Conversations for change

A gathering of women at the Garden of Contemplation led to some wonderful discussions. Pictures: MIKAYLA VAN LOON.

By Mikayla Van Loon

Changing the dialogue around family violence begins with even the smallest of group discussions.

On Friday 1 December a group of women joined Japara House at the Garden of Contemplation for lunch as part of the 16 Days of Activism campaign.

Organised by Mieke Alexander, she said while the figures show a slight decline in deaths, the data doesn’t mention those that are just injured or mentally traumatised by violence at home.

“The data shows it’s improving because of all the people’s consciousness of it. But still, as of November 17, 49 women have been killed as a result of violence. 28 were life partners or intimate partners,” she said.

Aiming to gather people in the community to share, discuss and work towards a better future in a safe space like the garden, Mieke said whether it’s offering a regular support group or a children’s play day, community solutions to supporting everyone on each side of violence is important.

Having worked as a teacher for a number of years and seeing the impact of family violence particularly on children, Mieke said it is important to acknowledge them in the discussion too.

“My worry has been as a teacher…So many children I knew had terrible, terrible violence in their family, and were completely unrecognised,” she said.

“The difference is, if you’re a wife, you’ll tell your girlfriend your husband is treating you badly. If you’re a child, who was treated quite badly, and they wouldn’t tell you anything.”

While a small group of just six people, the women there were brave enough to share their own personal stories, finding solace in the community and feeling supported by others with similar experiences.

Encouraging to see this group of women, Japara’s community engagement coordinator Christie Humble said despite that, men also need to join the conversation to continue on the trajectory of improvement in this space.

One of the women who attended also said seeing her daughter becoming the “fierce” woman she is at just 23, she feels “gender equality is going to be a bit of a key to all of this to empowering young girls”.

From discussions of the failing court system to the role of coercive control, financial control and the ongoing stigma that says violence against women is ‘their fault’ came up in the conversation.

Getting a large response to the event on social media, Mieke said it shows that people care and want to share in the change but are maybe unable to give their time.

Christie said that’s why it’s important for those who do have the means to do what they can, within their own limits and capabilities.

“It takes people who are at a stage in life where they can start to think about what can we actively do, how we can actively contribute to an answer, but not all of us are going to be at that stage in our lives,” she said.

“Particularly with the pressures of the cost of living and everything else that is put on families, the increase in separations over Covid and an increase in domestic violence over Covid.

“Expecting people to be at a stage in life where they can contribute to the changes is unrealistic. That’s why it is important to have people who are at a stage to raise their voices to contribute.”

Hoping to make the lunch an annual event, between Japara and Mieke, they hope to provide support to all who may experience family violence in the community.