Women are reaching economic equality but femicide rises

Kat Wong |

Concerns are rising about the number of women killed through gender-based violence so far this year.
Concerns are rising about the number of women killed through gender-based violence so far this year.

Australians have witnessed a surge in femicides even as women’s economic equality continues to improve and experts say this highlights a “missing piece” in the nation’s approach to gender-based violence.

The Australian Institute of Criminology found 34 women had been killed by an intimate partner in 2022-23 but that number is believed to have grown in 2024 with Australian Femicide Watch recording 43 deaths in the first six months of the year.

At the same time, economic equality improved in the March quarter with the latest Financy Women’s Index showing more women were doing paid work and the gap between male and female underemployment rates shrinking.

For some men, gender equality initiatives can destabilise their sense of masculinity, University of Canberra associate professor Leonora Risse said.

This could prompt them to commit acts of violence as they try to assert control and dominance over women.

“This all points to a drastically missing piece in our approach to gender equality,” she said.

“If we are going to economically empower women, we need to nurture a society that is not afraid of women being empowered.”

Though improved economic equality has historically been correlated with declining gender-based violence, this link has started to show signs of decoupling.

Despite a positive shift in attitudes towards gender equality, thanks to events like the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Barbie movie, Australia’s progress went backwards in 2023 with the data reflecting an increase in women’s unpaid work.

Dr Risse urged the government to allocate more resources to initiatives that support men and boys to develop healthy ideals of masculinity.

“By awakening men and boys to the wider ways to achieve purpose and fulfilment – beyond the narrow template of traditional masculine traits – women’s economic empowerment becomes less of a competitive threat,” she said.

The Albanese government has spent $3.4 billion on women’s safety since entering office, committing funding to financial support for those fleeing violence, money for crisis accommodation and support for legal-aid commissions.

While this spending is welcome, Dr Risse notes the Commonwealth has allocated an additional $50.3 billion to defence over the next decade.

“For a woman in Australia, it is not an enemy on the national border who poses the greatest threat to her wellbeing, freedom and life,” she said.

“It’s more likely to be the stalkers, trolls, abusers, and former or current partners, the men looking to claim control, who have intruded into her neighbourhood, her streets, her phone, her bedroom, her own home, her own private space. 

“Defence does not come in the form of long-range missiles, it comes from extinguishing the threats that loom on home ground.”

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