Our women

Scott Morrison says he will protect our women.

Inherent in his choice of words is the paternalism of a prime minister who doesn’t think his party has a “women problem”, even as it sheds female MPs at record speed. Of a man who starts sentences that describe his concern about the harassment and abuse women face with the caveat, “As a father…”

Amid a wide-ranging speech at the National Press Club, he makes an announcement: emergency accommodation for women fleeing family violence will be funded – $60 million over the next three years. Another $18 million to keep our women safe, if they are experiencing violence but want to stay in their own homes.

A worthy cause, no doubt. Violence remains a constant in Australian life; not least for women at the hands of men who say they love them.

Faced with an epidemic, $78 million seems a pittance. One woman a week, on average, killed by her current or former partner.

“Let’s start calling family violence ‘terrorism’,” Rosie Batty once suggested, “then maybe we can start to see funding flowing in this area.”

Our women. It’s the distinction drawn here by Morrison that’s interesting. Who, then, are their women? These women who exist beyond the bounds of our compassion.

Perhaps the women we hold on Nauru. Who fear for their lives, too, for their safety – who are abused by guards hired to keep them safe and ignored by police with no time for their stories of assault.

Our collective duty to protect women, it seems, does not extend to those we deprive of freedom.

Not to Indigenous women, who are jailed at disproportionately high rates. Not to Rebecca Maher, Ms Dhu, Tanya Day, Ms Mandijarra – women who have died while in police custody.

Scott Morrison says he will protect our women. But on Thursday, his government filibustered a vote on a royal commission into the abuse of people with a disability, allowing the longest question time to date. Pushed on the subject, the prime minister promised he’ll “continue to engage”.

Are these not our women? These girls, those with disabilities, who are at least three times more likely to experience abuse than any other children.

It seems a cruel distinction to draw.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 16, 2019 as "Our women".

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