Womens right to safety and respect is still MIA

by Dr. Robbie Lloyd

As the mental health priority of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement for 2020-21 continues to be explored among parishes and schools, there is a major issue crying out to be heard much more prominently.

Australian women have had enough of being mistreated, disrespected and abused, in a society that is still male dominated in its institutions, culture, attitudes and behaviours. Women’s right to safety and respect is still Missing In Action across Australia. Our history of misogynistic treatment of girls and women is dogging the nation’s development, as the recent street protests about rampant abusive behaviour towards women in politics have shown.

Catholics can be part of the solution when our movement towards balanced mental health among all ages includes respectful relations between men and women, and people of difference and diversity. This is major mental health problem, as too many girls and women are being traumatised by abusive treatment by men, both in positions of power and generally in families, businesses, educational settings and community groups.

One answer is in better education for boys about how to act more respectfully in relations with women, whether friends, sisters, mothers or strangers. Too many boys are still unconsciously copying older men’s assumption that they come first. Priests and school principals are key to spreading a new message, that it takes conscious learning to change behaviours that have been around for centuries in an unquestioned culture of silence.

So for the mental health of all of us, and particularly women who are still waiting for just and equal treatment to turn up all across Australia, we urge Catholic parishes, schools and  communities to discuss these issues, and to explore ways to more consciously change the way men behave towards women.