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Speech by The Hon Kate Ellis MP

Remarks at the Parliamentary Roundtable on Ending Gender Based Violence in the Asia Pacific Region

Speech delivery location: Parliament House, Canberra

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I am pleased to be here today to represent Mr Richard Marles, Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific, who is unable to be here and has asked me to pass on his apologies.

The Australian Government has zero tolerance for violence against women and girls.

We are committed to reducing violence against women in Australia, as well as contributing to international efforts to end violence against women globally, and in our region.

In February 2011, the Attorney-General and I launched the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.  This Plan was the first of its kind in this country. It brought together all the governments of Australia, regardless of political persuasion, in a united commitment to ending the scourge of violence against women in this country.

As a Government, we want to work with our partners, many of whom are represented here today, including governments, United Nations, Non-Government Organisations and civil society to:

  • Increase access to services for women and girls who have experienced violence, and advocate  for community responses that break the cycle of abuse; and
  • Address the vulnerability of women and girls during conflicts and natural disasters.

Many of you will know the figures about the prevalence of violence against women in this country.

1 in 3 women will experience domestic or family violence from the age of 15. 1 in 5 will experience sexual violence.

In the Pacific, these figures can be as high as 2 in 3.

As well as acting to address violence in our country, the Australian Government is committed to working together with international partners and political leaders to end violence against women in our region.  At the Pacific Islands Forum in August 2009, the then Australian Prime Minister joined leaders of the Pacific Islands to commit to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence.

We know that this commitment is being used by women’s organisations across the Pacific to advocate for increased support to end violence against women.

On 6 November 2010 the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the US Secretary of State issued a statement of joint commitment to address violence against women globally.

To action this commitment, Australia and the United States will co-host a policy dialogue (November 2011 in Canberra) on effective means to combat gender-based violence and promote the empowerment of women across the Pacific region.

The aim is to share information, identify policy and funding gaps and drive policy change.

This will be a regional conversation about how we can work together to ensure women are able to live their lives free of violence.

Violence against women and girls is a human rights abuse.

But it is also a development issue in our region.

Gender equality is central to economic and human development. Removing inequalities between men and women gives societies a better chance to develop.

Australia’s development approach to achieving gender equality goes beyond just improving health and education for women.  Gender equality means access to economic resources, participation and leadership in decision making, and respect for the human rights of women, including the right to a life free of violence and the fear of violence.

It will be no surprise to anyone here that violence against women holds gender equality back. But it also holds a country back.

There is now global recognition that violence against women can undermine, and even reverse, hard-won development gains.

A 2008 study commissioned by Australia on promising practices to address violence against women has shown that effective approaches involve both helping victims access justice and support services, as well as changing community attitudes through education.

These areas are the focus of Australia’s aid and development approach in our region, working with a range of partners, from civil society through to partner governments and regional organisations.

In Papua New Guinea, Australia is supporting better access to justice and legal services, including improving women’s ability to have cases heard in village courts, and training public prosecutors and criminal investigators in sexual assault law.

We are also helping to establish safe shelters across PNG for women affected by violence, and centres in hospitals to improve access to medical treatment and counselling.  The level of demand experienced by these centres has been extremely high, and shows that support for services to victims of violence must continue to be a priority.

We have been a strong supporter of organisations like Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, who meet immediate needs of survivors of violence in Fiji and advocate for women’s rights in Pacific countries.  In 2009, the Crisis Centre in Suva and its three district branches provided counselling and support services to 3,734 women who had been subjected to violence.  They also continued their work with men to support them in their communities in raising awareness of the impact of violence and challenging attitudes that condone violence.

We work closely with UN Women and United Nations Population Fund at the global level on women’s empowerment.  Globally and in the Pacific we support UN Women’s work on ending violence against women through the Global Trust Fund to End Violence and the Pacific Fund to End Violence Against Women.

The regional fund provides capacity building and small grants to organisations working to end violence against women.  In its first year of operation, the fund provided assistance for training to 65 organisations and grants to 13 organisations for services for victims of violence and prevention activities.

Today, I am delighted to announce that Australia will enhance its contribution to this regional fund, through a $5.3 million contribution over the next three years.

Australia has also supported the work of regional partners to conduct national surveys on the prevalence and impact of violence on women.  This has given national governments a strong evidence base to inform progress on national policies and action plans on violence.  In Solomon Islands and Kiribati this has led to positive actions at the national level to address violence through country policies and action plans to end violence against women.

I congratulate my Kiribati colleagues on their leadership in this area.

The Ministry of Internal and Social Affairs developed a National Approach to Eliminating Sexual and Gender Based Violence Policy and Strategic Plan 2011 – 2021.

The Policy and Strategic Plan was endorsed by Cabinet on 21 April 2011 formalising the government’s commitment by setting in place a strong agenda to combat Kiribati biggest development challenges to end violence against women. This document will also guide future governments, UN agencies, non-government organisations and donor partners’ investment in this area.

I am pleased that the Australian Government, particularly AusAID, was able to support the Government of Kiribati in this work.

In Tonga, we are supporting a Domestic Violence Survey due to be completed by the end of 2011. With a new minister for Women’s Affairs, following the first democratic elections on 25 November, we look forward to progressing with the Government and partners, gender equality issues.

Recognising that we need to do more through the health sector, today I am also pleased to announce that this work will continue as part of a new package of funding to UNFPA ($2.7 million over three years) to:

  • increase the evidence base in five countries (Nauru, Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau)
  • integrate initiatives into the health system to bridge the links between poor reproductive health and violence against women and;
  • address and further identify sexual and reproductive health needs and vulnerability to violence and sexual abuse of women and girls with disabilities.

Reducing violence against women is a challenge that we all share. We know that it is holding our respective countries back.

We know that we need a Plan to address it. We need partnerships. And most significantly of all, we need leadership.

The only way to address it is to work together at every level to ensure that violence against women is unacceptable in every circumstance, in every walk of life, in every country.

Reducing violence against women is not just good for women. It is good for families, it is good for communities, it is good for economies and it is good for countries.

I would like to congratulate the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development and its secretariat, the Australian Reproductive Health Alliance, for their initiative in hosting this Roundtable today.

Australia continues to prioritise responding to and preventing Violence Against Women in the Asia Pacific region as part of its international development assistance. It’s an important contribution to promoting women’s rights and achieving sustainable development outcomes.

I look forward to hearing the outcomes of your discussions.