond to indicators of family violence.

How do gender stereotypes drive violence against women?

Knowing that gender inequality is a key driver of family violence, we want to see a future where gender equality is the norm. Family violence is overwhelmingly committed by men against women and children, and with more severe impacts.


Factors relating to gender inequality are the most consistent predictors of violence against women. The gendered drivers of violence against women include:


  • Condoning of violence against women

  • Men’s control of decision-making

  • Stereotypes about masculinity and femininity

  • Disrespect towards women and male peer relations that emphasise aggression.

  • Around 95% of all victims of violence in Australia report a male perpetrator 

  • Women are 5 x more likely than men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence 

  • Women are 5 x more likely to report fearing for their lives as a result of intimate partner violence 

  • Victorian Police Incident data indicates 75% of affected family members (victims) are female 

  • Four out of five intimate partner homicides involve a man killing his female partner 

What does it mean to you to be an ‘active bystander’ in healthcare?

We are all required to be Active Bystanders, to meet our social responsibilities in the prevention of violence against women and children. We can each do this not only responding directly to victim-survivors and perpetrators, but challenging the attitudes and norms, behaviours, institutional environments and power inequalities which feed into violence against women and children.

What do you think the barriers are for women and children from diverse backgrounds seeking help when experiencing family violence?

Women from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds face additional barriers, such as:

  • social prejudices and stereotypes

  • limited access to specialised services, especially in regional and rural areas

  • limited or isolated support networks and extended family support

  • limited understanding about Australian law and their rights and access to means to understand these structures

  • lack of knowledge about housing, income and support services and access to means to understand these structures

  • poverty, lack of access to health care or income support, and no option to work (if they were sponsored to come to Australia or hold a limited rights visa)

  • fear of becoming isolated from their community

  • risking future Australian residency or entitlements (this is especially common among women on temporary or spouse visas)

  • deportation and the risk of worse persecution back in her own country

  • use of interpreters from their community and concerns about confidentiality.


Can you provide a statement to our community about your stance on gender equality and family violence?

We all have a role to play in addressing the intersectional drivers of family violence and fostering a more equal society. We can challenge rigid gender stereotypes about the capabilities and social roles of men and women, as well as intersectional factors such as race, sexuality and poverty. We can address barriers and promote equity in our home and workplaces. We can be active bystanders and promote pro-social behaviours. Challenging inequality and creating more respectful communities benefits everyone.