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CFA NWR: partnering against violence
On Monday 27 July, some of the best minds in the north-west joined CFA to discuss violence prevention and gender equity at the fourth meeting of the CFA North West Region Violence Prevention Advisory Group (VPAG).
Partner organisations now span Women’s Health, local government and organisations working with Indigenous and CALD communities. Together, the group is exploring ways CFA can help promote cultures of non-violence in North West Region.
"We all know violence against women is a scourge right across Australia," said Mike Wassing, Assistant Chief Officer North West Region and Chair of VPAG. "As CFA plays a significant role in local communities, we’re uniting with other organisations to take a stand. VPAG ensures we’re taking the lead from experts in this field."
Women’s Health in the North (WHIN) has been instrumental in leading debates about gender equity and violence against women during disasters. Senior Researcher Deb Parkinson, also a member of EMV’s Gender and Disaster Task Force, provided an enlightening overview of the research and strategic work occurring in this space. WHIN CEO Helen Riseborough also outlined their work with community and government.
"Strong messages and strategic action from well-respected institutions like CFA help spread the word about how to lead the change," said Helen, "and the only way to tackle such a massive social problem is to ensure we’re doing a range of things both inside and outside our respective organisations at all levels."
Linda Beilharz, Executive Officer of Women’s Health Loddon Mallee, talked about what other organisations are doing and how lessons learned and approaches can benefit the CFA. "Like most women’s health organisations, we work from a public health perspective, which focuses on prevention and collaboration. The sharing of knowledge and resources is critical," Linda said.
"Things like WHIN’s Violence Prevention Audit Tool and AFL’s Respect and Responsibility Framework help us make the best use of our time and guide us towards identifying strategies that are appropriate to our organisations and communities."
Noemi Cummings, Executive Officer Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services, and Deborah Webster, Aboriginal Community Development Broker for the Loddon Mallee Region, also first-time VPAG attendees, reminded us of the different ways diverse communities respond to and deal with violence and emergencies.
"Indigenous people are less likely to access mainstream services at any time, not just during emergencies," said Deborah. "Ensuring space is created for our engagement in all forms of strategy development will help improve service delivery to Aboriginal people in Victoria. I am delighted to represent my community on CFA’s VPAG."
Noemi Cummings agrees and described how participation in the meeting has deepened her understanding about the link between violence prevention, the work of CFA and the role her organisation can play in spreading the word within CALD communities.
"Our communities respond to family violence and to fires in very different ways. By working with the VPAG, I can see a clear path for assisting the communities we work with," she said.
The diversity of knowledge and experience of VPAG partners demonstrates that strategising about violence prevention has a deeper application. Only through the exploration of the cultural dimensions of our lives - what we accept, what we value and what we believe - can we begin to understand that this is where the real work needs to be done.
NWR is investing in violence prevention and cultural change by giving our people the knowledge and skills to think and act differently. As a first step, during August and September CFA members in NWR will undertake Bystander Training to help them step up and stop attitudes and behaviours that support violence in our workplaces and communities. The training also introduces concepts about unconscious bias.
"It’s often hard to see the link between cultural change and individual responsibility," said Mike Wassing. "The socialisation of the new CFA values provides an opportunity to explore how we embed them in our thinking and behaviours at corporate and brigade level. And as CFA members play a role in their families, brigades and communities, if we can positively influence all the roles that members play, we’re doing something strong and positive for our communities."
Through VPAG, we’re improving understanding and developing strategies about violence prevention, but we can equally apply the same framework to cultural change more broadly within CFA. The objective is obvious - a CFA that is welcoming, inclusive and contributing to the safety of everyone in our community.
"In doing so we’re working towards a CFA that sets a high standard and doesn’t tolerate attitudes and behaviours that prevent this from being achieved in our communities. So we encourage all CFA members to put their thinking caps on and ask ‘what can I do to be part of creating this change?'," said Mike.
For more information about bystander action, watch Vic Health’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4R5KVIPReYs