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    Eddy Ostacevic.

Northern Grampians council revisits women’s charter

By Colin MacGillivray

Adesire to improve family violence outcomes was top of a list of reasons Northern Grampians Shire councillors gave last week as they voted to join the Victorian Local Government Women’s Charter.

The charter, developed in 1997, promotes gender equality, diverse representation and women’s active citizenship in local government.

At the council’s June meeting, resident Veronica Monaghan questioned why Northern Grampians was among only five councils statewide not to sign the charter, prompting Cr Karen Hyslop to move the council become a signatory.

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Alpine, Indigo, Pyrenees and City of Wodonga are yet to sign the charter.

Cr Hyslop said the issue of the charter had previously been raised during a councillor briefing in 2018, but that it was never put on a council meeting agenda.

Cr Hyslop’s motion was defeated, but Cr Eddy Ostarcevic moved the charter be revisited at this month’s meeting subject to further investigation.

Cr Ostarcevic, who was not a councillor when the charter was discussed in 2018, said he lacked enough information to make a decision at the June meeting, but last week moved the council become a signatory.

Cr Ostarcevic said the charter’s mission was linked with measures that would improve family violence outcomes.

Data from the Crime Statistics Agency’s family violence database showed Northern Grampians Shire had the 10th-highest rates of family violence of any Victorian municipality in 2022-23, with 2499 incidents per 100,000 people.

“The fundamental concept of gender inequality goes to the core of family violence,” Cr Ostarcevic said.

“The Royal Commission into Family Violence identified the lack of women in leadership positions ‘as a key driver of violence against women’.

“Victoria Police currently arrest 80 offenders per day – one every 18 minutes. 

“This is just family violence, this is not anything else.

“Victoria Police also received more than 95,000 call-outs in 2023 – one every six minutes.

“If that wasn’t damning enough, a child is present and exposed to family violence in more than one third of all cases, so a child is exposed every 15 to 18 minutes to family violence. This is intolerable.

“Signing off on the charter recognises council’s commitment to gender equality and promotes avenues to improve male-female outcomes, and also integrates council gender-equality and family-violence plans.

“Signing this charter is not a symbolic gesture, it is a call to action.”

Cr Hyslop and Cr Lauren Dempsey, who supported the motion to sign the charter at the council’s June meeting, spoke in support of Cr Ostarcevic’s motion.

“I think it’s really important to have male allies stand up beside women if we’re ever going to see gender equality in this lifetime,” Cr Dempsey said.

“Cr Ostarcevic has been a true ally and supported the equality of women and equality in general on this council.

“This motion is a step in the direction of equality for this council and for our shire, joining the 74 other councils that have already signed up to the women’s charter.

“The gender drivers of violence against women include condoning of violence against women, men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence, stereotype constructions of masculinity and femininity, disrespect towards women, and male peer relations that emphasise aggression.

“This motion supports council at the highest level to provide leadership to address these gendered drivers as a whole and support the eradication of violence against women.” Cr Hyslop said signing the charter aligned with councillors’ duty to be ‘role models for the community’.

“This motion is a real positive step,” she said.

“Together we can make a difference. Change nothing, and nothing will change.”

Cr Trevor Gready opposed signing the charter, claiming it was ‘basically a backdoor for quotas’.

“It is taking more away from the public and who they want to represent them in all forms of government,” he said.

“Most of it is excellent, but on gender equality and the way it’s written in, I don’t think we need quotas in our system, which I think people are trying to bring in.”

The motion passed, with Crs Hyslop, Dempsey, Ostarcevic, Kevin Erwin and Mayor Rob Haswell in favour and Cr Gready opposed. 

Cr Murray Emerson was absent from the meeting.

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