COVID Conversations: Natasha Stott Despoja

Shadowed figure in front of rainy window

One tragic consequence of the COVID-19 lockdown has been an increase in incidences of domestic and family violence (DFV) in Australia. In this week’s COVID Conversation, Natasha Stott Despoja, founding Chair of Our Watch, the national foundation to prevent violence against women and their children, and DCA CEO Lisa Annese, examine the scourge of DFV in our society, and how organisations can make a difference.
With the workplace providing a regular escape for victims and survivors of DFV, lockdown has meant that for many, this safe space is no longer accessible. Adding the COVID-19 wildcard in with a complex mix of compounding factors, has meant that those most vulnerable to DFV have been placed at even greater risk.
Natasha explains, “The consequences of being more in our homes, increased stress, fewer distractions, financial pressures - these things can exacerbate this violence. And they include disrespect for women and children, rigid gender roles and men's dominance, particularly in decision-making or over financials.”
Now that we know that DFV is no longer a taboo, private family matter, and that its effects upon the workplace in terms of absenteeism, lack of productivity and mental health issues are tangible, organisations recognise that they can play a vital role in the welfare of their employees and customers.
Says Natasha, “Workplaces have a unique responsibility, not just in the short term to make sure that colleagues are okay, rather that they’re actually providing flexible workplace opportunities at a time when we've needed them, like never before, but for the medium and long term too. Now is the time to embed policies that respect gender equality and promote it.”
It is this future focus on inclusive work practices that Natasha believes will bring about a sustainable cultural shift. And with pandemic aftershocks affording the opportunity for re-writing the workplace rule book, the time is right for organisations to design and implement effective structures and programs to combat DFV, or optimise existing ones.
According to Natasha, “Now is the time to embed policies that respect gender equality and promote it. Now is the time to make sure you have domestic violence policy leave so that people can get paid leave if they need to deal with domestic and family violence and the subsequent issues.”
Despite the alarming increase in DFV during COVID-19, more organisations than ever before are keen to do more and this increased level of awareness and concern inspires optimism in Natasha: “There are transformative policies that I hope we will see businesses implement post-COVID so that we have a society that is already more equal, ethical, respectful, egalitarian.”
If you, or someone you know is experiencing DFV contact 1800 RESPECT.
If you, or someone you know is concerned about perpetuating DFV contact Men'sLine or No to Violence.
Further resources:

DCA COVID Conversations: Our Watch Interview

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