By Kirra Grimes
THE Change for Sam committee painted the town orange over the weekend, as part of a global push for gender equality and the end of violence against women and girls.
With loads of family friendly attractions set up outside the Cowes Cultural Centre on Saturday, the community enthusiastically embraced the message of the day: that with gender equality, we all thrive.
The activities on offer, including gymnastics, yoga and music workshops, were designed to get that message through at an early age, and promote a culture of mutual respect by showing that boys and girls are equally capable when given the same opportunities in life.
A long list of organisations supported the event – from the Phillip Island San Remo Rotary Club providing the sausage sizzle, to local sports clubs and the CFA running activities, to the Department of Education sharing information on the ‘Respectful Relationships’ program established in state secondary schools following the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence.
Victoria Police had one of the most impressive displays of the day, with their bright orange patrol car attracting plenty of interest and sparking conversations around violence prevention.
Local Area Commander for Bass Coast and South Gippsland Paul Bruders told the Sentinel-Times domestic violence remained a significant problem in the Bass Coast/South Gippsland community, with around two thirds of police work devoted to such cases, and the problem brought into stark relief by the alleged murder psychologist and mother-of-three Samantha Fraser in her Cowes home in 2018.
“Police are 100 per cent supportive of efforts to achieve gender equality because gender inequality is one of the major drivers of domestic violence,” he said.
“Our role is to make society a better place, so eliminating violence against women and kids is certainly part of that.
“Like the road toll, the target is zero [victims], so we want to make sure everyone is confident in calling out unacceptable behaviour and that everyone understands what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable. It’s all part of breaking the cycle of violence,” he said.
The Change for Sam committee formed in response to Ms Fraser’s death, allegedly at the hands of an abusive ex-partner.
Since the tragedy, they’ve been working actively to achieve increased community awareness and better support for women experiencing or at risk of violence, and the Turn it Orange event was the latest expression of that, explained committee member Tash Stapleton.
“Unfortunately, gender inequality is really deeply ingrained in our culture because a lot of us have grown up with some pretty silly ideas about what men and women should and shouldn’t do or be.
“So, this event is about bringing the community together to say, especially to the kids, that no matter what gender you are, you can do anything you want to do.
“Getting them to participate in things together promotes respect of each other, which can lead to stopping family violence and violence against women and girls, which is the ultimate goal,” Tash said.
Department of Education spokesperson Andrea Penrose said there was a lot of hope for the next generation to “change the story” of family violence, with high school students responding well to the values taught through the Respectful Relationships program, which runs in all Bass Coast and South Gippsland state secondary schools.
“It’s going to take a long-term cultural change but the younger we start, the more chance we have of getting the message through, and kids actually seem to ‘get it’ way more than adults do,” Andrea said.
If you, a friend or family member are experiencing family violence, call:
*1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the 24-hour national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and information referral service.
*The Orange Door 1800 319 354 (business hours) – a free service for adults, children and young people experiencing or who have experienced family violence.
If you need emergency assistance, call triple zero.
Men who need to change their behaviour can contact the 24-hour Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.