Women’s experience of violence in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires

2017-03-01T01:03:37Z (GMT) by Parkinson, Debra Frances
This thesis documents the first Australian research to interview women about their experiences of domestic violence after catastrophic disaster. As such research is rare in developed countries, it addresses a gap in the disaster literature. Interviews with 30 women in two shires in Victoria confirmed that domestic violence increased following the Black Saturday bushfires on 7th February, 2009. The scant research that exists internationally indicates that not only is the notion of ‘women and children first’ a myth, but that women are disproportionally affected by disasters primarily as a result of their poverty relative to men and prescribed gender roles. This research found that women experiencing increased male violence were silenced in preference of supporting suffering men – men who had been heroes in the fires or were traumatised or unemployed as a result of the disaster. The silencing was evident in the lack of statistics on domestic violence in the aftermath of Black Saturday, the neglect of this issue in recovery and reconstruction operations, and the responses to women’s reports of violence against them by legal, community and health professionals. Three broad explanations for increased domestic violence after Black Saturday are identified – drawn from empirical findings from the field and the research literature. Theoretical concepts from two disparate fields – sacrifice and male privilege – help to explain a key finding that women’s right to live free from violence is conditional. Indeed, the aftermath of Black Saturday presents Australians with the opportunity to see how deeply embedded misogyny is and how fragile our attempts to criminalise domestic violence and hold violent men accountable for their actions. The post-disaster period – characterised as it is by men in uniforms on the ground working, saving, rescuing and restoring; powerful imagery about the role of wives and mothers; increased violence by men; mandatory care-loads for women; and the suffering of good men – presents fertile ground for the fortification of male hegemony. Yet, post-disaster change does not have to be regressive, reinstating and reinforcing the traditional inequitable structure – a structure that has high costs for men and women. An emergency management response to disaster that has embedded gender equity at all levels, together with education of communities on the contribution of strict gender roles to suffering in disaster’s aftermath, could exemplify and hasten a more equal society where men’s violence against women is rare.