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Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

International Women’s Day Commemorative event

Location: 53rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, United Nations, New York

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Excellencies, delegates, observers, ladies and gentleman.

It is an honour to address you today in commemoration of International Women’s Day and to share the podium with the Secretary General, who has made addressing violence a personal priority during his term.

Australia has made progress in addressing both domestic violence and sexual assault.

We have improved support for victims/survivors by:

  • significantly increasing funding for emergency accommodation and public housing making it easier for victims of violence to leave home safely;
  • funding new programs which allow victims to remain safely in their home and remove perpetrators;
  • training nurses and police to work together to gather forensic information to increase the likelihood of successful prosecution;
  • encouraging police and judges to be sensitive to the experiences of victims of violence;
  • providing counselling, including through emergency phone lines;
  • improving legal and social supports for women who have been trafficked;
  • developing a tailored response for Indigenous women who are victims of family violence.

After many hard won gains, we have a system that has improved.

Although the Australian government believes we have more work to do, as a nation, to combat violence against women.

We have not yet seen a substantive drop in the incidence of violence.

Around one in three Australian women experience domestic violence and one in five women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes.

Our key challenge is to change behaviour so fewer women experience domestic violence or sexual assault in the first place.

That is why, in May 2008, I formed a National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. I asked them to develop an ambitious twelve year national plan to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault.

Australia has a federal system of government. For the plan to be successful, it will need to involve all levels of government and have broad community support.

It will especially need to include our young people so that they receive a strong message about the importance of respectful relationships.

Our national plan to Reduce violence against women will be evidence based. The national plan will be based on extensive research including research provided by two clearinghouses funded by my Office for Women. It will also consider detailed research on community attitudes that condone violence against women.

Australia has managed to substantially reduce road deaths from drink driving in recent decades because we have taken a well researched, methodical, long term public health approach. We educate drivers about the dangers; we use our laws to prevent drink-driving; we have a random breath testing regime to discourage risk taking; and when we catch someone drinking and driving, we expect to penalise them harshly.

This approach of using all the levers available to us as a government – prevention, education, attitude change, law enforcement and punishment will be adopted in the national plan.

We are taking a zero tolerance approach to eradicating violence.

Our Prime Minister spoke to a UNIFEM White Ribbon Foundation dinner recently, saying:

“From birth, it must be drilled into the conscious and the subconscious of all men that there are no circumstances – no circumstances – in which violence against women is acceptable.

That on violence against women, we have simple, clear policy in two words: zero tolerance.”

In the same historic speech, our Prime Minister also acknowledged that violence against women is a gender issue and only men will address violence.

Our new approach focuses on working with men and boys, to change attitudes that condone violence and to change violent behaviour.

Our Prime Minister is one of many White Ribbon Ambassadors who undertake to be ‘Not Violent and Not Silent’.

In developing the National Plan, we are determined to ensure that Indigenous women’s perspectives are heard. The Australian government held a forum in January where Indigenous leaders – women and men who work in the family violence or sexual assault fields – offered their views about how to tackle Indigenous violence.

We are also committed to combating violence in our region; and our aid program reflects this.

Australia wants to build a society where women are safe in their homes and safe in public places.

This is a tremendous challenge and one that no country in the world has yet completed.

I expect the path to be long and difficult, and for set backs to occur along the way, but our progress so far gives me hope.

I look forward to a time when no person’s life is broken by domestic violence or sexual assault and my good wishes go to all those, around the world, working to that end.