COVID-19 is presenting a far more insidious risk to Indigenous women than the immediate risk of the virus. The isolation aspect puts already at-risk Indigenous women at a higher risk of family violence.

Our Watch CEO, Patty Kinnersly, said there should be greater concern for women who are at home and in a domestic violence relationship at this time.

“We have particular concern for women for who home is not safe,” Kinnersly said.

“Research has found that there is often a spike in violence against women during major crises and disasters – which have many similar features to the current situation with the devastating spread of COVID-19.”

Indigenous women are 3.1 times more likely to be the victim of domestic violence which at times of heightened stress is likely to increase, explained Kinnersly.

“Situations of heightened stress and panic, potential family disruption, social isolation, increased financial pressures, and disruption to people’s usual roles can all compound or exacerbate the underlying conditions that lead to violence,” Kinnersly said.

Women in Indigenous communities have been cut off from resources as part of the attempt to prevent the pandemic’s spread, leaving them isolated and unable to receive help if needed.

A 2019 Mission Australia report found Indigenous women are more susceptible to domestic violence when they are living in poverty. The increase in job loss for women is far greater during mass unemployment as a result of COVID-19.

“Disasters disproportionately affect women because they are more likely to be in vulnerable jobs than men, to be underemployed and have less access to financial resources,” Kinnersly said.

“In the case of this particular crisis, women in the health sector are the vast majority of those at the higher end of exposure and the lower end of pay.

“Notably, because they do the lion’s share of child rearing, they are more likely than their male partners to take time off work to look after children – an issue that will become acute if, for example, schools and childcare facilities are forced to close because of the virus.”

As most schools shut down early for the holidays, the impact that will felt by women at risk of domestic violence will increase.

Kinnersly said the Government needs to take more action to prevent the rates of domestic violence.

“All levels of government need to continually listen to sector experts and frontline services that are taking thousands of calls from women in distress.”

“These services know what extra resources are required for them to run efficiently, and to ensure that the safety of women can continue to be prioritised during this very difficult time.”

While there is no one reason why family violence is higher in Indigenous communities, we do know that several reasons tend to correlate with the increase in violence in home as explored in the Government report, Child abuse and family violence in Aboriginal communities.

These include:

  • Marginalisation and dispossession
  • Loss of land and traditional culture
  • Breakdown of community kinship systems and Aboriginal law
  • Entrenched poverty
  • Racism
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Effects of institutionalisation and removal policies
  • The ‘redundancy’ of the traditional Aboriginal male role and status, compensated for by an aggressive assertion of male rights over women and children.

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By Caris Duncan