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Five years ago 100 male community leaders put their hands up to take responsibility for helping stamp out the growing scourge of family violence in the local community under the Challenge Family Violence banner.

That program – run across the Shire of Cardinia, City of Casey and City of Greater Dandenong – called for men to start owning the problem. After all, it was men who were primarily doing the damage.

Police were responding to a family violence issue every 70 minutes across the region at that stage, among the highest in the state.

The men – myself included – agreed to attend a series of workshops over three years to become better educated on the issue, with a view to being better armed to help change attitudes and behaviours.

These workshops were enlightening, frightening and, at times, confronting.

I have been fortunate to work in an industry and workplaces that are pretty much gender blind when it comes to hiring and promotion. My first editor was a woman, as was the last editor I worked for before taking on this job nearly 20 years ago. The previous two editors at Star were women and my most recent appointment, an editor for sister publications in the Mail Newspaper Group, went to a woman.

So it came as a bit of a shock to learn that, in this day and age, there are some professions and workplaces that discriminate on the basis of gender.

We also learned about male privilege and gender stereotyping.

I have a friend who 20 years ago was appointed to manage a local bank branch. Some clients bristled at the thought of talking finance with a female manager, so she had to bring in a male junior member of staff to appease their prejudices. Thankfully, we’ve moved on from those days, or at least I hope we have.

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of making Hayley Wildes our first female sports reporter. It’s not the first time Hayley has challenged gender stereotypes. She has progressed from being the only girl running around with the boys on a muddy Lang Lang oval to this year living out her dream and playing in an AFLW premiership for the Western Bulldogs (read about Hayley’s journey on page eight of this special wraparound feature).

The other night I watched an ABC news report and took great delight in the fact that a female sports reporter threw to a male weatherman.

We also learned that family violence doesn’t discriminate on the grounds of race, religion or socio-economic circumstances or social standing. The seemingly most respected professionals don’t always foster respectful relationships – just look at the sad events in Sydney last week, where two children were killed at the hands of their well-to-do father.

Two years ago Cardinia Shire CEO Garry McQuillan identified family violence as the number one issue in the growing municipality.

He led the charge towards a Collective Impact model and, with the help of Family Life, the Together We Can campaign was born. Since then, many in the Shire of Cardinia have brought into the program and real change is occurring. Community Solutions have been rolled out and there are a lot more to come.

This week we celebrate the Together We Can model being recognised at the National Awards for Local Government in the categories of Prevention and Community Safety and also Innovation.

More pleasing was the report we carried on our front page a couple of months back that the latest crime statistics showed a significant decline in family violence reports.

Those figures are more satisfying than any award win, but the work has only just begun. There were still over 1000 reports of family violence in the shire – and everyone would agree that’s still over 1000 too many.

At the weekend, as we were putting together this special feature to celebrate the success of Together We Can, two women were killed in their homes in the neighbouring City of Casey.

This is not an exercise in man-bashing by feminist crusaders. I like the so-called ’blokey’ pursuits more than anyone and don’t feel any less masculine because I treat my life partner equally and with respect.

This is a movement to make the women in our lives feel safe – because it’s a fact that many of them don’t have that privilege.

There are many stories that show when we work together as a community, relax our logos and egos we do make lives better for one another.

Together we can make a difference – but the battle has only just begun.

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