An army of men who will lead by example is being recruited in Central Australia in a new approach to tackling alarming rates of domestic violence.
Andrea Mason, the chief executive of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjaram Women’s Council, said in three to four years they hoped enough men will have joined the movement to put the brakes on the tragic problem.
Ms Mason was last week named Telstra NT Business Woman of the Year for her work at the council’s helm. She is now a contender for the national title which will be announced in Melbourne in November.
In an interview with NIT she said many community members — women and men — wanted an end to the domestic violence scourge. The women had called on the men to step up and work with other men to stop the abuse.
“In the coming years, three or four years’ time, our ambition is to see a critical mass of men in our region taking more of the leadership in this area rather than service providers and women, but men taking more leadership and working directly with other men to change their behaviour which can only at the end of the day benefit everybody,” she said.
“All I have been hearing is the men are very excited by the opportunity. I have every faith in the men that have been standing up and being an example over the years, because we’ve seen them support women.”
Ms Mason’s comments came after the Prime Minister’s chief Indigenous adviser Warren Mundine called for national and urgent action on domestic violence, pointing to research showing Indigenous women in Australia were 34 times more likely to be hospitalised from domestic abuse.
In the NT, coroner Greg Cavanagh last month said domestic violence in the communities was out of control as he delivered the findings of an inquest into the death of two women in Alice Springs. And police chief Reece Kershaw has revealed his officers responded to 75,000 cases of domestic violence in three years.
Ms Mason said a strong network of leaders in Central Australia was working to try to reduce violence against women. She said in the NPYWC’s experience in most cases alcohol was not a factor.
“We do know based on our client profile that alcohol is not the overwhelming reason why violence is perpetrated,” she said. “We do have men perpetrating violence against women who are not influenced by alcohol. In fact, that’s the majority of men.
“Alcohol is only one part of the picture.
“It really is about behavioural change and men understanding how to make different decisions.
“So I guess what we’re understanding is, we’ve had the approach of talking to men, explaining to men about behavioural change, I think what we’re now trying to work out is to speak to men who aren’t perpetrators who are already actively in their quiet way looking to change the way that men live in relationships with women.
“We are looking to arm those incredible leaders with more information so they can be more effective advocates with other men in their communities.
“I think there are lots of informal networks, but we want to give it more of a setting. More structure.
“I’m not saying behavioural change programs aren’t necessary. We still need to continue that, but we’ve also got to work with those of good will, men who by their example are living in a way that is an example to other men, of living a life that is free of violence and using that as a way of having more meaningful but also life-changing discussions with other men.”
Ms Mason said it was also important that the men came up with some solutions themselves.
“We need a movement of men who are willing to take this on,” she said.
Ms Mason said the tools for communities to deal with domestic violence was already there in cultural governance.
“Men are there to support women and women are there to support men,” she said. “We just haven’t had a structure for this for the depth of trauma in our communities.
“We’ve looked to the health services, we’ve looked to councilors outside our communities to fill the gap, I guess what the women are saying after they’ve been on this journey of understanding the impact of trauma, particularly in the area of impact of family and domestic violence and the impact on children, is that there are elements in cultural governance where there are solutions for us to take leadership in this area,” she said.
“That’s really important. The cultural governance is what is going to help bed this down and make it an ordinary part of cultural governance into the future.”
As well as winning the overall title of NT Business Woman of the Year, Ms Mason also took out the Purpose and Social Enterprise Award at a ceremony in Darwin last week.
She took over the helm of NPYWC in 2009 after a career devoted to helping Aboriginal people through employment, workforce planning and other areas in both the public and private sectors. The NPYWC supports its members in three States through a variety of services and education and employment programs.