As a survivor of domestic violence, Federal Labor MP Dr. Anne Aly is especially passionate and vocal of her views on family, domestic and gender-based violence.
Anne Aly is the first female Muslim federal MP in Australian history but has been fighting against issues linked to her religion and culture as a single-mother and counter-terrorism expert, long before then. Aly migrated to Australia with her family as a toddler, juggling the expectations of her parents and culture with western morals and views while growing up.
“I knew back then (in childhood) what kind of woman I wanted to be but I was incapable of comprehending just what it would take to be her — this independent, free thinking, autonomous woman who took no s…,”
In 1988, Anne Aly married ex-husband Sherif Rida in Cairo, Egypt after knowing him just a few weeks due to building family pressure. Anne was 22 and their son Adam just 18 months when the beatings began; years of abuse and trauma went on before she was finally able to escape the abusive marriage. Through her experience, Aly recalls the many barriers she faced in leaving her then-husband, due to the entrenched stigma and shame placed on abused women both culturally and in broader society.
Her family and cultural roots view divorce as somewhat taboo, her mother encouraging greater ‘patience’ and ‘understanding’ for one another instead. When Aly eventually asked for a divorce, her ex-partner would threaten to invoke sharia law against her as their marriage had taken place in Egypt; meaning the children would end up with their father.
“In the minds of my parents, it was a way of protecting their daughters by marrying them off quite young. I think that…happens to a lot of young girls…whose families come from various parts of the world… (the) family pressure to get married quite early on is part of our kind of cultural traditions.”
When Aly openly began considering a divorce her ex-partner would threaten to invoke sharia law against her as their marriage had taken place in Egypt, which would mean the children would end up with the father. Her family and cultural roots also considered divorce as somewhat taboo, encouraging greater ‘patience’ and ‘understanding’ for one another instead.
“There was this kind of thing that we were raised with that, you know, it’s a woman’s job to suffer. A good wife suffers quietly, a good wife is patient. And that’s what makes the man good. If you’re patient, and you take all his shit, then he’ll be good.”
As it became clear Aly’s ex-husband Sherif expected her to be solely responsible for their firstborn Adam, she was forced to leave work and become financially dependent on him to provide for the household. He often left her alone for over 24 hours with no explanation; leaving Anne behind with bills unpaid and stories that didn’t add up. Anxious to escape, she pleaded with her parents until convincing her mother to come with her to Fremantle courts for an AVO against him.
“And then he looked at my mom, and he goes, ‘Surely your culture has ways of dealing with this that doesn’t need to involve the police.’…I stood in front of the judge, an older, grey-haired male, and relived every painful blow and every humiliating slap.”
This damaging combination of factors left Anne Aly feeling like she had no option but to stay, which she did, until eventually escaping with her sons Adam aged 3, and youngest Karim just 18 months. Anne Aly knows from firsthand experience the difficulties of navigating cultural traditions and stigma, as well as finding services to meet the needs of victims from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds. Research shows that abusive partners of migrant and refugee victims, in particular, capitalize on a lack of knowledge and access to supportive services to perpetuate the abuse.
On average, it takes 7 attempts to leave an abusive relationship before it successfully ends the relationship; for refugee and migrant women this can take far longer.
An example of this is when Aly eventually asked for a divorce from ex-partner Sherif, he would threaten to invoke sharia law against her as their marriage had taken place in Egypt; meaning the children would end up with their father. Anne stayed in fear of losing her children to Sherif as a consequence of this for some time, before learning applying for divorce for overseas marriages can be done in Australia due to her length of residency and citizenship.
The Shadow Pandemic
The adverse effects of COVID-19 have been found to afflict women to a greater extent than men; statistics showing women enduring impacts of plunging economic opportunities and limited access to health services at a disproportionate rate.
Family and domestic violence is a major health and welfare issue, with COVID-19 exacerbating and pushing gender equality even further away than before. The WHO (World Health Organisation) has launched a public awareness campaign on what they are calling the Shadow Pandemic. Severe risks to women’s health and safety have grown significantly in the wake of COVID-19, with domestic violence and violence against women overall reportedly increasing by over 30% in some countries. Activists and experts are calling for greater government action to combat inflated rates of violence against women resulting from the global pandemic.
Australia has an unfortunately long history with domestic violence; with studies indicating a widespread problem across the nation increasingly highlighted through tragic stories such as Hannah Clarke, or Rosie Batty and many other women who faced violence at the hands of a current or ex-partner. On average one woman a week is killed by an intimate partner, and 1 in 4 women (15 years or older) will experience one or more incidents of violence by her intimate partner.
The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) surveyed 15,000 women aged 18 years and older in May 2020 about their experience of domestic violence, after COVID-19 first started impacting Australia. The data reveals that 4.6% of women who responded to the survey experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner in the three months prior to the survey. For a third of these women, this was the first time they had ever experienced violence from their partner; women who had previously experienced physical or sexual violence reported it had increased in severity since the beginning of the pandemic. This increase in domestic violence incidents is exacerbated by the limited opportunities victims had to seek advice or support as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
“One in three women who experienced physical or sexual violence or coercive control said that they couldn’t seek advice or support (on at least one occasion) due to safety reasons”
Rising gender-based violence is occurring all over the globe, with China reporting incidents of domestic violence reported to police tripled in February this year compared to 2019 reports.
Stronger efforts to establish evidence-based training and resources for victims are key to ending domestic violence and protect women from gender-based violence.
Marginalized and diverse communities require specific consideration of their circumstances when creating resources and services to mitigate violence against women.
Victims from CALD communities are more likely to experience incidents of violence, often also staying in abusive relationships for longer periods due to a lack of culturally appropriate services and access to supportive services due to their visa status.
Organisations such as inTouch and etc. look to support and advocate for victims of domestic violence from refugee or immigrant backgrounds, through providing services to help them rebuild their lives, as well as reduce the difficulties involved in leaving abusive relationships.
InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence reports that women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds as more vulnerable to incidents of domestic violence due to factors such as:
- Acculturation stress
- Immigration/refugee status
- limited knowledge of rights and/or available services
- language barriers
- fear and distrust of authorities
- lack of cultural competency of service providers
- family and community factors
Studies find that CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) women often seek assistance after long periods of family violence, commonly follows a critical incident and/or grave concerns for their children’s safety. Traumatic pre-arrival experiences and stress associated with settlement acculturation can contribute to incidents of family violence, as well as affect the help-seeking behaviour and service engagement of victims/survivors.
The government has announced the Help is Here campaign May 2020, to promote the two national helplines – 1800RESPECT and MensLine Australia – as part of the Government’s $150 million Domestic Violence Support Package to help support services meet demand during COVID. Since the pandemic began more than 15 percent of contacts for MensLine Australia have been COVID-19 specific, while 1800RESPECT has had a11 percent increase in people accessing support when compared with the same time last year.
While additional government funding is a welcomed response, many organizations such as Women’s Safety NSW, UN Women, and InTouch have called for greater protections and action to be taken to mitigate violence against women. OurWatch, VicHealth, and ANROWS have also established Change the Story: A Shared Framework For the Primary Prevention of Violence Against Women and Their Children in Australia outlining policy aimed at stopping family and domestic violence.
Here are five essential actions outlined by Change the Story to reduce violence against women:
- Challenge condoning of violence against women
- Promote women’s independence and decision-making in public life and relationships
- Foster positive personal identities and challenge gender stereotypes and roles
- Strengthen positive, equal, and respectful relations between and among women and men, girls and boys
- Promote and normalise gender equality in public and private life
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family, or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. If you are worried about your behaviour, call Mensline on 1300 789 978 or visit mensline.org.au.