... and ain't i a woman?: Taking safety seriously
Victorian Premier Joan Kirner is so outraged by recent violent attacks against women in public places she is considering a range of initiatives to protect women. These are said to include segregated and patrolled car parks at railway stations and a campaign to educate men in a code of behaviour towards women.
A rather stunning example of how violence against women is trivialised, "Reversal of Fortune for Men" was the headline under which the proposals were reported in the February 27 issue of the Australian. A large proportion of the article was devoted to Victorian state historian Dr Bernard Barrett's view that female only car parks could in some way be equated with now outlawed rules that banned women from certain public institutions in Victoria.
In the same issue an editorial attacked what it called Kirner's "ideological" answer to violence and suggested that segregated nightclubs would be just as reasonable an answer to violence as segregated car parks. Perish the thought!
Any measure that will really protect women from violent attack and not force them, out of fear, back into the home and dependence on male escorts, must be considered. It can only be deliberate ignorance or conscious anti-woman ideology on the part of the Australian that seeks to equate women-only spaces with discrimination against men. For the last 20 years, feminists have explained the not-so-hard-to-understand fact that to protect women, in a society where discrimination and violence against them is deeply ingrained, at times the ability to escape the presence of men is necessary.
Such trivialising deflects attention from the real question of how to ensure public safety. Perhaps there is merit in Kirner's proposals. Unguarded railway car parks have certainly been the scenes of some of the most publicised attacks on women in recent years. And certain newspaper editors could do with some education.
But a genuine commitment to safety for women will require a genuine commitment of resources. Surely public transport, for example, can be made safe only by adequate staff on trains, buses and trams, at railway stations, tram and bus stops. More frequent services at night would reduce the waiting time. Recent staffing cuts and declines in the quality and quantity of public transport under both Liberal and Labor state governments are just one example of how public safety — and women's safety in particular — has been treated as an expendable luxury.
By Sally Low