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🎧 This piece includes audio and video (with transcripts) from our hopeful contributors.
To maintain a movement, we need hope. And this movement, to end family and gender-based violence, is one we must work to maintain hope for.
It is preventable. We can get there. Working together to individually and collectively maintain hope is crucial in our efforts to create a world free from family and gender-based violence, where everyone is safe, thriving and respected.
We are not meant to do this work alone, nor are we required to rely on self-care and individual resilience…in moments when hope is hard to grasp, it is possible to borrow the hope of others.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that takes place from 25 November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10 December (International Human Rights Day).
Throughout the campaign, communities across the globe engage in a range of activities, events and advocacy efforts to draw attention to the prevalence of gender-based violence, and to promote initiatives that work towards its eradication.
To commemorate this year’s campaign, we wanted to explore the concept of hope in family violence work. To support this, we asked colleagues from across the sector to share what hope looks like to them, and how they maintain hope in their work to end family and gender-based violence.
This article centres the personal stories and experiences of many different people, who have varied feelings and opinions about hope. We want to acknowledge that the work we all do can be hard – and for many, the world feels particularly heavy right now. It’s our intention for this piece to serve as an act of collective care and for it to exist beyond the 16 Days of Activism, to help us continue our mission to end family and gender-based violence.
In late 2022, the Centre Against Violence facilitated an art program with survivors of family and sexual violence. Over the course of a year, participants worked with therapists and artists to produce works of art that gave voice to their experiences and celebrated their strength. When it came time to exhibit the works at a local gallery in the Ovens Murray region of Victoria in August of this year, opening night was quickly booked out.
“The hope in the room was incredible,” reflects Centre Against Violence CEO, Jaime Chubb. “All the artwork showed experiences of intense sadness, isolation, and trauma – yet all of the women who created them were strong and excited for the future.”
For those who attended the exhibition, many of whom work exclusively in the crisis space, being able to step back and see what recovery could look like was a powerful – and hopeful – experience.
“Seeing this allowed me to remember that ‘recovery’ isn’t just about becoming safe or moving on from the violence,” says Jaime. “Recovery can actually be about learning how to live with the story and the memories, and building a life that acknowledges the experiences and celebrates the enormous strength it took to survive.”
Advocacy work in the family and gender-based violence space is a journey marked by highs and lows, victories and setbacks. Achieving long-term structural and societal change can often be challenging, and at times, progress feels frustratingly slow. As individuals, seeking out and maintaining a sense of hope in our work is not just important, but crucial. Sometimes, it is the only thing that gets us out of bed, out the door, and keeps us here when things get tough – which can be often.
Nurturing and maintaining hope in our efforts to address family and gender-based violence is an active pursuit. The things we see and experience that remind us that the outcomes we are working towards are possible and worth continuing to fight for are uniquely individual.
Hope stretches beyond expressions of unconstrained optimism, beyond passively waiting for the world to improve. It does not exist in isolation, nor to placate or minimise the very real despair, anguish and frustration experienced by those advocating for meaningful change, and by those who are subject to multiple and intersecting layers of systemic marginalisation and discrimination. Conversely, hope is often driven by these feelings – as an inner rebellion, a way for us to channel our emotions into action. Hope can be angry. It can be fierce. It can be an act of defiance against detractors.
Hope doesn’t preclude feeling sadness or frustration or anger or any other emotion that makes total sense. Hope isn’t an emotion, you know? Hope is not optimism. Hope is a discipline… we have to practice it every single day.
American activist, grassroots organiser and educator
Listen to Safe and Equal life member Keran Howe on finding hope in the collective:
Individual experiences of hope within family and gender-based violence advocacy do not exist in a vacuum. Each moment, each experience, each choice made to maintain and nurture hope is interconnected, an expertly woven tapestry driven by what has been, and what can be.
The movement to eliminate family and gender-based violence in Australia as it exists today is informed by a long line of people who have come before us; individuals and groups who sought to radically change the way Australia viewed family and gender-based violence. These change-makers – from the grassroots activists who created Australia’s first women’s refuges in the 1960s and 1970s, to the First Nations and LGBTIQA+ activists still working to dismantle the significant discrimination and marginalisation their communities experience to this day – form a collective that spans generations and will continue far beyond our lifetimes.
