Stopping violence against women

Opening of the Australia-US Pacific Women's Empowerment Policy Dialogue

Theatre, Parliament House, Canberra

Speech, E&OE, check against delivery

3 November 2011

We're here to talk about a very ugly subject: violence. And where that fits in the overall challenge of equity for women.

And where that fits in the overall challenge of women in development, and raising the economic stakes and the economic opportunities for women across the world.

There is nothing remotely excusable about violence against women anywhere, at any time. Nothing. Let's just be blunt about it.

I've seen many cultures, including my own, seek to justify this over many, many years; many decades and many centuries. It simply doesn't stand up to reason. It is - under all circumstances &mdash wrong.

Therefore it is important that the international community have an absolute resolve that our sisters across the world are liberated from the scourge of violence and the threat of violence.

Our national statistics in this country are not good. So when we come to this table with our friends from across the Pacific, we do not come with clean hands. We come as a country who wishes to share our experiences and to discuss ways in which we can slowly turn around this appalling global phenomenon in a real and substantive way.

As the recently released World Bank, World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development highlights, gender equality is a core development objective in its own right. It is also smart economics. Greater gender equality can enhance productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation, and make institutions more representative, including our political institutions.

While improved education and health have allowed women greater participation in the labour force in the region, their overall participation still lags behind men by around 20% with women forming around 67% of the labour force in the region and men forming around 86% (World Development Report).

UN ESCAP (UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), (2007) estimates that $16-$30 billion is lost per year because of gender gaps in education. Those are just the economic costs &mdash for each and every life, there are personal costs as well.

At the APEC Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco in September this year, Australia and the US cemented its shared commitment, along with other Asia-Pacific nations, to promoting women's central role in economic development strategies.

The decision by the US and Australia to co-host this policy dialogue to address the issue of violence against women in the Pacific builds on the APEC discussion. It affirms our shared commitment to eliminating violence against women. Our countries share these values as we share so many other common values.

The Global Women's Empowerment Initiative is a practical demonstration of our bilateral cooperation to ensure that women play a central role in development. This deep, shared commitment extends to the Pacific. We want to work in partnership with Pacific island countries and their people to bring about positive change for the lives of women.

At the Pacific Islands Forum in August 2009, then as PM, I worked with Pacific Island Leaders committed to eradicating sexual and gender-based violence.

At the 2011 Forum, Leaders commended the valuable contributions of the Forum Reference Group to address sexual and gender based violence, a group that has actively worked with Australia and the US to organise today's event.

Our thanks go to them for being involved in this dialogue and to their commitment to eliminate violence against women by working to ensure all individuals have equal protection under the law and proper access to justice.

This commitment by Forum Leaders and the Reference Group members provides support and encouragement for women's organisations across the Pacific to advocate with their governments for increased efforts to end violence against women.

As Australia grows its development program, with a bi-partisan commitment to reach 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015, we are positioning women at the core of our policies and programs - giving women access to markets; giving women access to capital, giving women access to skills and knowledge and making sure every girl in the world ultimately gets to school &mdash these are fundamental.

As Secretary Clinton noted recently in her address in San Francisco &mdash which I regard as one of the most impressive addresses on this single subject, of women in economic development. She drew our attention to statistics about the impact of removing barriers to female labour force participation on GDP.

For example:

  • America's GDP would increase by 9 percent. It would increase the Eurozone's by 13 percent, and our friends in Europe can do with every percentage point of growth they can get at the moment. And Japan's by 16 percent &mdash and across various emerging economies in our region it would result in significant rises in per capita income if we removed barriers to female labour force participation.
  • Unlocking the potential of women by narrowing the gender gap could lead to a 14 percent rise in per capita incomes by the year 2020 in several economies.
  • The research shows that women are stronger savers than men. It doesn't matter what culture we are talking about across the world &mdash women are better savers than men.
  • The World Bank finds that by eliminating discrimination against female workers and managers, managers could significantly increase productivity per worker by 25 to 40 percent.
  • As the Economist points out, and I think is the stellar statistic of all, the increase in employment of women in developed countries during the past decade has added more to global growth than China.

Think what we could therefore do into the future; think therefore of women as a central element in our efforts to build the global economy &mdash not just on an equitable basis but on a strong, sustainable growth basis as well.

UN ESCAP, in a 2007 study, calculated that the Asia-Pacific region is shortchanged in excess of $40 billion a year in GDP because of the untapped potential of women; because of restrictions on women's access to employment.

This is money that could flow to improve the health of children, the health of families, to housing, to education, to feeding communities, to help fight poverty.

As we all know, today we meet to discuss, specifically, efforts and strategies for stopping violence against women in the Pacific.

And let me be clear, as I have said before and will say again, as a male in the room I need to say one thing, and that is in our part of the world, Asia and the Pacific, violence against women is one of the most important underlying factors which prevents full participation of women in the economy.

I want to put that squarely on the table because this is a challenge across, I think, every economy and every society represented in this room, and certainly my own.

No community is immune from this.

And if we are serious about delivering effective aid programs, we must be serious about stopping violence. Without action, whole nations are at risk of entrenched poverty.

Until we deal with this, in many of the developing countries of our part of the world, we will not be able to embrace fully, opportunities economic or otherwise, for women.

We here know this. So the work we are doing in this area must engage not only with women, but with men.

Our aim here is to support you to continue the work you are already doing, and to continue to strengthen the partnerships and focus on the priorities that you yourselves have identified.

