By Penny Williams, Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls.
One in three women will experience violence at the hands of men in their lifetime. In the Pacific this is as high as two in three – two-thirds of the female population experiencing violence from husband, partner, family or friend.
Violence against women is a fundamental social and development issue.
Gender equality is the focus of my visit to the Pacific this week. I will be one member of a bipartisan delegation led by the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles. Deputy Leader of the Opposition Julie Bishop, Coalition MP Teresa Gambaro and Government MP Bernie Ripoll will also take part in the trip. Our delegation will visit the Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu and Samoa.
As well as meeting heads of government and other ministers, we are holding talks with women parliamentarians, women’s groups and will visit Australian-funded programs to promote women and girls’ empowerment.
Gender inequity and the violence that attends it must be tackled head on for developing nations to reach their full potential. As long as violence against women continues, women, their children, their families, whole communities and whole nations are at risk of entrenched poverty and suffering.
Australia has taken a leadership role in strategies to address gender inequality across the globe. It is both the right thing and the smart thing to do. If we don’t address gender inequality, we cannot deliver a more effective aid program. Nor can we deliver on our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Australia recently co-hosted a policy dialogue with the US, working with Pacific nations to improve and develop new programs to stop violence against women in the Pacific. The dialogue was part of a commitment between Australia and the US, announced by Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010, to work together on the appalling challenge of gender-based violence. It is a commitment both to the region and to the rights of women.
By stopping violence, and empowering women, we bring untold flow-on benefits to nations, developing and developed alike.
That’s why Australia spends aid money to support empowerment projects. We recently committed $96.4 million over four years to combat violence against women. This includes $25 million to expand efforts to end violence against women in Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific. We will be supporting the programs that build on the promising work already being done by Pacific communities themselves. The work includes:
- Funding research to create a baseline for understanding the problem in the Pacific
- Improving women’s access to justice systems
- Strengthening systems so male perpetrators are brought to justice
- Providing support for survivors
Critical are male advocacy training programs. Men are being trained to understand what violence against women is, and how they can stop it, through modifying their own behaviour and the behaviour of other men. By educating men we will be making real change for the future.
As Foreign Minister Mr Rudd said to the APEC Summit on Women and the Economy in September: “Gender based violence is not just a challenge for women, it is a challenge for men. The core problem is this, my gender, the male gender is responsible. Until we deal with this, in many of the developing countries of our part of the world, we will not be able to embrace full economic opportunities for women. That is a core truth.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Canberra Times on 5/11/11 and has since been updated.