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Call for greater domestic violence awareness at city council

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Adelaide City Councillor Arman Abrahimzadeh is pushing for the council to adopt better strategies to protect its staff from what he calls the “horrendous” effects of domestic and family violence.

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“Ten years ago when we fled our family home I was working for an organisation,” says Abrahimzadeh, who alongside his role at the Adelaide City Council also co-runs the Zahra Foundation – a South Australian charity that supports the needs of domestic violence victims and survivors.

“Because we packed everything up and we literally fled our family home, my dad couldn’t find us.

“So what did my dad do? He went to my workplace, lied to them about who he was in order to try and get access to me.

“It was a good thing that I wasn’t at work that day – I was at uni – and I got a phone call from our receptionist who described this person who was supposedly there for an appointment with me and I thought, hold on a second, I don’t have a meeting, I don’t have an appointment with anyone.

“If I was at work and if I had been called and I did come out to the front and was confronted by my dad and something had happened, that workplace wouldn’t have had any processes or procedures in place to deal with that.”

According to Abrahimzadeh, the absence of a workplace program that puts in place policies around how to deal with employees impacted by domestic violence could cost a life.

Spurred by his family’s own experience of domestic violence, the area councillor will on Tuesday night call on the council to support the implementation of a “workplace equality and respect program” for council staff.

DV is one issue but there are other issues – other social issues – that we should also be speaking about

The program, he says, will ideally be run by a not-for profit domestic violence organisation such as Our Watch Australia or White Ribbon Australia, and will outline strategies to better protect staff when they are at work, as well as start conversations about the impacts of violence in the family home.

“I’ve been known in this (domestic violence) sector, so what kind of a person would that make me if I go through a workplace – a fairly large workplace – and I don’t bring something like this up?,” Abrahimzadeh says.

“When you think about domestic violence, here in Australia it kills two women a week.

“These women aren’t being killed by strangers, they’re being killed by their current or former partners.

“You look at (the Adelaide City Council) workforce, I’m sure there would probably be 800, 900 or even more than 900 FTEs (full-time equivalent employees).

“If we have a workforce, we’re responsible for that workforce and we need to make sure we look after that workforce.”

Already State Government departments have undertaken The White Ribbon Workplace Accreditation – an award-winning program that recognises organisations that promote safe workplaces for women and respectful relationships, and supports employee efforts in responding to and preventing violence against women.

“It encourages the workplace to speak about these sort of issues, about domestic violence as a whole – whether you’re a victim, whether you condone someone who’s a victim, there’s even room in such programs about how you can deal with perpetrators,” says Abrahimzadeh, who stresses he is open to the council working with any accredited domestic violence organisation, not just White Ribbon.

“If a person comes along and says, ‘yes, I’m experiencing these issues or I’ve got something happening at home that I’d like to talk to someone about’ – whatever the issue is – we just need to make sure as a workplace we are equipped to deal with these situations as they come up.

“If we don’t do that then people won’t feel safe to come out and talk about it, but by starting those conversations and having those conversations you’re creating a safe environment where people feel safe to come out and start talking.”

The city council maintains it is “committed to providing support to employees that experience family and domestic violence”.

In July, Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor told the chamber that the council approved requests from employees experiencing domestic violence to change their work hours, telephone number or office location.

She also said council staff experiencing domestic violence had access to special paid leave in addition to existing leave entitlements, as well as a counselling service.

What kind of a person would that make me if I go through a workplace and I don’t bring something like this up?

Verschoor has thrown her support behind Abrahimzadeh’s motion, adding the council’s workforce is already “particularly good” at dealing with domestic violence.

“There is already a commitment by the City of Adelaide to support employees that are experiencing any sort of domestic and family violence and we are really happy to do anything more that we can in terms of the workplace to make sure there are programs that help people with their resilience and wellbeing,” she says.

“I think that we’ve always tried as a capital city council to make sure that we have best practice and we know that this (domestic violence) has terrible effects on the community and we want to make sure that our staff are looked after.”

The move also has the support from the council’s administration, which said in a report that it would welcome the opportunity to explore workplace equality and respect programs that would build on the programs and initiatives it currently has in place.

“I’m not an expert in DV but the past few years that I have been an advocate in this space I’ve learned some things and I want to bring those learnings here to the City of Adelaide,” Abrahimzadeh says.

“Being a councillors means that to a degree you are a community leader and as a community leader you should be a role model – you should set an example.

“DV is one issue but there are other issues – other social issues – that we should also be speaking about.

“This is just one example and one of the issues that we can be speaking about.”

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