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Here’s What You Need To Know About The National Women’s Safety Summit

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The federal government has faced increased pressure in 2021 to take the issues of family, domestic and sexual violence more seriously. This is at least in part thanks to women like Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame speaking out, the #March4Justice rallies, and the Australian Human Rights Commission conducting an inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace. 
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In September, family safety advocates and service providers as well as women who have experienced violence will meet with politicians at the National Women’s Safety Summit in Canberra. 
Held over two days, the summit will include panel discussions, roundtables and keynote addresses, giving attendees the opportunity to share feedback on the government’s approach to these issues, and propose more funding to support community services. 
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Why Is The Summit Being Held?

The federal government established a Women’s Safety Taskforce in December last year, and it hopes this summit will help it be better informed when devising its National Plan in 2022 to reduce family, domestic and sexual violence. 
“We want to hear from all parts of the community to make sure the next National Plan draws on the best and most wide-ranging ideas,” Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women Senator Marise Payne said in a statement. “We intend to build a shared framework as we work together to reduce and prevent violence against women and children.
“Consultation will involve listening to the diverse experiences of people affected by violence, including from regional, rural and remote areas, Indigenous communities, LGBTQIA+ communities, culturally and linguistically diverse communities and people with disability.”
Minister for Families and Social Services and Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston added that listening to the community will help the government understand "what could be improved, and any new and emerging issues that should be prioritised."

When & Where Is It?

While the event was initially scheduled for July 29 and 30 at Parliament House in Canberra, it will now be held at the same location on September 6 and 7 due to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne.
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The decision to reschedule the event was announced on July 14, with the federal government saying it was concerned about large gatherings and that travel restrictions between states meant all stakeholders couldn't attend.
"We decided to postpone the summit as we would much prefer to hold it in person as it will be an opportunity for all participants to create new networks as we all work together to end violence against women," Senator Ruston said.
She said that if the outbreak does not subside, the summit will continue in a virtual capacity on September 6 and 7.
"Should the summit need to take place virtually I want all women to be assured of this government's absolute commitment to listening to the wideranging ideas and experiences of all participants in developing the next national plan," she said.

Who Can Attend The Summit?

More than 300 people, including family safety advocates, service providers and women who have experienced violence have been invited to attend the summit.
There they will meet with key figures including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner June Oscar and Australian of the Year Grace Tame, all of whom are key speakers at the event.
While this is an invitation-only event, all Australians have been invited to share their views via an online questionnaire. The responses will also help inform key focus areas and priorities for the National Plan. 
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What Happens After The Summit

Following the event, the federal government says it will use the insights gained to better understand where funding increases are required and what other measures need to be implemented in the National Plan in 2022 to reduce family, domestic and sexual violence. 
For women and support organisations, it will be a waiting game for many months to learn which suggestions the government will action and how they will spend money.
"At this stage we are absolutely confident the plan will commence in the middle of 2022," Senator Ruston said.
"The next national plan must be an ambitious blueprint to stop the rot that is family, domestic and sexual violence across our national landscape."

How Have Women Responded? 

When the government initially announced in April that the summit would be taking place in July, some safety advocates, organisations and survivors criticised the event and the accompanying survey.
End Rape on Campus Australia founder and director Sharna Bremner said it was “incredibly irresponsible” for the government to ask survivors and victims to share their trauma without providing additional resources to support them. 
Other people on Twitter questioned the need for another survey and criticised the government's decision to wait three months to discuss these issues. 
In April, the Women's Legal Service CEO Angela Lynch, whose organisation had seen a 50 per cent increase in calls during the peak of the pandemic, said she feared the summit would be “another talk-fest” unless it specifically addresses sexual violence. 
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“There was a range of complexity that we have never had to deal with before that victims of violence were struggling with as well, locked in a house with a perpetrator," she told the ABC
"If any summit does take place it should centre around violence against women, looking at immediate actions that can be taken and also long-term strategies. Because that's what women are seeking change on."
Dunghutti woman and Women’s Safety NSW Indigenous spokesperson Ash Johnstone said that First Nations women must be listened to at the summit. 
“We need Indigenous experts in those rooms, we need Indigenous services represented, we need to make sure that at every step of this we have got Indigenous voices and perspectives represented to provide that safety,” she told the National Indigenous Times.
“There needs to be mechanisms to be able to actually hear what people think, especially Indigenous women and Indigenous women with lived experience who are on the frontline.” 
Other organisations attending the summit include the Northern Territory and South Australia Working Women's Centres. These centres provide free and confidential information and advice about women's rights in the workplace, as well as legal services and representation to vulnerable women dealing with gender-based workplace issues.

How Common Is Sexual Harassment In The Workplace?

Sexual harassment is a common experience in Australia that occurs in every industry and at all levels. According to the Respect@Work report, in 2018 one in three Australian workers had “experienced sexual harassment in the last five years”. 
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In March 2020, the Australian Human Rights Commission released its Respect@Work report, the product of an 18-month inquiry – led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins – into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The report’s findings were based on a survey of 10,000 workers, 460 written submissions and 60 public consultations with 600 participants. 
Within the report were 55 recommendations for government, business and community sectors to consider. Recommendations were made across five focus areas: data and research, primary prevention, a refocused legal and regulatory framework, and better support, advice and advocacy. 
In March this year, women across the country gathered at #March4Justice rallies, calling on the government to implement all 55 recommendations. The government responded in April with its ‘Roadmap for Respect’ report, though the plan doesn’t necessarily commit to implementing all 55 recommendations. 
This summit will be important in helping more women’s voices be heard. Now it’s up to the government to listen.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service

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