International Women's Day

Op-ed

8 March 2013

Violence against women is unacceptable, anywhere, anytime. It violates human rights, devastates lives, fractures families and communities and undermines good development. That is why on this International Women's Day, with its focus on eliminating and preventing violence against women and girls, I would like to reflect on the impacts on women in our neighbourhood - the Pacific.

Women in the Pacific region are subject to some of the highest levels of violence in the world. Surveys from Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Tonga and Vanuatu reveal that more than 60 per cent of women and girls have experienced violence from male partners or family members at some time in their lives.

Australia is working with many partners in the Pacific to help protect women and ensure that they have access to services and justice. Since 2007, AusAID has funded the establishment of eight Family and Sexual Violence Units in police stations throughout Papua New Guinea, staffed by police officers trained in victim support. Another four in Kundiawa, Vanimo, Alotau and Buka will be opened by April 2013, as announced by Minister Carr in December 2012. These units provide a range of services including formal lodging of Family and Sexual Violence complaints, referrals and transport assistance for medical treatment. They also provide medical and pyscho-social services to survivors of domestic violence and support to secure Interim Protection Orders (IPOs) from Magistrates. As a result, the number of IPO applications granted in Papua New Guinea increased by 200 per cent between 2011 and 2012. IPOs give women immediate protection for actual or threatened violence.

We also support a range of activities across the Pacific that focus on men recognising and changing their aggressive and violent behaviour towards women. In Fiji, a male advocates program challenges participants to commit to changing their behaviour. The program was established 10 years ago by the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre. Its first male advocates were members of the Fijian military. In Vanuatu, groups of male chiefs are brought together to look at how their masculinity can influence violent behaviour. Each time they part they say, 'Faia itet', meaning the fire is dead – they have conquered their anger and are ready to help other men to value and uphold the rights of women and children in their communities.

Last August, at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting, our Prime Minister announced Australia's commitment of $320 million over ten years to improve the lives of women in the Pacific. When women are respected in society and their rights enshrined in law, they are more likely to be respected at home. One of the first activities funded will be a partnership with UN Women to help make marketplaces in Papua New Guinea safer for women, so women vendors can earn an income without being in fear of violence.

In addition to working to end violence against women, Australia's aid program will continue to support Pacific nations to achieve real progress on women's equality. We will work with Pacific governments and communities to increase women's participation in leadership and decision-making roles and expand economic opportunities for women through improved access to financial services and markets.

Violence against women is not only a human rights issue – it is also a development issue.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women this week: "When women and girls enjoy all their rights and freedoms, we will be closer to realizing all our goals for sustainable development and an equitable, prosperous society".

Australia is committed to being part of the global effort to end violence against women and our aid program is making a real difference.

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