Reflecting the Australian government's determination to eliminate violence against women, Australia will continue to support initiatives that will assist women affected by violence, including crisis services, counselling and legal support. It will include work with UN Women in the Pacific to raise awareness and change attitudes to violence against women.

Our efforts will focus on increasing women's access to quality justice, crisis and support services, and to education, of women, of men and of professionals involved in this area, from health workers to police officers.

To date, Australia in partnership with its Pacific neighbours has made progress: Together we have:

  • Provided counselling and support services to nearly 4,000 women in Fiji subjected to violence over 2009 &mdash 2010 through the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre.
  • Improved access to justice for women in Papua New Guinea by increasing the number of female magistrates in the village courts system.

Just seven years ago there were only ten female village magistrates in PNG, whereas now there are more than 700. By the end of 2011 the number is expected to exceed 1000. This effort will ensure a greater voice for women in decision making at the community level.

  • We have assisted an estimated 1050 victims of family and sexual violence in PNG through a number of Family and Sexual Violence Units.
  • In Bougainville, trained rural health workers to improve antenatal and postnatal checks and manage obstetric emergencies seeing a 33 per cent increase in supervised deliveries up from 3,175 in 2005 to 4,210 births by 2009. This is estimated to have reduced maternal deaths from 235 per 100,000 in 2005 to 123 per 100,000 in 2009. Ensuring women survive childbirth is fundamental to all else we are talking about.
  • In Samoa, we've enabled over 300 girls and boys with disabilities to get to and from school, trained teachers in sign language and provided tailored learning materials
  • We've supported the Vanuatu Women in Development Scheme (VANWODS). A microfinance initiative in Vanuatu, now with 6000 members, allowing women to take out loans, repair their homes, start businesses and support their villages and families. I understand this scheme has seen members report a change in attitude from their husbands, with women happier, busier and more engaged in their own futures.

The point of this list, is not just to demonstrate what we are doing in the Pacific now, but also to illustrate the profound inter-linkages between the Pacific programs aimed at dealing with violence itself and how to eliminate it, and how to simultaneously empower women in other areas &mdash such as childbirth, access to education, access to markets, access to finance.

There is a problem if we do not mesh our initiatives entirely &mdash it is a total picture.

When women are living in fear, let me tell you, their ability to stand up and make sure their kids go to school is diminished. If women are living in fear their ability to go out and find a slice of microfinance and start a business is eliminated. Therefore this must be progressed on all fronts. And that is what we are seeking to do in our development assistance programs in the Pacific.

Now we all know that it is not comfortable or easy for us to consider, the difficult challenges such as this, about the burden of violence in all our communities.

But it is only through the efforts of organisations such as you represent here, and the individual leaders that you are, willing to do this difficult work, that we are all better able to understand how to respond to the challenges violence against women poses for us all.

As my Parliamentary Secretary Richard Marles announced last night, Australia will support the Vanuatu Women's Centre to deliver counselling and legal services and emergency accommodation for up to 15,000 survivors of violence. This is a great initiative, and something Richard is passionate about.

I also announce that Australia will help Papua New Guinea to:

  • improve and expand crisis accommodation, counselling and legal support services
  • strengthen health systems to identify cases of violence and provide appropriate responses, including referral to other services
  • help change community attitudes to violence through education programs
  • improve understanding of the prevalence and impacts of violence against women through further national and regional research, and
  • to help expand support for non-government organisations working on the issue including through the UN Women's Pacific Fund to End Violence Against Women.

Further to these announcements, outcomes from your discussions today and tomorrow through this Policy Dialogue will help to inform how we best work with you to accelerate progress towards stopping violence against women in the Pacific.

In Australia, what we have done in recent years - because like all countries we have a violence against women problem - we've joined the international White Ribbon Campaign, where each male in the country is invited to take a public oath never to commit, never to excuse, or never to remain silent about violence against women in the future.

My challenge as the Foreign Minister of the Australia, is to see that oath taken by all my Pacific Island brothers &mdash this is a good thing.

I have taken this oath personally, other Australian political and corporate leaders have taken the oath as well. White Ribbon Day is on November 25th. And I again it is important all men across this region take that oath to make a stand together against gender- based violence.

If we crack this one and deal effectively with the reality and the threat of violence against women, you take away one of the social impediments to full economic participation. And the flow-on effects will be enormous.

I would like to close with a story from Mrs Rhoda Geita, one of PNG's first women magistrates appointed in 1998.

On the frontline of gender-based violence issues in the Pacific, her story shows so simply and beautifully how supporting women and engaging men on this issue holds the key to overturning this age-old problem. In her own words, if I may, Mrs Geita says:

"As a woman and a mother, when domestic violence comes up I try and get women talking. In a case where a man hit a woman in the market for not getting his food, I made him switch places with her for a week so he could learn what it was like for her running her stall all day, looking after children, cooking his food. After 3 days he came and said he now understood why I made the order. I told him he had to finish the week as that was his penalty. At the end he came and apologised to his wife.

"Women come and talk to me about domestic violence &mdash they speak their feelings. They are often scared of talking to men."

From little things, big things grow.

I urge you to make the most of this gathering to give voice to women across the Pacific, to represent their interests and to talk loud and loud and loud about the way forward. I am confident that together we can make a difference.

This is not simply a discussion &mdash this is about practical steps forward; about building on what we have done; evaluating where we have gone wrong; and improving on that and making changes where necessary.

This is not just talk.

We are not just interested in fine speeches.

We are interested in how we bring about measurable, definable, real social change, and how to unleash life's full opportunities for women and girls in the world.

With great pleasure, I now declare this Dialogue open.

ENDS

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