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Business must evolve to help end gendered violence

03:00pm October 17 2022

Catherine Fitzpatrick calls for businesses to broaden the focus of their efforts to help end gendered violence in Australia. (Getty)

The last decade has seen foundational progress towards tackling the prevalence of violence against women and children in Australia, but the statistics show this societal scourge remains at epidemic proportions.

Like most Australians, I’m outraged by the stubborn pervasiveness of such violence – in particular, that a woman is killed by an intimate partner on average every 10 days.  

But having been part of the advisory group which helped shape the new 10-year National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children, I am also optimistic that progress is poised to accelerate over the next decade.

My optimism, however, is reliant on the rubber truly hitting the road in terms of the investment into the key areas of focus outlined in the national plan. The framework is robust and the willingness is stronger than ever from all parts of society to help effect change – now it’s all about action if we’re to meet the goal of ending gendered violence in a generation. The first 10-year plan has made a difference but nowhere near enough; the second is resetting the clock.

Of particular interest to me is the role of Australian businesses in this ambition. 

The part played by businesses – as both workplaces and service providers – has been specifically called out in the new national plan, reflecting growing recognition of the impact of family and domestic violence on workplaces as well as the influence they can have on preventing it. 

This recognition – advocated by experts and unions for years, then catalysed by domestic violence campaigner and Australian of the Year Rosie Batty AO in 2015 – has gained momentum and already led to an exponential rise in the actions taken by businesses in just the past five years. 

Most of these actions to date reflect the uncomfortable fact that, based on statistics, both victim-survivors and perpetrators are likely to be among the workforce of almost every business. 

Progress to address this is evident in data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which shows that among nearly 4,500 Australian businesses with 4.2 million employees, 70 per cent now have a formal policy or strategy on addressing DFV as a workplace issue, up from 43 per cent five years ago. 

In addition, 51 per cent offer paid DFV leave; 41 per cent have DFV training for key personnel such as those working in HR, up from 14 per cent five years ago; and on every other DFV workplace measure – such as offering accommodation, medical services and financial support – the data shows improvements. 

While this focus on employees must continue, I believe over the next ten years businesses must also lead change beyond the workplace by upping their focus on customers and redesigning their products for safety. 

This is particularly true for businesses offering essential services – such as banks, utilities and telecommunication providers. 

Not only does research show that people experiencing domestic and family violence are more likely to ask for help from a bank than specialist DFV services, it’s also a fact that perpetrators weaponise their products and services to inflict abuse, in particular economic and financial abuse. 

There are many examples of this, such as the vile act of using financial transactions as an alternative messaging platform to send inappropriate messages to a victim to abuse, threaten and intimidate.

This means businesses need to turn their minds to preventing and responding to this abuse through the design and delivery of their products and services, so they are safer and prevent misuse. This is the next evolution of the role of business to end gendered violence.

Anecdotally, businesses are doing a lot to support their customers – but data is sparse when it comes to understanding the full extent and impact. We don’t know how many customers disclose DFV, nor what support was provided. 

We don’t know how many customer complaints relate to DFV. This level of data is not reported by businesses nor Ombudsmen.

We also don’t know how many customers have specifically asked for extra protection of personal information, and in how many instances this has been breached. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner does not publish this information. 

And we don’t know how those who don’t survive gendered violence may have asked for help from businesses. Death reviews focus on how systems have failed, but look at the public and community sector. Police may investigate and retrace the steps of a perpetrator through their purchases and bank records, but inquests don’t necessarily look at whether the victim disclosed their situation or sought help.

I believe this data is essential to complete the picture, to fully understand where actions should be targeted and to track their impact. 

While there is still so much more to do, I am heartened by the trajectory and the willingness of businesses to play their part, as well as the elevated focus on preventing economic abuse, including financial abuse, as a priority in the new national plan. 

Businesses can and should lead change beyond the workplace. 

Because it will take all segments of society to accelerate the action to end gendered violence in Australia for good.


If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, please contact 1800 RESPECT.   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Westpac Group.


Catherine Fitzpatrick was appointed to the Commonwealth Government's National Plan Advisory Group in 2021 as the only business representative to inform the development of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children. She is also a member of the Monash Safe and Equal @ Work Advisory Board. Catherine has established and led specialist customer vulnerability teams at two of Australia’s leading banks. She is known for her passion for gender equality and the role business can play to end domestic and family violence, and was recognised nationally in 2018 as an AFR 100 Woman of Influence.

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