16 Ways Clinicians Can Advocate for Stopping Gender-based Violence in Their Communities

The Pixel Project is pleased to welcome our 2nd guest “16 For 16” article from RANZCOG – the leading standards body responsible for the training and education of doctors in obstetrics and gynaecology in Australia and New Zealand. RANZCOG provides consultative leadership and advocacy in #WomensHealth to ensure excellence in #obstetrics and #gynaecology training.

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In Australia, doctors along with nurses and pharmacists are viewed as the most trusted professionals according to social research. This long standing community view supported by the relationship clinicians build with their patients creates a unique position of influence. What is really great about being a clinician who is interested in advocating for stopping gender-based violence is that it is likely that your voice carries weight in the community by the nature of your role. This means that there are lots of different ways that you can be a proactive advocate in your community.

As the old adage goes, ‘if you can’t change the situation, change your perspective’. While changed perspective is definitely the goal of prevention, assessing your views about gender-based violence is a really important and often undervalued step. In this article we outline 16 ways that clinicians can advocate for stopping gender-based violence in the communities where they live, work and socialise.

Written by Nastashjia Katu and Lisa Westhaven from RANZCOG.

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Start With Yourself

Recommendation #1: Self-Check – Asses Your Own Attitudes About Males and Females

Asking yourself whether you treat or view women and men differently because of their sex can be a confronting exercise but a good place to start. It may be that in some circumstances you may be contributing to, or uncomfortable in, calling out attitudes that condone Violence Against Women (VAW). Identifying these situations can be challenging for some people and Male Champions of Change have developed the We Set The Tone resource that highlights how everyday sexism contributes to attitudes that accept violence. While sexism is only one driver that condones violent attitudes, it is a useful tool to identify commonly experienced situations and how you might approach them.

Recommendation #2: Be Aware of the Underlying Social Conditions that Promote VAW

VAW is prevalent in all communities and is primarily driven by gender inequality, and reinforced by a number of other factors. When men and women do not have equal power, equal access to resources and opportunities, or their work, ideas and voices are not equally valued, an environment that fosters violence against women is maintained. Being aware of the drivers of violence enables clinicians to recognise or seek out the tools they need to respond appropriately in different situations.

Recommendation #3: Recognise the Gendered Nature of Violence against Women

There are characteristics of women’s experiences of violence that make it a distinctly gendered problem: Women are more likely to be victimised by men known to them while men are more likely to experience violence by other men; Women are also more likely to be physically assaulted in familiar spaces such as in their homes while men are more likely to be assaulted in public places. The rate of hospitalisation and death by intimate partner violence is also disparate and women are more likely than men to experience these consequences. Recognising that there are gender-specific dynamics when addressing VAW is crucial while advocating for and seeking appropriate solutions that address root issues.

Recommendation #4: Acknowledge that Attitudes that Condone VAW Exist in All Communities

VAW is a a global epidemic. It impacts all communities at all levels and in all spaces both public and private. There is no one community group, religious group or geographic area that either represents violence or is void from violence. When advocating for ending VAW it is important to lay aside any held biases and recognise that VAW will occur in any place where gender inequality exists.

Speaking Up and Using Your Voice

Recommendation #5: Communicate that Violence Against Women is Preventable

Ending VAW requires a cultural shift and a redressing of entrenched historical attitudes. Changing hearts and minds is long-term work and advocating for this change can be perceived as more achievable if the message of success is in the front of mind. This is why communicating that VAW as being preventable is so important. Responding to violence is important, and many clinicians will experience caring for women and their families in a response setting. However, eradicating VAW requires preventative work. Voicing this and knowing what actions challenge the drivers of violence is a meaningful way to advocate for women and their families. This community toolkit provides a practical framework for practitioners addressing VAW.

Recommendation #6: Get Comfortable with Speaking out about Things that are Sexist or Degrading to Women

Sexist language devalues and robs individuals of the respect they deserve. Getting comfortable speaking out in these situations may require some practice. The Line have produced a how-to guide on how to combat this behaviour. Some of the tips include: addressing the comment and not the person or using a ‘we’ statement to gain the support of people around you.