For Joe Ball, CEO of Switchboard, hope stems from reflecting on this rich history of collective advocacy, and all that has been achieved against incredible odds.
“Change is always possible,” he says. “I know this because I have witnessed so much change for the better in my own lifetime for LGBTIQA+ people. I am a huge fan of history, and it tells us that even things that seem like completely intractable structures can crumble; whether that is the Berlin Wall or discrimination against transgender people. If it is built and controlled by people, then it can be transformed.”
In outer-western Melbourne, this idea of change and transformation is very real for Djirra, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation providing support to Aboriginal people who have experienced family violence. Earlier this year, Djirra opened the doors of Djirra in the West, a service located in Melton – which has the highest rates of family violence incidents in north-west Melbourne.
For Antoinette Braybrook, CEO of Djirra, the launch was a full circle moment – and a reiteration that change is always possible. “[My] family has been in the Melton area for more than 50 years. We were the first – and only – Aboriginal family for many years,” says Antionette. “Today, this western corridor is the fastest growing Aboriginal population, [yet] here was a clear gap in dedicated, culturally safe services for our people. We knew the demand was there in the west – and that meant Djirra [had to] be there too.”
For the team at Djirra, opening the Melton space is the first step in expanding services across Victoria, and ultimately, forms part of their aim of transforming the lives of Aboriginal women across the state. This idea of the potential to work together for transformation – no matter how complex, or how slow moving – isas a driver of why we do the work that is echoed by many.
“Over the years, I have realised that in order to create a new and better world, we cannot only focus on what needs to be dismantled, but [we must find] ways of mobilising and working together to imagine what we will build in its place,” says Maria Dimopoulos, Board Chair of Safe and Equal.
“Like so many around me during the late 1980s and early 1990s, I joined the feminist movement and; dedicating myself to raising diverse voices that could attest to the histories, strength, resilience, endurance, vision, and survival that are part of the experiences of migrant and refugee women,” says Maria.
“When migrant and refugee women are involved and their voices truly heard, they change the face of gender and intersectional equality. They alter assumptions, expand horizons and push boundaries.”
It is this incredible sense of the collective that so often fosters hope. It is the feeling we are a part of something bigger than our individual selves and experiences; and that, as a connected force, real change is possible. This spreads far and wide: across communities, across the sector and across the continuum, from prevention, to early intervention, to response and recovery.
“Our community experienced a homicide of a woman recently,” says Margaret Augerinos, CEO of the Centre for Non-Violence. “This was tragic and extremely distressing for many… [but] coming together during a community vigil to express our collective grief also supported us to express hope that gendered violence is preventable.”
“We left with a concrete understanding that we are not alone; that we all have a part to play… that we all can take efforts to inform and influence others around us,” she describes. “Out of tragedy came understanding, hope and renewed commitment to working together.”
“As practitioners working to prevent family and gender-based violence, we’re in the business of social change – and this isn’t an easy business,” says Marina Carman, Executive Director of Primary Prevention at Safe and Equal. “But wow, you meet some great people…and what gives me hope is seeing all those little lightbulb moments – both for ourselves and the people we’ve changed – and knowing each one is part of a growing sea of lights.”
“I am extremely moved by the unlikely heroes, the underdogs, the people who speak up when they have everything to lose,” says Joe Ball. “The first person who dissents to injustice, the survivor who seeks to remedy a system that failed them, the family member who dedicates their life to change after their loved one is killed, the person who doesn’t want vengeance, even when they have every reason to. I look at all these people and I am filled with hope that human beings can be miraculous, especially – or perhaps because of – the darkest times.”
[Hope is] intersectional feminism, recognising the power of victim survivors in their hopes, resistance and collective strength.
Through amplifying diverse voices and fostering solidarity, we can together work towards a society that values social justice and wellbeing for all, dismantling oppressive structures in the process.
When we step back to look at the wider picture, it’s clear we’ve come a long way. There have been incredible changes to the way Australia recognises and responds to family and gender-based violence in the last few decades – and particularly, in the last eight years.
Despite this, we know much more needs to be done – as a collective, and particularly for those who are trying to nurture hope amongst incredible oppression and marginalisation.
“Even with the failed referendum, I still have hope for change,” says Antoinette Braybrook. “Our women are strong, courageous and resilient, and deserve better. This is why Djirra creates spaces where women’s business and collective wisdom can be celebrated, where there’s strength and healing in cultural identity. And most of all, where women are self-determining individually and collectively.”
