Women’s Health Goulburn North East chief executive Amanda Kelly has called for State Budget funding to address inequality issues for women.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

WOMEN’S Health Goulburn North East is campaigning for more funding and dedicated investment in gender equality initiatives from the 2021-22 State Budget to address inequality compounded by the pandemic.

The state-funded organisation’s chief executive Amanda Kelly said the pandemic halted previous gains in Victoria, and reinforced the sense of urgency behind WHGNE’s work to help organisations address the drivers of gender inequality.

“COVID actually really shone a spotlight on what we do because women have been among the hardest hit,” she said.

“Because issues are systemic, every organisation needs help.”

Female unemployment in Victoria reached an all-time high last year. In July 2020, the rate of female job loss in Victoria was almost five times the rate for men, and between March and August, there was a 7.1 per cent decline in the number of Victorian women in jobs, compared to a 6.2 per cent decline for men.

“That is because more women are employed in part-time and casual work than men are, and they were a lot of the jobs that went,” Ms Kelly said.

Women’s Health Goulburn North East has put together a submission asking for funding in six key areas, including sexual and reproductive health programs throughout the Goulburn Valley and north-east Victoria; prevention of violence against women partnerships across the region; local health promotion campaigns aligned with the state’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign; mental health for women programming; and the creation of a state-wide Gender and Disaster Workforce.

The organisation started the Gender and Disaster initiative 10 years ago, researching how different groups are impacted in a crisis.

“People are now understanding that gender stereotypes can really impact on how you prepare for, live through and recover from disaster. We’d like to make this a priority because we’ve had bushfires, floods [and] we’ve got COVID,” Ms Kelly said.

Aside from the financial fallout from the pandemic disproportionately affecting women, family violence also dramatically increased during Victoria’s lockdown last year, at a rate as high as 15.3 per cent in June 2020 compared to the same time one year earlier.

“People tend to think of violence as being physical, but violence is a lot more than that,” Ms Kelly said.

“Coercive control is horrible and can be as damaging as the physical, and sometimes even more damaging because of the ongoing mental health and psychological issues.

“We know of women who were told during lockdown that they were not allowed to leave the house at all … not given access to news and weren’t allowed their phones.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for those that are already being manipulative and controlling and violent to provide misinformation to exacerbate that.”

Ms Kelly said more funding was needed because the organisatin geographically covered one fifth of the state but only had 10 staff members.

“It’s clear that the State Government values community, and women’s health [is] connected into the community,” she said.

“I’d like them to value what we do and fund us to do this work so we can be more effective.”

People at risk of family violence can contact 1800 RESPECT to speak to a counsellor.