Margaret. Larissa. Emily. Joan. Eurydice. The Nara Peace Bell tolls again, and again, and again across the water on a drizzly, grey Canberra evening, once for every one of the 66 women who have died through violence against women in Australia this year.
For those of us gathered to ring the bell, it’s almost unbearable to say the third or fourth names, to hear how many women are dying in their sixties, their seventies, even their nineties, many of them at the hands of people they should be able to trust. Finally, the bell rings for the children who have also lost their lives, and the men who have died.
Organised by the Zonta Club in Canberra in collaboration with Rotary, the bell ringing ceremony marked the end of 16 days of global activism regarding violence against women and came on the same evening as the ACT government made its annual Violence Prevention Awards. December 9 is Human Rights Day.
Stephanie Goulston from Zonta Canberra says the 16 days of activism had particular resonance for their group. “We are involved with the women’s refuges here in Canberra and so we know what it’s like for the women moving in and out, the shocking way that violence can affect them.”
Zonta members created displays of orange flowers in the Woden and Gungahlin libraries, echoing the colour of the fifth UN sustainable development goal, equality, and enlisted the help of the Burley Griffin Rotary branch to organise the memorial ceremony.
The Nara Peace Bell was unveiled in February this year, and Mike Rabey from the club says that its role fits with Rotary’s fourth global objective, the advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace. All peace bells are identical, cast Japanese temple bells made from the melted coins of different UN nations. They serve as a reminder of the lives lost in violence. Canberra’s bell is the 23rd in the world, and the second in Australia.
“We’ve always found it hard to know how you get active about peace,” Mike says. “Today as we were standing together, we were both moved and shocked about what’s still happening to women in 2018. Rotary International stands for a peaceful world at all levels and in all ways. We were involved in establishing the UNHCR, and with the UN at the beginning and we haven’t let that message go.”
The ACT Violence Prevention Awards recognise projects, organisations and individuals who make a significant contribution towards the prevention of violence against women and children in Canberra.
Minister Yvette Berry says that each of the recipients have worked to make our community safer, and raise awareness of violence against women and children in our community, worked to change attitudes and behaviours to support an anti-violence culture, or developed innovative ways to prevent violence.
The recipients are: Everyman, for their Partner Contact program; Menslink, for their programs changing and breaking the cycle of violence; the UnionsACT Women’s Committee for championing a change of culture within the workplace; Veterinary Support for DVCS clients; Lyneham High School for its DARE student-led program; Amaroo School, for its LEADAS program; ABC news, for continuing coverage around the issue, Professor Vanitha Parekh for education for frontline staff; and DVCS Social Media Champions, for using individuals to spread information around domestic violence.
Minister Berry said that the factors affecting women’s safety are complex and varied and there is no one government agency that can fix this issue alone. The challenge is there for the whole community to take a tough stance against domestic and family violence, as something that can’t be ignored.