Victory for Brisbane women's services

Issue 

By Lisa Young BRISBANE — "Today marks a historic victory for women and women's services", stated Domestic Violence Resource Centre (DVRC) chairperson Betty Taylor, to the shouts and cheers of women and men supporters outside the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission on February 5. Commissioner Bill Carter had handed down a decision that the discrimination claim put forward by a Brisbane man, Keith Shew, under the Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984, was not subject to Commonwealth jurisdiction because the DVRC is not funded by the Commonwealth. Shew's wife put in an application for a domestic violence order in mid-1995, stating she was a survivor of domestic violence. Shew claimed that he was discriminated against by the DVRC when he put in a cross-application in July. He felt that he was refused help and wasn't given the provision of services he deserved, because he was a man. It is rumoured that Shew was backed by the right-wing Men's Rights Agency, which recently came to prominence over its support of the Hillcrest murderer, Peter May. On January 25, May killed seven members of his family before shooting himself. May's anger was inflamed by a solicitor recommended by the Men's Rights Agency who told him that he would never maintain contact with his children. Green Left Weekly spoke to Benjamin Pennings, who was the spokesperson for the Domestic Violence Social Action Strategies Group and is a community worker with Men Against Sexual Assault (MASA). "Everyone is here today to show support for the Domestic Violence Resource Centre and to show that domestic violence is a serious issue and is a gender-based crime, with 98% of survivors being women", Pennings said. While a small proportion of men are survivors of domestic violence, they had different needs and shouldn't be dealt with the same as women. Pennings added that Shew was allowed access to the DVRC for information on services and support groups available to men, and was then directed to the appropriate sources. These statements were backed by Elissa Farrow from DVRC and Dawn Llewellyn, the coordinator for Domestic Violence Services Ipswich. Llewellyn stated, "This case undermines women's services and the seriousness of domestic violence against women." Farrow explained, "Women have fought so hard and for so long to obtain these services, but these cases just enforce the 'gender war' of men and women against each other, instead of trying to unite and find solutions to a very serious problem". As the DVRC director, Meeta Iyer, and chairperson, Betty Taylor, emerged from the commission, Iyer stated that their message was: "Don't challenge the women's services, challenge the violence". Although the DVRC charter clearly states that it is funded to help women and children escaping domestic violence, Meeta made it clear that they don't exclude men and never discriminated against or refused help to Shew. Throughout the case newspapers ran headlines like the Courier-Mail's "Gender War: Who's telling the truth about men and violence?". Democratic Socialist candidate for Brisbane Zanny Begg attended the picket to show her support for women's services. She explained to GLW, "Domestic violence is a product of a sexist society which systematically discriminates against women. Women do not have the financial security and independence that men have and thus often need services that can help them make a break from a violent or abusive relationship. "Men's rights groups are getting a good run in the press at the moment because its feeds into the backlash campaign against the gains of the women's movement. But it is as reactionary as whites claiming that they suffer from racism. It has the same agenda: to deny that a particular group suffers oppression and therefore frustrate their struggle for liberation."