OPINION

Why early learning can help reduce violence against women

CRUCIAL: White Ribbon believes early education on women's issues can lead a culture shift in young children. Picture: Shutterstock
CRUCIAL: White Ribbon believes early education on women's issues can lead a culture shift in young children. Picture: Shutterstock

Treat all people with dignity, equality and respect.

This truth seems to be self-evident, however the past weeks have shown us how spectacularly short of the mark too many men in positions of power, including elected leaders and their advisers, have landed.

The incidents that have been making recent media headlines are not isolated - violence against women endures in many forms across our community.

It happens in the streets, on our buses and trains, in workplaces and behind the closed doors of people's homes.

It happens to women from all walks of life, at any age, at any time.

With increased focus on these issues in recent years, you've probably heard some of the shocking realities before.

One woman a week is murdered, one in four will experience abuse from the age of 15 - all at the hands of a current or former male partner.

What is less understood are some of the contributing factors and avoidable barriers that make it harder for women to escape violence - and there are many.

One that is only now coming into focus is the difficulty caused by the obvious need to ensure adequate care and early education of children.

We know that leaving an abusive relationship is the time a woman or her children are most likely to be harmed or killed by their partner.

We know that abusive men employ a range of strategies to gain and exert control over women.

Similarly, a range of supports is needed to empower women to safely leave abusive relationships - and to not only survive but thrive.

Increasing a woman's access to childcare support can help her navigate a way out of a violent or abusive relationship.

And it can mean early education on women's issues leading to a culture shift in young children.

That's the reason why White Ribbon Australia has thrown its support behind the current national campaign for universal, accessible, affordable early learning and childcare.

In many situations of violence against women, women are isolated and financially dependent on their partner.

Financial security and employment open up options for women and create opportunities for security.

It also reduces the likelihood of a person feeling they have no choice but to return to an abusive partner.

Additionally, starting from the foundations and investing in our children's early childhood education, will create a safer society.

Gender inequality and stereotypes are key to a culture of disrespect, which allows control and abuse to thrive.

By modeling gender equality, challenging gender stereotypes and demonstrating healthy relationships between men and women in their developmental years, quality early childhood education can be a key component of the cultural change that will address the drivers of men's violence against women.

The current system is outdated and expensive. It fails to meet the needs of families - especially women.

It decreases access to early learning and therefore, crucial learning opportunities for young children.

It uses a childcare subsidy system that essentially financially punishes women for full-time work if their children are at childcare.

The combination of tax, welfare settings and childcare costs make it hard for primary carers, usually women, to work more than three days a week.

Change is long overdue. The violence and inequality experienced by Australian women demands it.

Brad Chilcott is the executive director of White Ribbon Australia.

This story Why early learning can help reduce violence against women first appeared on The Canberra Times.