Speech by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

White Ribbon Day – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Location: UNIFEM White Ribbon Day Luncheon, Atrium, Federation Square, Melbourne


Ladies and gentlemen


Thank you Roslyn (Strong, Vice-President of UNIFEM) for your introduction.

I am delighted to be here in my home city of Melbourne, to join you in raising awareness about White Ribbon Day – that is, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

At the outset, I want to thank UNIFEM and Amnesty International for organising this luncheon.

That so many of you are here reflects the concerns of all of us about violence against women, both in our own country and internationally.

As the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues, I am pleased the Australian Government has helped fund this event, with the money coming from our Women’s Development Programme.

Why we are here today

Violence against women remains a very significant social issue in Australia.

Indeed, a recent Government-funded study by Access Economics found its cost to our economy, alone, is a massive $8.1 billion a year.

Other statistics confirm what, for far too many women, is a stark reality.

Alarmingly, the Australian component of the International Violence Against Women Survey found that 57% of all the women surveyed reported some level of physical and/or sexual harm over the course of their lives.

It is women who are much more likely to be the victims of violence in the home. And the majority of this involves sexual assault perpetrated by someone known to them.

This includes people such as partners, relatives, acquaintances, and people in positions of trust.

Unfortunately, it is still the case in today’s world that women who are sexually assaulted by an intimate partner face particular difficulties. These include revealing their experiences and asking for help.

While the intangible consequences of violence are difficult to quantify, we do know from Access Economics’ study that domestic violence is the fifth greatest health burden to women in Australia. That’s higher than high cholesterol, illicit drugs and poor diet!

These findings highlight the immense toll borne by women who have experienced violence.

And it is borne not only by women subjected to violence, but by others who suffer indirectly – our men, our children, and our communities.
And that’s why we need to get men involved in this issue.

The role of boys and men

While we talk a lot about violence against women, men’s lives are also personally affected if their girlfriends, wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, even grandmothers, experience violence or the threat of violence.

And along with a variety of women’s organisations around the world, it is organisations like UNIFEM and Amnesty International that work to engage men in the fight to stop violence against women.

I think we would all agree that men and boys can and do play a crucial role when it comes to helping reduce violence in the lives of women.

This is not empty rhetoric. In fact, the role of men and boys is recognised internationally.

For example, in March this year – for the first time in its history – the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women considered the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality.

Men and boys really can make a difference by helping to tackle harmful attitudes and beliefs and by making the community safer for women and girls.

I strongly believe, that governments have a role to play as well, and the Australian Government has a deep commitment to bringing about change.

Curriculum resource

Part of that commitment is about changing attitudes. And we are continuing to send a clear message that violence against women is unacceptable.

Just yesterday, I launched a secondary school curriculum resource.

This is specially-tailored to target Year 11 and 12 students. It’s about preventing violence and abusive behaviour.

Taking a preventative approach, the idea is to communicate directly with young people about the early warning signs that can lead to physical violence and sexual assault in relationships.

A centrepiece of the resource is a compelling documentary, which tells the tragic story of a young woman severely injured by her boyfriend.

Due to be sent out to all secondary schools early next year, the resource is part of the overall Violence Against Women – Australia Says NO. campaign. The campaign is funded under the Government’s Partnerships Against Domestic Violence and the National Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault.

I believe the new curriculum resource will go some way to instilling anti-violence values in our school children.

Howard Government achievements

On a broader front, since coming to office, the Howard Government has worked in partnership with state and territory governments, organisations, communities and many committed individuals to improve the position, participation and circumstances of Australian women.

I have championed a major focus on reducing the prevalence of violence in the lives of women – and in particular to reduce violence within families.

This focus has produced the successful Partnerships Against Domestic Violence initiative, a $50 million Howard Government commitment.

Many of you will already be aware of the range of innovative projects that Partnerships has funded. Over 230 projects have been funded to find better ways of preventing and responding to domestic violence at the local, regional and national level.

As well, development of research and documenting good practice have been key features of Partnerships’ work.

I’m also pleased to say that over $14 million of the total $50 million funding was ear-marked to specifically address family violence in Indigenous communities.

The other major element of the Howard Government’s commitment to women’s safety is the $23 million National Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault.

Projects, which are part of this initiative, include the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault and other projects that are looking at the criminal justice system’s handling of sexual assault cases.

A whole-of-community approach

However, these government-funded activities, alone, cannot bring about lasting changes.

For its part, the Howard Government has taken on a national leadership and coordination role to reduce and prevent violence against women.

But it is only by working together in partnership that we can bring about significant cultural change.

A whole-of-community problem requires a whole-of-community response.

I believe we all have a responsibility to raise awareness and foster an Australian culture that will not tolerate violence against women.

The White Ribbon Campaign is the largest effort in the world, with men working to end men’s violence against women.

Can I finish up by asking those of you who have promised yourselves to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women, to share your stories and experiences with others here today, and to keep spreading the message about eliminating violence to your family, friends your neighbours, and your community?

Once again, congratulations to UNIFEM and Amnesty International for organising this event in recognition of White Ribbon Day.

Thank you.