By Penny Williams, Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls
There is nothing remotely excusable about violence against women and girls, anywhere, anytime.
And yet, today, a woman somewhere in Australia will be assaulted by her boyfriend, her husband or a close male relative. The same thing will happen to a woman somewhere in Solomon Islands.
Today, traffickers somewhere in the world will sell a young girl into sexual slavery.
In a war-torn country, armed men will rape a mother and her daughter as a deliberate tactic to intimidate and oppress.
Men will harass young women as they attempt to go to school, to university.
Today, as every day, women and girls in Australia, Solomon Islands and around the world will face violence simply because they are female. The World Bank’s 2012 Gender Report stated that 64 per cent of women in Solomon Islands would suffer from violence and sexual abuse at some point in their lives.
No nation is free of gender-based violence. It’s a global scourge that cuts across all borders and cultures, and has an impact on all peoples, rending the fabric of societies, damaging individual lives and repeating itself from one generation to the next.
Violence against women and girls is fundamentally a human rights and moral challenge. But it also has severe economic consequences.
It undermines productivity; it is a public health issue, a law enforcement issue and a matter of justice.
It leaves all communities poorer – socially, psychologically and materially. And it remains one of the biggest obstacles to empowering women.
When women and girls are accorded their rights and have equal access to education, employment, political participation and involvement in peace-building, they drive social and economic progress and security.
When they live free of violence and the fear of violence, they can build futures in which they themselves, their families, communities and their nations prosper.
In 1999, the United Nations first declared November the 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, sharpening the world’s focus on
the global pandemic of violence.
In Australia and Solomon Islands, we also know this date as White Ribbon Day, a key day in the White Ribbon campaign, a world-wide program to engage men and boys to stop violence against women and girls.
Because this is not just a women’s problem. The role of men and boys is critical and their efforts are essential if we are to bring an end to this violence wherever it occurs.
I am inspired by the efforts of so many women and men around the world who are working to combat this problem:
- Survivors of violence who speak out with courage as an example to
- Male advocates working in Australia, in Solomon Islands, in our region and elsewhere to stop violence against women and to change attitudes and
- Organisations providing places of refuge and legal assistance.
While I am in Honiara to mark White Ribbon Day celebrations, I will be visiting a number of these organisations, who are doing important work to help reduce and, one day, eliminate violence against women and girls in Solomon Islands. These include the Christian Care Centre, the Family Support Centre and World Vision.
I am also one of many people marching in a street parade to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
This day is an important occasion for us, Solomon Islander and Australian alike, to renew our commitment to the world’s women and girls.
We pledge to work against all forms of violence, in the home, in schools and universities, at workplaces and in the open fields of armed conflict.
And we are reminded that this is not the work of one moment but a daily exercise of vigilance and courage for all of us.
About the author: Penny Williams
Penny Williams is Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls responsible for high-level advocacy to promote Australian Government policies and activity regarding gender equality and the social, political and economic empowerment of women and girls, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Ambassador works closely with foreign governments and international organisations to support measures that: eradicate violence against, and trafficking of, women and girls; promote better educational and health outcomes; protect women and girls in conflict and promote the role of women in peace-building; eliminate discrimination; and enhance the participation of women in decision-making and leadership.
Ms Williams was appointed Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls on 13 September 2011. She also holds the position of Executive Director of the Australian Passport Office (APO).