CONSERVATIVE attitudes could be holding Bendigo back from achieving gender equality, a city executive believes.
City of Greater Bendigo health and wellbeing director Vicky Mason's comments came at the launch of a draft gender equity strategy.
The document said the city's women were at a disadvantage compared with their male counterparts, and even women across the state, when it came to some aspects of their lives.
But Ms Mason said that could change.
She was hopeful the proposed strategy would provide an opportunity for the community to continue a much-needed discussion, but in less emotive circumstances.
Launching the 16-page draft at Women's Health Loddon Mallee's International Women's Day breakfast yesterday, Ms Mason identified the need for constructive community discussion about gender equality.
The proposed strategy said women in Greater Bendigo were more likely to experience sexual and family violence than their male counterparts, and even some Victorian women.
It also said the city's women were less likely to feel safe walking alone at night, did more unpaid work around the house, received less income, and were reflected less in senior management.
Story continues below draft strategy
Asked why some of the outcomes for women in Greater Bendigo differed so greatly from those of the city's men, and some other Victorian women, Ms Mason said it was difficult to understand.
"Perhaps we're a little more conservative - we haven't had the conversations other parts of the world have had, but that doesn't mean we can't change it," she said.
She believed a lack of exposure to new ideas, thinking and conversations could be a factor.
"Perhaps we're not as exposed to the wider world, until recently," Ms Mason said.
"We're very self-sufficient as a city and highly networked and whilst that's a good things in many ways because that means we can do things like form a coalition, it means that perhaps we don't necessarily get new ideas and new thinking and new conversations into our community as easily."
The use of so-called "ring card girls" at a high-profile boxing event supported by the City of Greater Bendigo last year prompted fiery debate about gender inequality.
The Greater Bendigo Coalition for Gender Equity was drafting the city's gender equity strategy at the time.
More than 30 organisations are involved in the coalition. The City of Greater Bendigo is key among them.
Asked what the community could be doing to discuss gender equity in a forum that was less emotionally charged and more directed, Ms Mason said she hoped the draft strategy would provide the opportunity to have the conversation in a less emotive way.
"I'd encourage all members of the community to have a look at the paper and give us their thoughts," she said.
"It's a draft - we don't think it's perfect, we think there's room for improvement, so please give us your ideas and thoughts so we can make it successful."
Feedback is open until March 31.
The draft highlights a need for structural change, changes in relationships, and attitudinal changes to address the drivers of inequality.
Ms Mason identified the need for further education about the links between gender inequality and violence against women and their children.
"I was in a conversation the other day where someone raised the fact this is about preventing violence against women... [they said] what about violence against men?" she said.
"We had to start talking about what the data says about how one woman dies every nine days in Australia because of violence against women and that it's actually men's violence against women that causes that to happen
"Men's violence is often against men, [and] it occurs outside of the home, whereas unfortunately a lot of violence against women occurs in the home. A lot of people don't really realise that.
"They don't look at the statistics like we do, they don't have the lived experience or meet people in the community who have experienced the violence. So trying to get them to understand is really important."
Coalition members like the Centre Against Sexual Assault Central Victoria and Women's Health Loddon Mallee are among those intending to provide feedback on the draft.
WHLM chief executive Tricia Currie said a community-wide strategy to tackle gender equality would create momentum.
"Momentum means we will get the transformational change we so need for our communities to be strong, healthy, resilient and inclusive of women," Ms Currie said.
She said the number of women and children who died as a result of violence was "totally unacceptable".
"Until we have gender equality we will not have safe communities for women and children," Ms Currie said.
Sixty-one women in Australia died by violence last year, according to Destroy the Joint's Counting Dead Women project.
The 2020 toll stood at nine dead women on February 22.
Gender inequality creates the necessary social context for violence against women.
International Women's Day, which is celebrated on March 8, is a call to action to raise the status of women.
It is also an opportunity to recognise and appreciate women's achievements.
Attendees at yesterday's International Women's Day breakfast were keen to do just that.
About 170 people braved the wet conditions to show support and solidarity, some of which was expressed through dance.
The achievements of notable central Victorian sporting identities were raised, as well as those who were recognised at the Bendigo Zonta International Women's Day dinner earlier in the week.
Ms Currie highlighted the need to ensure gender equality was expressed across communities, not because of a concerted effort, but because people were more conscious of the way gender affected people's experiences of life.
"We're going to ensure gender stereotypes are actually challenged, that we actually open up and see the pathways for diversity in decision-making and leadership within our communities, that we know how to call out sexism when we see it, and when we do there is support to call it out in the systems that are around us," she said.
If you or someone you know needs support for sexual, domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800respect.org.au.
In an emergency, call 000.