I appreciate that our council is eager to address violence against women and systematic inequality. I applaud this and say please make this a sustained focus. That said, after a quick read through the document, I think there is a flaw in the objectives and strategy outlined here. The flaw is that the document doesn't consider how healthy marriages can be the basis for social units where women flourish.
My first thought looking at the statistics was to ask, where is the data about how various social units are represented? Where are the rates of violence and experience of inequality against women in marriage compared to de-facto relationships or casual dating? Where is the data about the impact of divorce on violence against women and children? It would help if the data about an 'intimate partner' is further described so that strategies can be developed and focused at the appropriate social context. For instance, how does the statistic about lone parent families relate to violence against women? What are the correlations or causal relationships?
I also thought that the statistics presented fail to consider the unique positive roles that women take within marriage and family units. The first two statistics that compare women and men's participation in the work force portray this as a matter of inequality. This is a potential, though perhaps skewed, interpretation of the data. My concern is that presenting these statistics in this way demeans women. It says about women, unless you do the same work and earn the same money you are not the equal of a man, which is not true. Women and men are not equal because of what they do or what they earn, human value and dignity is inherent, not measured by their economic contribution or pay-packet. You could look at the same statistics and celebrate the nobility of women! The same statistics could point to the desire of women to have children, the experience of raising children, and the way women more often than men take on a key role in caring for ageing parents and family members. All those wonderfully positive activities would contribute to less women on average working full time, and doing more unpaid work. Are these differences something to be managed away or celebrated? For instance, could we better change attitudes towards women by insisting on male-female employment ratios, or by honouring the work of raising children, volunteer work, and caring for family units? Isn't such work even more precious because it isn't paid? This isn't an argument for that work to be the sole domain of women (go men doing the same things), but these questions might provoke us to consider our own values and attitudes towards women.
My next thought was that strengthening marriages would be a good strategic objective. Marriage at its best is a life-long union of two people who are committed to each other's care and best interests. It's the best context for raising children because it provides stability in the context of loving care and life-long faithfulness. Anything that can be done to strengthen marriages to be like this would likely reduce the impact of inequality and gendered violence. If the problems are happening in intimate partner relationships, then supporting partner relationships to change from violent to loving and from fractured to faithful would be an appropriate area of focus. This seems to be particularly the case around periods of family crisis, such as in pregnancy or post-partum. I know that this is an area of focus for many churches, NFP agencies (like Relationships Australia) and health care providers, perhaps council could do more in the area of consultation and support here? Particularly in helping to address the risk factors that makes violence in intimate partner relationships more prevalent.
My final thought after a first read is that the gender equity philosophy undergirding this document is flawed and this seems to shape the direction of the strategy towards eliminating differences rather than focusing on proactive flourishing.
Looking at the glossary it seems that council is running ahead with the assumption that sex and gender are distinct things, one a biological given, and the other a voluntaristic sociological construct. This is far from proven, and basing an important strategy on this (I would argue incorrect) assumption I think will lead to the pursuit of strategies and solutions that don't really address the problems effectively.
The issue I see in the glossary is that the division between sex and gender is overstated. Sex and gender are interrelated, just as the mind and body are. This interrelatedness is expressed in the way the physical differences between women and men proactively shapes our lives. In particular, women can physically bear and nurture children and men can't. This biological difference appropriately shapes and determines our gendered movements in the world. The differences aren't something to be managed away, but supported for mutual flourishing as women and men. To assume a fundamental break between biological sex and gender is to do a kind of violence to our own sense of self, kind of breaking the mind from the body.
The upshot is that the pursuit of gender equality shouldn't be primarily focused on the elimination of differences, but in the equal flourishing of women and men as women and men, and particularly in their relationships to one another. This could lead to new focus areas in the strategy that have something positive to offer for men in their relationships to women as an intimate partner.
For example, there could be strategic objectives focusing on how men can be supported to care for women during periods of increased pressure and vulnerability (like the early childhood years). Objectives to support and encourage men to be self-controlled, faithful, strong-and-gentle in the family unit. Objectives around restricting or alleviating the societal pressures and temptations that lead to violence, like gambling-related poverty and debt, over-work, alcohol and drug abuse etc. How can we help men provide for their families financially as the primary income earner during the early childhood years? I think the strategy would be greatly improved by consideration in these areas.
edit, another thought
When I had a second look at some of the gendered drivers of violence against women, I thought the problem isn't inherently about having stereotyped constructions of masculinity or femininity, but about what those stereotypes are.
If being a man is about living in a rough, controlling, disrespectful way towards women, that needs to be challenged! The fourth point, 'Strengthen positive, equal and respectful relationships' is so critical, I would say it could be elevated to be the centre of the strategic plan.
But I also thought that simply flipping around 'stereotyped roles' won't actually do much. If being a man is reduced to 'going to work', and being a woman is reduced to 'looking after the kids' then we have a problem that can't simply be solved by switching roles around. What we actually need is a better vision for what it means to be a man or a woman that leads us to recognise the worth of the other person for who they are and treat them with the appropriate respect and honour. Something that is more than the sum of what we do, so that our opportunities, abilities, limitations, and choices aren't what make a person worthy of respectful treatment in the eyes of another.