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How local government can help prevent violence against women

How local government can help prevent violence against women

local government

Originally published in the December 2017 edition of The Advocate

As recommended by the Royal Commission into Family Violence, all Victorian councils are now required to articulate how they will help reduce family violence in their community. Recommendation 94 enshrines what many workers in the primary prevention of violence against women (PVAW) and local government sectors already know: local government is critical in driving the change needed to prevent violence against women and to embed gender equity and respect into local communities.

Councils work with people across all life stages and across a number of settings, such as health and community services, arts, sports and recreation, education and care settings and public spaces. Councils are a major employer within their municipality, providing them with a unique opportunity to embed primary prevention in their communities through civic leadership, service provision, policies, work practices and community engagement. Over the last decade, councils across Victoria have been taking action at the local level to address the drivers of violence against women as set out in the national prevention framework, Change the Story.

It would be hard to talk about prevention of violence against women in the local government space without talking to Kellie Nagle, Policy Adviser for Prevention of Violence against Women at the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) since 2011. The position is, in Kellie’s words, “a networking position that links councils to each other and to the broader PVAW system.”

For the last six years, Kellie has convened quarterly network meetings which attract dozens of workers from across the state to share learnings and challenges and stay up to date on primary prevention. But her role is much more than simply linking local government PVAW workers to each other. The scope of Kellie’s role has expanded since the RCFV, and Kellie’s role is now seen as a conduit for state government and other services to keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening in the PVAW space in local government.

Councils working in a deliberate and coordinated way on this issue is a relatively new development. Prior to the MAV Policy Adviser role, Kellie began her work in local government at Darebin City Council in 2007 as the Family Violence Project Coordinator where it was her role to “explore if councils had a role in family violence.” This was when Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon introduced major family violence reforms in Victoria Police, which led to a spike in reporting of violence against women. Suddenly each council had a clearer picture of the rates of family violence in their communities, and the data was sobering. VicHealth had released their ground-breaking 2004 report, The Health Costs of Violence: Measuring the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence which found that intimate partner violence is the single greatest contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women between the ages of 15-44. Councils were increasingly taking notice of these developments and considering their role in the health, wellbeing and safety of the community. Kellie piloted a statewide PVAW networking project out of Darebin City Council, and two years later the Premier announced funding for the position at the MAV.

The importance of the policy adviser role for PVAW work in local government cannot be underestimated. Kellie has established links with at least one worker from all 79 councils in Victoria, and has a handful of contacts at most councils. Over the last year she has overseen ten projects funded by the Victorian Government through the Local Government PVAW Grants Program, administered by the MAV and their gender equity e-bulletin is essential reading in the prevention sector, reaching over 600 individuals, both within and outside of local government.

Impressive as these numbers are, the significance lies in the connections being formed through the network and Kellie’s role as a local government cog in the prevention sector. The position was designed to keep violence against women on the agenda of all councils, but it has also encouraged the sharing of ideas, challenges, learnings and initiatives within local government and the broader PVAW sector. Rather than reinventing the wheel, councils have been able to know and build on each other’s successes. The MAV recently launched the PVAW Promising Practice Portal, a collaborative website where councils are invited to share examples of practices, projects and plans that they have developed to support PVAW. Kellie says, “Councils are incredibly good at sharing their work with each other and they can also be quite competitive.” This combination of information sharing and competition creates a particularly useful framework for innovation and action in primary prevention.

Kellie has seen major changes in the local government sector since she began the pilot role back at Darebin City Council nearly a decade ago. “Councils’ focus has expanded from thinking in terms of response-based work into considering primary prevention and culture change”. She also says that many councils are starting to move away from awareness-raising activities on one day of the year to embedding primary prevention principles into everything they do – work practices, service provision, policies, culture and community engagement. 

Increasingly, councils are taking creative and varied action; gender equitable parenting in maternal and child health services, children’s books in libraries that resist traditional gender stereotyping..."

Increasingly, councils are taking creative and varied action; they’re implementing gender equitable parenting programs in maternal and child health services, libraries are actively featuring children’s books that resist traditional gender stereotyping, and councils are implementing programs that mentor women to run for local council. Other councils are auditing public spaces to ensure they are welcoming and accessible for women, adding sports facilities and programs to increase women’s participation in physical activity, and putting gender equity guidelines in place for anyone wanting to hire council venues. One council has even introduced a gender equitable superannuation policy that provides a higher rate of superannuation for women in acknowledgement that women retire with significantly less super than men.

“But there is so much more to be done,” says Kellie. Only three Victorian councils have a full-time dedicated PVAW or gender equity worker; most allocate this role to a staff member who has a few hours a week dedicated to PVAW-related work. In the MAV’s submission to the RCFV, it called for a gender equity development officer to be funded at every council. The MAV wants to see state government recognise the critical role local councils play in delivering on many of the Victorian PVAW strategies – and invest in the local government workforce accordingly.

But challenges aside, Kellie’s role at the MAV has ensured that there is someone taking a bird’s eye view of PVAW in local government, joining the dots and connecting the right people. It is ensuring that there is not a piecemeal approach to the work, and that the learnings made in one council are incorporated into other projects and become part of the accumulated wisdom of councils and others working in this space.

Councils work with people across a number of life stages and settings, providing them with a unique opportunity to embed primary prevention in their communities"

More information

Visit the Municipal Association of Victoria website for more information and resources on gender equality:
www.mav.asn.au/genderequality

To subscribe to the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Gender Equality email updates, please contact Kellie Nagle:
knagle@mav.asn.au

Read more of the December 2017 edition of The Advocate
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