Women’s only police stations to combat violence against women

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by Professor Kerry Carrington 

On International Women’s Day 8 March 2015 it is timely to reflect on Australia’s progress on addressing violence against women. The data shows persistent increases in the incidence of domestic violence  –  although this could mean an increase in reporting, rather than an increase in violence. A variety of measures reveal that domestic violence is a chronic problem accounting for 44% of homicides in Qld from 2006 to 2012.

The recently released Qld Taskforce report Not Now Not Ever made 140 recommendations designed to combat the persistent problem of domestic and family violence. While there are many worthwhile suggestions here, one obvious one has been overlooked – women’s only police stations.

Brazil was the first country to establish women’s only police stations in 1985 and now has 485. Since then, women’s only police stations have spread across Latin America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru, and Uruguay. These are specialist police stations that deal exclusively with female victims of sexual and domestic violence. Female police officers are specially trained in how to sensitively address women’s experience of violence. Evaluations have found they enhance women’s willingness to report, increase the likelihood of conviction and enlarge access to a range of other services such as counselling, contraception, legal, financial and social support. Women’s only police are being introduced in other parts of the world, including India, Philippines, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uganda. Given their effectiveness, United Nations Women is encouraging other countries to consider the success of women’s only police stations. Perhaps it’s time Queensland, indeed Australia, looked to these examples from unlikely parts of the globe.

Why have Latin American women’s groups been so effective? I believe the key to their success has been the high participation rate of women in politics and their ability to work together through Los Encuentros. These are annual meetings that bring together a diverse array of women’s and feminist agencies and organistions with the aim of enhancing women’s  justice and equality. Women have met every year for the last 22 years, more formally as Encuentro Feministas since 2001, to plan how they can tackle the problems women face across the vast South American continent.  Collectively they have lobbied for the governments of South America to introduce women only police stations and other measures that assist the victims of domestic violence.

Latin America women’s participation in the political sphere is among the highest in the world, at 38% of MPs. This is higher than women’s participation in politics in the United States and Australia. Women in Australia have a long way to go to in terms of political representation.

Women in politics and public life are subject to systemic ridicule and belittling – the most recent being the unwarranted attacks on Gillian Triggs, the President of the Human Rights Commission. Who could forget the ‘ditch the witch’ campaign and unrelenting hammering of Julia Gillard, Australia’s first Prime Minister, and her brilliant heartfelt speech about sexism and mysogny that went viral.There are only two female Ministers in the LNP coalition Australian cabinet.

The new Qld Labor Government led by Annastacia Palaszczuk has a female deputy (Jackie Tradd) and more female ministers (8) than male (6) and an Indigenous woman, Leeanne Enoch, as minister for housing and public works. This historic cabinet is a fine first for Australia and provides hope that things just might be improving for women in politics. It is cause for celebration on International Women’s Day 2015. Let’s hope this historic cabinet look outwards and sidewards to Latin America for examples of innovative ways to address violence against women.

Professor Kerry Carrington is Head of the School of Justice, Faculty of Law QUT and author of Feminism and Global Justice, Routledge, (2015).

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