Structural inequality in the time of COVID-19: family violence, temporary migrants and housing

Naomi Pfitzner | Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre

Government directed lockdowns across the globe have forced people to shelter in homes in order to reduce the community spread of COVID-19. While for some home may be a safe haven, United Nations research shows that ‘home’ is the most dangerous place for women and children worldwide. In fact, family violence is the leading contributor to homelessness for women and children in Australia.

In the latest session of the Responding to the ‘shadow pandemic’ webinar series co-hosted by the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre and Domestic Violence Victoria panellists Michal Morris the CEO of inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, Associate Professor Marie Segrave from Monash University, Kate Colvin from the Council to Homeless Persons and Jade Blakkarly CEO of WISHIN discussed how concerns about housing can be a barrier to leaving abusive relationships.

The message from all panellists was clear: COVID-19 has exacerbated systemic issues faced by women experiencing family violence and exposed Australia’s safe housing crisis.

Kate Colvin from the Council to Homeless Persons praised JobKeeper payments for elevating women’s, particularly single mothers’, access to the private rental market during the pandemic. However, she emphasised that JobKeeper payments are stop-gap measures saying that ‘when COVID funding stops it will be terrifying’. Echoing these concerns Jade Blakkarly asked ‘what will happen when the money stops?’ and called for a gender informed recovery response to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 experience is different for temporary migrants. Temporary visa holders have been excluded from economic support packages and told by the Prime Minister to ‘go home’. The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre recently partnered with inTouch on a report that investigated the impact of COVID-19 on temporary visa holders experiencing family violence. Lead author Marie Segrave explained that COVID-19 has heightened the precariousness of temporary migrants’ livelihoods with 70% of the women in the study losing their jobs due COVID-19 restrictions. Michal Morris CEO of inTouch explained that the lack of financial support to women on temporary visas experiencing family violence is creating an ‘underclass’.

The panel discussion highlighted the need for structural change. Michal Morris emphasised that the ‘circuit breaker’ for temporary visa holders is to change the system. ‘These women are a part of our community. They live here and they need support’.

Kate Colvin closed the webinar with a call to arms; “In terms of fighting for more social housing, there are ways for both organisations and individuals to be involved in lobbying the Federal government. They know that this is an issue but don’t care enough. The way to make them care, is to show them that we care’.

Register Now: Responding to the ‘Shadow Pandemic’ Webinar Series