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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Emma Leehane

Team Leader, Aboriginal Health Team Leader

What is your role?
I am currently the Team Leader of the BHS Aboriginal Health Team.

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

Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from family violence and almost 11 times more likely to be killed as a result of violent assault. Aboriginal women have been identified as the most legally disadvantaged group in Australia.


In Victoria, Family violence incidents against Aboriginal people appears to be escalating. Across Victoria, police reports of family violence against Aboriginal women and children have tripled in less than a decade.


Family violence can affect physical and mental health, and can lead to social and community issues, including homelessness. Some of the effects for victims of family violence include: physical injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy complications, miscarriage and maternity-related depression. Mental Health is also greatly impacted so of the effects are- isolation from community and family, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm and substance abuse. On top of this Aboriginal people are dealing with the complexities of Trans Generational Trauma. This trauma is maladaptive behaviors and patterns that are passed down from parents to children then passed to the children’s children. The concern is that those suffering form Trans Generational Trauma become immune to the severity of Family Violence and it becomes normalised behavior. This greatly impacts on the individual, their family and the community.


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

Women have been even more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their economic insecurity. Women have a higher representation in roles such as health care, retail, hospitality childcare and education – more women have been exposed to the virus as a result of their work.


By far women have been the main gender effected by the virus. Many have either been exposed to it through their work in heathcare and education, or have been stood down from their work in retail and hospitality. Partner this stress of still being required to care for and educate their children at home, the impact on mental health and the effect on their economic situation will have had to have caused a long term impact.


COVID 19 lockdowns have placed women and children at greater risk of family violence situations.  Those already affected by family violence would have been at risk of an increase family violence behaviour and for some women and children the impact of COVID19 may have ignited family violence behaviour for the first time.

How do gender stereotypes drive violence against women?

Gender stereotypes fix societies beliefs and assumptions that men and women are naturally suited to different tasks and responsibilities or have likes, dislikes, desires, interests and abilities that aren't based on their individual personalities but their gender.


We are all gender socialised from the time we are born. These gender norms become internalised and established as part of the 'natural order' of life. For example the belief that women should be nurturing, 'lady-like', demure, sexually appealing and overall the “weaker sex”, means women and girls often feel pressure to behave in certain ways to meet these expectations. People who support such stereotypes are  likely to approve and uphold attitudes that excuse, minimise and/or justify violence against women.

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

Active bystanders are individuals not directly in the incident. However, an active bystander does speak out about and/or engage others in responding against inappropriate behaviours.


In healthcare our response as an active bystander is to engage with the victim and upon receiving consent, engage services that can assist in reducing or preventing derogatory behavior.

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

A range of barriers inhibit the ability of people from diverse backgrounds to access the family violence system. Such barriers include:

  • a misunderstanding of the concept of family violence

  • lack of knowledge of Australian law and available services

  • language and literacy issues

  • cultural and religious issues

  • fear and/or mistrust of government and law enforcement agencies

  • social isolation

  • visa dependency

  • lack of cultural competency

  • poor interpreting services



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

Family violence in our community is unacceptable. Everyone has the right to be free from harm and to live without fear of violence or abuse. Violence against women and their children is preventable. Violence against women has been shown to be significantly and consistently lower in countries where women’s economic, social and political rights are equal to their male counterparts.


Preventing such violence is a matter of national urgency, and can only be achieved if we all work together. All victims need compassionate and highly responsive support. Don’t remain silent- CALL IT OUT!