Together we UNiTE to End Violence Against Women and Girls
Gender Equality – through the lens of our health care workers and community partners.
Dr. Meg Freeman
What is your role?
I am the Paediatric Fellow at Ballarat Health Services. This is a senior training role in the pathway to becoming a Paediatrician.
How does family violence impact the health of women and children?
Unfortunately family violence has a profound impact on the health of women and children. We understand from our experiences in working with children who have been subject to family violence, as well as from research, that family violence can have a lasting impact on the developing brain. It can result in poor self-esteem, anxiety, behavioural and emotional difficulties and poor sleep. These challenges alone, and certainly in combination, can interfere with a child’s ability to learn and form relationships. This can then lead to a further decline in self-esteem and difficulties later as an adolescent and young adult.
How do you think COVID19 has impacted gender equality and family violence?
The COVID19 pandemic has intensified the circumstances that may lead to gender inequality and family violence. Social isolation, coupled with the emotional and financial stress of the economic down turn has created a pressure cooker environment for already at risk groups. Vulnerable women and children rely on social networks and support services that have been all but eliminated as a result of the pandemic, these include sporting clubs, religious groups, face to face work place engagement and schools. These environments provide opportunities for vulnerable women and children to be sighted as being present and well and an opportunity for offering assistance. The isolation caused by the pandemic has left women and children exposed to family violence without the protective layers of community.
There has also been limited access to psychological support services, relationship counselling and employment services. These services are pivotal in providing support, safety and guidance for women and children subject to or at risk of family violence. What is potentially more worrying though is the limited contact these same women and children have had with their family and friends whom they may rely on for support and safety. There have been missed opportunities to ask, are you ok? Can I help?
How do gender stereotypes drive violence against women?
Ending violence against women should be a priority for every Australian. Unfortunately there remain some values and gender stereotypes that allow violence against women to exist. Amongst men there is a reluctance to discuss some of the social, emotional and financial pressures that leave a family vulnerable to violence, resulting in missed opportunities for support and intervention. Asking for help with such matters may be seen as weak or shameful. Worryingly there is also a reluctance to “call out” family violence, this may be driven by cultural attitudes such as “boys will be boys” or “what happens between a man and a women is their business”. We must work together to shift these ideas, engaging both men and women in the discussion and the solution.
What does it mean to you to be an ‘active bystander’ in healthcare?
As health care professionals we have a unique insight into the complex needs of vulnerable children and their families. We must be sensitive to the signs of family violence and utilise our knowledge and skills in engaging supportive and protective services.
Advocacy for access to assessment, education, employment and therapeutic services is an essential component to the role we play in working with children. These services are key to minimising the potential harm caused by adverse childhood experiences and family violence.
I am extremely grateful for my own supportive network and education that has enabled my progress through the pathway to becoming a Paediatrician. I will endeavour to honour my role as an ‘active bystander’ in advocating for vulnerable children and their families.
What do you think the barriers are for women and children from diverse backgrounds seeking help when experiencing family violence?
While there is ongoing work in this area, my experience as a health care professional has been that there is a deficiency in culturally sensitive education. Health care services that demonstrate a lack of understanding of cultural differences will act as a deterrent for women from diverse backgrounds in accessing these same services.
Can you provide a statement to our community about your stance on gender equality and family violence?
The saying is true that it takes a village to raise a child, and so it is also true that it takes a community to keep a child, and her family, safe.