“It’s important to not lose sight of the appalling rates of violence against Aboriginal women,” adds Antoinette. “But where the hope comes is that we have the solutions, and we have the wisdom to make real change.”
“Elizabeth Morgan House was established by strong and staunch Aboriginal women,” says Kalina Morgan-Whyman, CEO of Elizabeth Morgan House. “We strive to honour them every day in our work to uphold the rights of women and children to live a life free from violence,” she adds.
“We have a commitment to providing the space and support so every woman can heal and not be defined by acts against them, outside of their control.”
Watch Nadia Mattiazzo, CEO of Women with Disabilities Victoria, share what makes her hopeful in her work:
For disability rights activist and Safe and Equal life member Keran Howe, hope comes from working within an ever expanding and evolving sector – one working to be more inclusive of all people who experience violence.
Listen to Keran Howe:
“Our work as allies must always be grounded in humility, collaboration, and accountability,” says Maria Dimopoulos. “In our spheres of influence, we need to interrupt social and political injustice by challenging the practices and policies that protect privilege and keep it in place.”
“We can use our own privilege to ensure that power is more equitably shared,” says Maria. “We can shine a light on every program, every action and endeavour we are engaged in, asking: Whose voices are being sought out and heard? Who decides what is important, right, beautiful, true, and valued?”
“Hope in action is working with other specialists, protecting that moment in time when a victim survivor reports family violence.
In that moment, she is believed, she matters. Nothing is more important than her safety. In the crisis response bubble, we are left wanting equality and safety more than ever before for those who report – and for those who never will.”
On For Change
The things that keep us engaged in family and gender-based violence advocacy are as wide and varied as the things that brought us to the sector in the first place. For many, being able to recognise the connections between the impacts of our day-to-day work and the bigger, broader picture of long-term structural change is where hope lies.
“[It’s] being able to see positive changes in the lives of the women and children we work with,” says Kalimna Andy, Manager of Family Violence Services at Elizabeth Morgan House.
“I am inspired by the resilience and strength displayed by our women and feel honoured they trust myself and Elizabeth Morgan House to walk along-side them to overcome the many advertises they face.”
Nicole Du Toit, Advanced Family Violence Practice Leader at WAYSS, agrees.
Watch Nicole Du Toit share what keeps her hopeful in her work:
For Pania Craik, Team Leader of Family Violence at Quantum Support Services, hope comes from the strength and resilience of victim survivors.
“When women and children first come into our service, we often experience the hope that they are holding onto – the hope to live a life free of family violence and its impacts,” says Pania. “[As we begin] walking alongside someone in their journey, we often see that hope turn into empowerment – and that is why we do what we do.”
“For me, the hope usually comes from children and young people,” says Jaime Chubb. “[The] best moments involve seeing them smile, their excitement at finding out they get a house, their resilience to start again, their ability to still love and forgive,” she says.
“My office sits next to our reception area – the difference to a young person’s demeanour when they are greeted and treated with respect and compassion still gives me goosebumps.”
When survivor advocate Conor Pall had the opportunity to speak at this year’s Walk Against Family Violence in Melbourne, he chose to focus on hope – and the meaningful action required to turn hope into real change for victim survivors.
“Hope is weaved throughout our stories,” said Conor. “It was in every submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence seven years ago. Victim survivors wrote in in the hundreds – sharing stories of survival and the failings of the system.”
“Each story was different – but each was bound by a common thread – hope. This hope lives within every one of us… a story. A principle – that everyone has the right to safety and freedom. Freedom from violence, safety from the people who use it, [and the] space to heal and recover from its impacts.”
Listen to survivor advocate Marie Allen on what hope means to her:
We’ve always gotta remember, being a survivor of family violence, it’s always there, but at the end, we always find a way to move on. The scars will always be there, but we always find ways to move on, and look for more hope, and action that hope.
Listen to Keran Howe:
Nurturing hope when things are hard
This work is hard. Working to challenge gender inequality and the deeply ingrained beliefs and behaviours that allow this violence to thrive is hard. Working to support victim survivors in an underfunded and overwhelmed system is hard. Sharing lived experiences of violence to advocate for change is hard. These barriers can be incredibly overwhelming – particularly when it’s difficult to see progress. Finding – and nurturing – hope during these times can not only feel challenging, but impossible.
