It’s my great pleasure to welcome you all here this evening to the opening reception for the Pacific Women’s Empowerment Policy Dialogue: Stopping Violence Against Women.
I am delighted to welcome the many delegates who have travelled from right across the Pacific.
You bring on-the-ground experience and understanding that will be central to discussions over the next two days.
Australia and the United States are here as hosts, and as partners, to provide a forum to support you.
But you are at the forefront of this issue. You, who live and work in the Pacific, whose communities and families are directly affected, and who are already doing considerable work to address this fundamental issue.
As Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, it has been my great privilege to visit each of the Pacific Islands Forum member countries.
I have seen the work being done in each of your communities to address the challenges faced by Pacific women and men. I understand the difficulties you face in securing health and support services and to deliver basic education for all. I understand, too, the special vulnerabilities faced by Pacific women and girls in often remote and harsh circumstances.
Two weeks ago during a visit to Papua New Guinea, I had the opportunity to visit Goroka, a coffee-growing region in the Eastern Highlands, and see some of the vital work Australia’s aid program does there.
In particular, I was able to see the work we are doing in the law and justice sector supporting female village court magistrates.
Australia’s assistance has seen a significant increase in the number of female village court magistrates working across PNG, up from just 40 in 2007 to 500 last year with another 200 women currently being trained.
This is giving women a greater voice in decision making. Importantly, it leads to better access to justice for communities.
Australia is also helping improve the way police respond to family and sexual violence, with four new Family and Sexual Violence Units in Lae, Mount Hagen and Goroka provinces and in PNG’s capital, Port Moresby.
These units helped victims access specialist support and, importantly, provide a safe and private space so they feel secure enough to report offences in the first place.
By the end of last year, more than 1000 women had sought assistance through these units.
Over the coming days this dialogue will look at what more can be done to prevent violence against women across the Pacific.
Australia and the United States are committed to working with you on this. The Australian Government is deeply committed to this issue both at home and abroad, as I know the US Government is, too.
I welcomed Penny Williams earlier and it is very significant to have her involved in this two-day event.
Penny was appointed as Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls on 13 September 2011. Her role is to ensure the needs of women and girls are properly represented in Australia’s overseas development program and in foreign policy more broadly, including in the Pacific.
It is fantastic having her here. Penny will help ensure that what Australia does is relevant to, and will truly benefit, women and girls across the Pacific.
And we are privileged to have Ms Merilyn Tahi, Coordinator of the Vanuatu Women’s Centre with us tonight to launch new research on the particular circumstances from her own country: the Vanuatu National Survey on Women’s Lives and Family Relationships.
This important study was recently completed - with Australia’s support - by the Vanuatu Women’s Centre, in partnership with the National Statistics Office.
I congratulate you all on completing this significant task. We thank you and the Vanuatu community and government for providing us with this source of experience and comparison in the Pacific.
Other countries in the Pacific have completed these surveys, including Solomon Islands and Kiribati. They present similarly challenging findings.
The rate or burden of violence in our communities is something we don't easily share with outsiders. It is only through the efforts of these organisations and individuals – those willing to do this difficult work – that we can better understand how to respond to the challenge of violence against women.
In light of this I am very pleased to announce tonight that Australia will provide $5 million to continue to support the Vanuatu Women’s Centre over the next four years.
Through this support up to 15,000 women survivors of violence will receive counselling services, access to legal assistance and emergency accommodation. This support will also see up to 80,000 ni-Vanuatu benefit from community education and awareness programs. And 650 members of the Centre’s network of rural committees and male advocates will receive counselling and human rights training.
This is an important start for our fresh efforts and joint commitments to support positive change in your communities - for the benefit of all women and men, girls and boys, across the Pacific.
I thank you all for your time tonight. That you are here shows we are all committed to finding ways to work together to eliminate violence against women – both in Australia and in the Pacific.
Together we can accelerate our commitments and empower women and girls across the region.
I very much look forward to hearing the outcomes of these discussions.
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