The eternal COVID-19 restrictions, girls and women being locked down and dehumanised in Afghanistan, the IPCC report on climate change and the World Economic Forum's 2021 Global Gender Gap Index showing Australia in free fall, sliding from 57 down to 99 out of 156 countries in health and survival domain. Add to this, the projected time it will take to close the global gender gap has surged by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.
Today, this week, this year, it's as though we are on a ship heading into ever darkening waters, facing the perfect storm of violence, pandemic, climate catastrophe - the deepest burden of which is always shouldered by women.
So, how are you feeling? Dare I ask?
There are so many aspects of life amid the current COVID context that are eroding our mental health (again). Personally, I expected to be able to handle the wide spectrum of emotions better this time around, but instead I find myself overcome with feelings of endless uncertainty. I'm grieving for normalcy and grappling with loneliness. There is also something else, something I couldn't pinpoint hanging out in the pit of my stomach. Whatever it was, it was making my depression feel deeper, my anxiety more tightly wound, my general existential dread heavier, and it was sapping the energy from my body. I couldn't figure out why.
Is it because I don't have anything to look forward to? I feel I have lost the ability to plan my life in big and little ways. Social isolation means there are no happy hours, no dinners out with friends, and no family get-togethers on the horizon. Events, holidays, retirement, and other big life changes are more or less on hold. Weekends have lost their power as an end-of-the-week treat as days are bleeding together into one large blob of sameness.
Limbo isn't exactly a place for our mental health to thrive. In the absence of being able to look forward to things with certainty, the best we can do is create aspects of future hope.
Last month, we at the Illawarra Women's Health Centre, along with our partners Women Illawarra, Medecins Sans Frontieres, University of Sydney, the Accountability Matters Project and the NSW Branch of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, held a 'futuring' webinar - with over 300 participants registered. We decided we would imagine our future, one we want and expect.
It was a wonderful and optimistic experience as we imagined looking back from 2031, seeing how far we had come. Linda Burney MP was Prime Minister, Amani Haydar was Governor-General. The Murugappan family had been allowed back home to Biloela and the girls were flourishing as teenagers. We had universal early education (previously known as childcare), a living wage and housing for all, and national legalisation that raised the age of incarceration from 10 -18 years old.
Bold? Not as bold as imagining Australia had also reduced the 2021 rates of domestic and family violence by 80 per cent. Plus, 80 per cent of women who have experienced domestic and family violence related trauma were being properly supported to recover.
Speaking from 2031, we were especially thrilled to report that this had been achieved because among five key initiatives, 20 Women's Trauma Recovery Centres had been established across Australia. Imagine!
The first Centre was established in the Illawarra in 2021, after a strong community campaign, initiated and co-ordinated by the Illawarra Women's Health Centre, which led to $25 million being invested in a five-year pilot.
The Women's Trauma Recovery Centre, based on a trauma and violence informed model, co-designed with women with lived experience, did not judge women but authentically listened and truly believed them. This philosophical and evidence-based framework offered support for every aspect necessary for recovery, such as medical, mental health, legal, and parenting. It also supported women through the many systems they needed to navigate, negotiate and fight against, thereby preventing re-traumatisation. Women accessed the Centre when they needed to, for as long as their recovery took.
As people became aware of the Women's Trauma Recovery Centre, understood it and witnessed the profound impact it had for a women's trauma recovery journey, there was a huge groundswell of demand across Australia for communities to establish their own Centre.
There was not just a demand but an expectation that any community could have such a valuable service. Just as the general public has access to other medical or health clinics such as fracture clinics, breast clinics and cancer clinics, women would have access to a trauma recovery centre.
This was amazing. But even more wonderful was the government responded to this demand. They did so, because not only was it the compassionate thing to do, the right thing to do, it was also a strategic and cost-effective thing to do, as highlighted in the original Business Case submitted in July 2021.
The vision of 20 Women's Trauma Recovery Centres across Australia, reducing the rates of domestic, family and sexual violence by 80 per cent and 80 per cent of all women accessing treatment to recover from the complex trauma experienced (80|80) is entirely possible. We CAN do it. If we have the courage to take bold, practical and transformative actions to stop men's violence against women.
This vision brought all of us hope.
We can think of hope in different ways; we can feel it as an emotion or use it as a way to motivate ourselves into action or use it as a part of a coping mechanism to get us through loss. Being hopeful makes one an optimist. I am using hope as a catalyst to make things better; better for others and therefore better for myself.
Our vision is that Australia has reduced the 2021 rates of domestic and family violence by 80 per cent, and 80 per cent of women who have experienced domestic and family violence related trauma are being properly supported to recover.
To achieve 80|80 in 2031 we call for:
This vision is entirely possible if we have the courage to take bold, practical and transformative actions to stop men's violence against women.
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