On 28 October I attended the COAG summit on violence against women in Brisbane. This ground breaking summit brought together Australia’s heads of government with experts across a range of disciplines addressing violence against women. I was invited to attend by the ACT government to represent women with disabilities.
Each state and territory invited key non-government experts in their jurisdiction to attend. The Federal, ACT and Queensland governments invited 1 woman with disability each, so there were 3 women with disabilities present within the 190 delegates to the summit.
Women with disabilities experience half of the reported cases of violence against women in the ACT (ABS) and this level is similar across all jurisdictions. Yet only 3 women with disabilities were invited to attend the summit, and disability was buried within a discussion group looking at diverse experiences of violence which included violence against men. Despite feeling marginalised and silenced I worked closely with long-time colleague Carolyn Frohmader of Women with Disabilities Australia to put the many concerns of women with disabilities on the table and to have them considered as solutions were proposed.
The summit commenced with each first minister outlining what measures had been undertaken in their state/territory to address violence against women. Most governments focus exclusively on domestic violence rather than the broader issue of violence as outlined in CEDAW obligations. Violence against women with disabilities combines both gender based violence with disability violence and discrimination, what is known as multiple disadvantage or intersectionality, and is often outside legal definitions of domestic violence so women with disabilities are often forgotten or marginalised by government policies. This unfortunately happened again at the COAG summit although we succeeded in having some key conversations with influencers, including some state premiers, about what needs to be done to address this.
During the summit the third action plan to address violence against women was launched. These action plans are the implementation strategies for the National Action Plan which is now in its sixth year. Women with disabilities are one of four key priority areas for the National Plan, but once again little has been outlined to meaningfully address the levels of violence experienced by them. There is stronger language in the third action plan, but there is still no real commitment by the federal government to back this with action.
Until violence against women with disabilities is considered a high priority issue and is addressed specifically by government policies, the levels of violence will remain high. No government in Australia has yet made this commitment or outlined strategies, except Victoria which held a royal commission into the violence experienced by people with disabilities and is now implementing its recommendations.
Christina Ryan attended the COAG violence against women summit with funding support from the ACT government.