Recommendation #7: Challenge Gender Inequity in Everyday Experiences

Promoting gender equity is an action or response that can be applied in any setting. Challenging gender stereotypes is one way to break down negative attitudes. In situations where women are disrespected or unfairly treated because of their gender, calling the comment or behaviour out is a good way to prompt conversations. By simply questioning or asking for clarification about a behaviour or comment, it’s a strategy that flags the action as an issue while signalling to those around you that this behaviour is not okay.

Recommendation #8: Talk to the People in your Life about your Commitment to Ending Violence Against Women

Letting people know that you are committed to pursuing gender equity by supporting equal opportunities in your workplace, working with your community board to advocate for better-lit carparks, doing a fun run raise to raise awareness for VAW – any action really is a simple yet effective form of advocacy. However, taking action is sometimes not enough – to boost the signal for the message that VAW must end, you need to let other people know that you are doing something about it because sometimes, telling other people about it may be just the incentive they need to start doing something too.

Recommendation #9: Call Out Victim-Blaming

A report analysing young Australian attitudes towards VAW found that 1 in 5 young Australians believe that there are times when women can be blamed for sexual assault. The percentage of young people who believe when women say no they actually mean yes has risen from 13% in their parents’ generation to 20%. Making the message clear that Violence against Women is never acceptable, whether in a consulting situation, in the workplace or in the community is important.

What You Can Do in Your Workplace

Recommendation #10: Advocate for Accountability in Workplace or Member Organisations

For Obstetrics & Gynaecology (O&G) specialists in Australia and New Zealand, there are many opportunities through membership organisations like RANZCOG to engage with colleagues and other professionals in the field. Calling for membership organisations to have VAW as an issue that is present and visible on the agenda is a great way to advocate for prevention and highlight the issue. Calling for accountability and action on things like Family Violence Leave, equal representation of leadership and participation in awareness raising campaigns are good places to start. This webpage is an example of how RANZCOG is being active in this space.

Recommendation #11: Advocate for Workforce Training and Upskilling

Most local government councils in Australia will either deliver or have connections to a provider that can deliver workforce training in areas such as gender equity. If advocating for VAW is a relatively new area of focus (or an area with little focus), suggesting gender equity training or even connecting with organisations who deliver this training is a good start. The state of Victoria in Australia recently established a gender equality strategy and has links to organisations that specialise in workforce upskilling in this space.

Proactive Actions You Can Take.

Recommendation #12: Look for Opportunities to Keep Learning

Engaging with organisations who advocate for VAW as their core business is a good way to keep learning and connect with experts in the space. In Australia, Our Watch is the peak Prevention of Violence against Women (PVAW) body and there are a range of opportunities for members of the public to become to become in programs or events that are happening in their local areas. Our Watch also have a library of resources and links to partner organisations who have programs across the country.

Recommendation #13: Educate Yourself about the Warning Signs of Violence

Knowing what warning signs to look for in your personal relationships, but also in a patient situation will help you plan how you can help or respond. Abuse in most cases does not happen instantly and there are subtle signs to look out for, such as forced isolation from support networks, aggressive language and behaviour and excessive possessiveness of time and whereabouts. Read more about warning signs of abuse at this Safe Steps page.

Recommendation #14: Talk about Women or Female Colleagues who are Doing Great Things

A non-confrontational way to advocate for PVAW is to publically recognise women. Whether it is shouting out a friend for their work on social media, acknowledging their achievements in the workplace or raising awareness in the community; giving women equal airspace to be recognised is a step towards breaking down the barriers of gender inequality.

Recommendation #15: Recognise that Resistance is Inevitable

Any big change will always be met with resistance and being prepared for this is wise. Managing and dealing with backlash to gender equality initiatives can be confronting but there are resources and information available to help. Vic Health developed 13 steps to tackle gender discrimination.

Recommendation #16: Get your Friends, Colleagues and Family on Board

If you are committed to the PVAW, use your influence and get your networks on board too. There are lots of tips and resources in this article that provide a good starting point as to how you can be an advocate in your family, workplace and community. The most important thing to remember is you don’t have to do it alone. Find a group of people who are just as passionate as you (or get them there) and put some of these tips into action!

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