23 August 2023

 Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Blue Mountains Women's Health and Resource Centre in Katoomba. I sat down with some of its staff to chat about the amazing work they do. We also discussed their plans given the recent funding they received under the joint State and Federal governments' Sexual Violence Project Fund. The Blue Mountains Women's Health and Resource Centre was established in 1981. Since then, its services have grown in size and outreach. It now runs myriad programs, which are all aimed at helping women in every aspect of their lives.

In 2015 I spoke in this place about the centre's brilliant work coordinating high school programs that educated students about domestic and sexual violence prevention. Again, I will share some of the fantastic work the centre continues to do to protect and promote women's health and safety in the Blue Mountains and surrounding areas. On a day-to-day basis, the team at the Blue Mountains Women's Health and Resource Centre run several programs aimed at providing a holistic approach to women's health. There is a dedicated carers group, which offers women responsible for the care of others a safe space to openly discuss their mental wellbeing and exchange valuable resources.

The centre also facilitates Yoga in a Chair, which provides yoga that is tailored to individuals with limited mobility and newcomers to yoga. Recently the centre started a women's walking group, which meets on Mondays and Wednesdays, so women can go for a walk and talk about anything that is on their mind. This week it will hold its first neurodiverse peer support group. Front and centre of these programs—and those are just some that are on offer—is a focus on community and wellbeing. But the work does not stop there. Along with workshops and classes, the centre offers a number of health and social services. Two doctors and one nurse work part time at the centre so visitors can receive trauma-informed medical advice, and a team of counsellors and mental health professionals is dedicated to providing necessary mental health support to people of any age.

The centre's healthy waitlist is indicative of the great need in my Blue Mountains community. From my first day in this Chamber, I have fought for the protection and promotion of women. Devastatingly, last week we lost another woman to domestic violence. Again, we are painfully reminded of its prevalence in our society. Drew Douglas is the thirty-fifth woman to be killed this year in an act of domestic violence. I extend my sincere condolences to her family and friends. However, we cannot just keep sending our condolences; we need action. One in three women have experienced some form of physical violence from the age of 15, and one in five have experienced sexual violence. We know also that certain groups are at higher risk of experiencing sexual violence, such as women, children, First Nations people, LGBTQI+ people, older women and people with disability.

Funding from both the Minns and Albanese governments will expand the capacity of organisations like the Blue Mountains Women's Health and Resource Centre to tackle those alarming statistics on a local community level. The centre understands that domestic and family violence does not occur in isolation. Providing women with equal educational and financial opportunities is crucial, as is educating young people around consent, providing domestic violence and emergency situation training to businesses, and offering free access to a washing machine, dryer or shower. The new funding will go towards educating and empowering women to know their rights and helping them to access the resources that are available.

The Blue Mountains Women's Health and Resource Centre plans to use the Minns and Albanese governments' funding to contribute to an effective, coordinated health and safety response for non‑fatal strangulation victim-survivors, as an extension of its Ending Violence, improving Equality program—or EViE— which is run by a group of young women. Studies have shown a strong correlation between non-fatal strangulation and eventual domestic violence related homicide. The centre has identified the need to provide preventative measures in addition to the support it gives to survivors through holistic and trauma-informed support services.

Raising awareness and destigmatising violence in our community will mean women and children are better equipped to speak out if they are victims. We know that these are sometimes difficult conversations but, growing up in a generation where conversations like this were swept under the rug, I have seen firsthand the damage that can cause. I acknowledge the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and the Minns Labor Government for their commitment. We know that community groups and organisations are an integral part of enacting change, but it takes support from all levels of government to move forward. I also acknowledge the relentless and life-changing work of the centre's staff and management committee, a lot of whom work on a voluntarily basis. I particularly thank those I spent time with last week: Cherie, Ailie and Kerry. I know the funding means a lot. I am pleased our State and Federal governments are imagining a future where our young people can genuinely expect better.