‘Silence is the language of complicity … speaking out is the language of change’ is my personal maxim. This resonates with my commitment as an advocate and a feminist to persist in working towards social and political change.
Trained initially as a nurse and with a strong commitment to social justice, Betty Green has spent 28 years working in the feminist women’s health sector. Domestic and sexual violence against women has been at the core of her work which has included face-to-face counselling, group work, community education and advocacy. Her feminism and focus on social justice have profoundly influenced her understanding that for significant and lasting change to be achieved, social systems and structures have to be challenged. For Betty, gender equality has to be a reality and not a noble ideal if gender-based violence against women is to be eliminated.
In March 2006, working with Joy Goodsell, Betty co-founded the NSW Domestic Violence Committee Coalition (DVCC) in direct response to the increasing numbers of women’s deaths in New South Wales. This was a turning point for Betty.
DVCC is a grassroots organisation that engages in activism to raise the profile of women’s policy and place domestic violence firmly on the public and political agenda. One of the early initiatives was the Red Rose Rally. Every time a woman is confirmed dead as a result of domestic violence, the DVCC organises advocates to rally at the gates of Parliament House in Sydney to place red roses along the gates, commemorating the death and at the same time reminding politicians of the seriousness of domestic violence. If Parliament is not sitting at the time, then the DVCC encourages its members to hold a rally at their local MP’s office. This initiative has been adopted by Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. Betty has also organised the NSW Remembrance Quilt – a quilt made of squares contributed by women affected directly or indirectly by domestic violence, and by women’s service providers. There are now Remembrance Quilts in Queensland and South Australia as well as New South Wales. In 2013, through Betty’s involvement with WEAVE (Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination), a National Remembrance Quilt was created and hung at Parliament House Canberra.
Betty is currently engaged in PhD research investigating the development of domestic violence death reviews in Queensland, NSW and Victoria. This involves conducting focus groups and interviews with key informants and women’s advocates, documenting their experiences, including examples of the kinds of activism that have led to the establishment of a domestic violence death review in that state. The actions undertaken by feminist advocates in response to domestic violence, sexual assault and rape have helped raise community awareness and boosted education and research, as well as contributing significantly to the shaping of policy and legislative reform. Death reviews can provide the evidence needed to strengthen systems and responses to domestic violence, and to increase the safety of the women and children involved.
Betty believes that community understanding and attitudes to domestic violence are shifting – and this represents significant progress towards creating a safer Australia for women and children. People are speaking out more openly, opening doors for women to reach out and connect with services to help them. Betty is adamant that people should not feel powerless because they can’t always find solutions. What is crucial is the setting up of pathways of interdisciplinary connecting services for women in need, ensuring they are supported seamlessly and kept safe.