By VINNIE RODI

A FORUM sponsored by the Mallee Family Violence Executive has this week shone the spotlight on family violence prevention programs and initiatives taking place in our region.

Family violence is a key issue in the Mallee, with the Mildura and Swan Hill Local Government Areas regularly ranking in the top five hotspots for family violence incidents per 100,000 population.

Close to 80 people attended the free Northern Mallee Gender Equity Forum at the Mildura Golf Resort on Wednesday, with similar numbers attending a second forum in Swan Hill yesterday.

Mallee Family Violence Executive Principal Strategic Advisor, Jason Spratt, said the aim of the forum was to showcase family violence prevention initiatives that are happening, or have happened, across the Mallee.

“The community has rightly identified that prevention is one of the areas that we should focus our attention on,” he said. “The initiatives we are showcasing are community-led, and have been developed in the Mallee.

“We want to stimulate thinking around what people might be able to do, and share information.

“Part of our job is around having an integrated service, so we might find people out there thinking they’re doing this work on their own, and our aim is to connect them with what else is happening.

“We also want to showcase what’s possible with limited resources.”

Among the key speakers at the forum were representatives from Chaffey Secondary College, Lower Murray Water and Mallee Sports Assembly – which each organisation discussing family violence prevention programs initiated outside the normal scope of their work.

Mildura Councillor Helen Healy also addressed the forum on behalf of Gender Equity Action Sunraysia, with Respect Victoria CEO, Tracey Gaudry, PICTURED, also speaking at the event.

Respect Victoria was established by the Victorian Government following the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and focuses on preventing family violence, and all forms of violence against women.

“One of the initiatives that Respect Victoria is leading this year is how we can use the platform of the United Nations’ 16 days of activism against family violence to spread the message that any form of family violence is unacceptable in society, and that everyone deserves to be safe, equal and respected,” Ms Gaudry said.

“Regional Victoria has some of the highest incidents of family violence in the State, and there are a number of contributing factors, including remoteness – so it’s important that Respect Victoria, as a Statewide agency, is actually walking the talk, spending time with organisations in regions of Victoria to help raise awareness.”

Ms Gaudry said that it was a goal of the organisation to build more evidence around what drives violence against women and family violence.

“We know that a key driver of violence against women is gender inequality, power imbalance, discrimination and marginalisation,” she said.

“When we look at other forms of family violence, we understand that where there is some form of discrimination or marginalisation, that’s when people are at greater risk.

“Sadly, we understand that racism… ageism, people with different characteristics, are at greater risk of harm, and this often starts in an innocuous way.

“My objective today is to learn more about what regional Victoria, and the Mallee region, can share with us about the work that is going on, while we can share more about what we’re learning.

“Importantly, with the 16 days of activism, Respect Victoria has funded every single Local Government Agency across the State through the Municipal Association of Victoria to spread the message of respecting women.”

Ms Gaudry said that when looking at family violence prevention, a lot of effort goes into responding to issues.

“By looking at prevention, it relieves the burden of response, and the burden on society, and effectively prevention is better than a cure,” she said.

Ms Gaudry said there was still “a lot of work to do in this space.”

“We have real opportunity with the next generation coming through, however, the National Community Attitudes Survey of Violence Against Women and Their Children shows that amongst our youth, we still have prevailing gender-based attitudes,” she said.

“People still feel that it’s okay for males to speak down to females, and that it’s okay to talk in a way that is condescending.

“We as adults need to walk the talk, and we need to actually back up what programs like Respectful Relationships is teaching our children. We’ve got work to do.

“A lot of bias is sub-conscious… so we need to become more conscious about what it means to be equal.”