But if we have learnt anything from our time with colleagues during this year’s 16 Days of Activism, hope is always there – we just need to be deliberate about how we seek it out. We can adjust what it looks like in any given moment or any given context. And if others are struggling to see it, we can take the opportunity to share it.
Hear from Nadia Mattiazzo:
The idea of recognising and celebrating each step forward – even if painfully slow – is pivotal to nurturing hope when things are hard, says Margaret Augerinos.
“It is important to acknowledge change is slow and incremental,” she says. “Honouring hope in a small way is also about honouring intention. Even if change is slow to come, we do our work with a strong belief that what we do matters and makes a difference.”
“For me hope sometimes needs to be an action,” says Jaime Chubb. “I feel more hopeful when I feel like we a moving forward – even if it’s in a tiny way.”
“Fostering hope within the challenging context of family violence is undoubtedly difficult, but my commitment to a holistic approach is key to supporting the women on their healing journey,” says Kalimna Andy.
“Taking a holistic perspective recognizes that healing is a multifaceted process, addressing not only the immediate challenges of violence but also the broader aspects of well-being, cultural connectedness, social and emotional support.”
Keran Howe believes hope can be found in reflection – looking back and recognising how far we’ve come, and the systemic changes that have occurred as a result of decades of fierce advocacy.
Listen to Keran Howe:
Watch Nicole Du Toit:
Looking to those we advocate alongside – nurturing hope as part of a collective – is also pivotal. Margaret Augerinos finds a sense of hope in new or emerging advocates.
“[It’s] seeing and experiencing the passion and commitment that young people entering our sector have for ending gendered violence and working towards social equality,” she says. “The future is bright.”
Jaime Chubb agrees. “Honouring hope also means seeing the people in our work – it can become overwhelming to only see the big picture of family violence all the time,” she says.
For Pania Craik, being part of the collective also means being a source of hope for those who need it.
“I sometimes remind myself that we could be the last bit of hope others have,” she says. “One quote I love reads, ‘Don’t lose hope: when the sun goes down, the stars come out’, and I think this would resonate with a lot of people.”
Stories from survivors give me hope – their resilience, their hope for the future, their strength.
Thinking about future generations, and how they might view gender, power and intersectionality differently … the fact that change is always possible, and that in times of crisis there is the possibility of real shifts and structural changes too.
Safe and Equal
Creating meaningful change through family and gender-based violence advocacy is a long game – far beyond our lifetimes. There’s no denying the work is hard, and keeping hope alive can be difficult. But it’s important to remember that hope is often found in unexpected places. It’s in the smallest of moments, in the tiniest of wins. It’s in leaning into the collective as a form of self-care.
“We honour hope in our sector when we defend specialisation, when we practice solidarity, when we disagree, when we listen to our BS radar, when we laugh at the same thing, when we advocate harder, when we persist,” says Rhonda Cumberland.
Keeping hope alive is something we can focus on individually and collectively. We also need our systems and governments to come to the table and contribute to the momentum of collective hope. Keeping family and gender-based violence on the agenda with adequate funding, workforce pathways and support, ensures we can continue to do this critical work and maintain our hope within that.
“We cannot forget how much the pursuit for safety costs victim survivors; costs us, as a nation,” says Conor Pall.
“We need our government to continue its bold leadership post-Royal Commission”, he says. Yes, the 227 recommendations have been acquitted. Yes, we have made so much progress. But people are still experiencing violence at rates higher than before. Our work is not done. We need to continue the momentum we have created.”
Momentum from our nation’s leaders, combined with the momentum in our own work, from primary prevention and early intervention through to response and recovery, is critical to realising our collective vision of ending family and gender-based violence.
“I think for our work, hope needs to be really broad,” says Jaime Chubb. “Its heavy to spend your day thinking about and responding to some of the worst things that humans can do to each other.”
“But there are so many beautiful and hopeful moments in the world, we should take the time to focus on them in our work. We also need to maintain the hope for our own lives – our families and children, our friends, our communities.”
A very big thank you to all who generously contributed their thoughts and wisdom to this piece, and to our broader 16 Days of Activism social media campaign. Alongside these contributions, ‘Nurturing Hope’ was written and curated by Melanie Scammell, Media and Communications Advisor at Safe and Equal.