A day to demand an end to violence against women 

25 November 2021

Violence against nurses, verbal and physical, is endemic in our health system, with the spate of Code Black incidents in South Australian hospitals surging in recent years.

And as we recognise today as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we are reminded how gendered nursing, midwifery and care work is and how they too face violent situations. 

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is a UN-sponsored campaign to launch 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, concluding on December 10 - a day that commemorates International Human Rights Day. 

Locally, the number of violent and aggressive incidents in South Australian hospitals jumped by more than 25 per cent from 2016 to 2020: 10,186 Code Blacks in 2016 to 12,791 last year. Figures earlier in 2021 suggested this year’s number could surpass 13,000.

Code Blacks at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital have more than doubled over the past five years. 

To quote former RAH Registered Nurse Janet Morris, who retired this year: “It’s a very well-paid job now. But sometimes I don’t think I get paid enough for the things I have to put up with. 

“Is it enough for everything I do? No, I don’t think it is.

“The hitting, the violence from the patients, the abuse from families, that’s rank, and happens frequently in the RAH and we’re supposed to put up with that.’’

ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said staff exposed to violence suffered both physically and mentally, causing some to quit their jobs.

Ms Dabars said the violence and aggression was “symptomatic of a highly stressed system. There are simply not enough resources put in the system as it is. And that in itself drives the violence and the aggression.

“What we want to see is a system-wide response. We want 24/7 on-site restraint-trained security guards in all regional hospitals, some of which have been the site of appalling and dangerous attacks on nursing staff.

“And the other thing that we are looking for, because of a lack of action in this area, is that we want to have a right to prosecute employers for failing to act on their occupational Health Safety and Welfare obligations,’’ Ms Dabars said.

“We don't have a right at the moment to prosecute, but we are asking in our pre-election platform, we are asking for the political parties to sign up to a commitment that they would change the law and permit unions and federations such as ours to prosecute in the event that the regulator fails to do so.’’

In a survey conducted for the ACTU this year, 47 per cent of health care workers said they or their colleagues have been exposed to violence or threats of violence in the workplace. 76 per cent of health care workers say they or their colleagues experience traumatic events, distressing situations or aggressive clients at least some of the time, the most of any industry.

The UN campaign, led by its Secretary-General and UN Women since 2008, aims to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls around the world, calling for global action to increase awareness, promote advocacy and create opportunities for discussion on challenges and solutions.

The statistics are frightening. Around the world, one in three women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner.

One hundred and thirty-seven women are killed by a member of their family every day.

Fewer than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data has shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have intensified and that the world was unprepared to respond to its rapid escalation. A new UN Women report, based on survey data from 13 countries, shows that COVID-19 has eroded women’s feelings of safety, both at home and in public spaced, with significant negative impacts on their mental and emotional well-being. 

In addition, the current global context of violent conflicts, humanitarian crises and increasing climate-related disasters have further intensified violence against women, ringing alarms on the need to urgently act on this scourge.

UN Women says there is evidence that ending violence against women and girls is possible, with a comprehensive approach that tackles the root causes, transforms harmful social norms, provide services for survivors and ends impunity.

The campaign includes the launch of a new report with updated data on gender violence, as well as a multitude of digital initiatives in which you can participate. Click here to find out more.

To get involved with the ANMF (SA Branch)’s anti-violence campaign.

Visit Action for Health here