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Family and Sexual Violence Symposium

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Speaker: Penny Williams, Australia's Global Ambassador for Women

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Speech, Penny Williams, Australia's Global Ambassador for Women, E&OE

Thank you very much for that introduction and can I just say that Dr Kalinoe, that was an amazing speech. I feel a bit daunted speaking after you.

And to Ume, I promised I'd be here. We talked about this when the Papua New Guinea delegation was in Canberra only a few short few weeks ago, so really it's wonderful to be here. I'm really pleased to be able to participate in today's symposium on my first visit to Papua New Guinea as Global Ambassador for Women and Girls.

I know AusAID in PNG has been working very closely with the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee and the Consultative and Implementation and Monitoring Council to address the many, many challenges around family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea.

This is not a comfortable subject. This is not an easy subject to talk about and I really do congratulate the organisers of this symposium on their commitment not only to highlighting the issue as Dr Kalinoe said but also to working out the practical ways forward.

My role as Australia's first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls is to ensure that the needs for women and girls are properly represented in Australia's overseas development program and in foreign policy more broadly, particularly in the Pacific and Asia.

My role is one of advocacy for women and girls internationally and my role as Dr Kalinoe pointed out is also to highlight the issues; the role gives a profile to the issues having an impact on women and girls.

A particular focus of mine since I've taken up the position has been violence against women and girls, particularly in the Pacific. So, in terms of properly representing women and girls in our development assistance and foreign policy, a key objective of mine is to really speak out against violence at every opportunity all over the world.

And I'll do this by ensuring that we just don't better understand the problems through research or that we continue to talk about the problem but we actually act to eliminate violence against women as all of you here today are working to do.

My sense is that right now there is an unprecedented momentum around the globe to address the issue of violence against women. I think more than ever before, men and women around the world are shining a light into the dark corners of the homes, the workplaces and the streets where violence against women persists.

Men and women, like we are today, are coming together to understand the problem, talk about it, and hopefully solve it. We now have a much greater understanding of violence against women and its devastating effect and can I say this isn't a problem limited to any one country.

I read the other day that last weekend the new Chief Commissioner of Police in the Australian state of Victoria, Ken Leigh, said that inter-city violence in the streets of Melbourne made people visiting the city feel less safe, and had to be addressed.

Interestingly, he than went on to say that a woman or child in Victoria was more likely to be assaulted in their home than on the street. He then made the point that keeping the issue highly visible and talking about it could actually make a difference.

I think that we know that the motivation to stop violence against women is self evident, it's wrong and it's illegal. But there are many other reasons to stop violence against women. Everybody would be better off – men, women and children.

Violence against women has a ripple effect. It not only affects the victims themselves, but it affects their children, their families, their friends, their workmates and at the end of the day, the broader community.

Indeed, in 2009 as part of development of our National Action Plan in Australia, we did some research – we asked KPMG to do some research – and they actually calculated that violence against women and children in Australia cost the Australian economy $13.6 billion. Imagine what we could spend that money on.

Here are some important points as we move through the rest of the day to consider.

Research released by the UN shows that, as gender equality improves, the prevalence of violence against women is lower. That's a really, really important point to keep in mind.

Countries with greater equality between men and women tend to have lower levels of violence against women. At the same time, when we challenge attitudes and behaviour that tolerate violence, we also work to reduce economic, social and political inequalities between women and men. There is a circle and we need to keep on working on all aspects of that circle.

In the Pacific, around two-thirds of women have experienced violence any by experience violence we all know that we mean, they have been punched, they have been kicked, they have been shot, throttled, and they have sexually abused. Because of this violence, women have difficulty working and holding down a job. Without an income, they can't get medical treatment or educate their children or educate themselves.

In our part of the world, violence is one of the most important underlying factors which prevents full participation of women in the economy. A recent Australian National University Discussion Paper on the causes of violence in the Southern Highlands found that 69 per cent of people presenting at Tari Hospital with violence related injuries were women.

We also know the profile of the people who were attacking them. The same study showed that 94 percent of these women knew their attacker – it was their husband, their boyfriend, their friend, their brother, their cousin and even more disturbingly in some cases, their father.

So the perpetrators of violence against women are mostly men. But most men of course are not violent towards women and most men actually find violence against women, against their daughters, against their mothers, against their sisters abhorrent. But one of the most significant barriers that we have is that too often violent behaviour against women and girls is met by silence by other men.

Every single man has a role to play in stopping violence against women. Because of this, the organisers of White Ribbon Day asked men to take a public oath to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women.

The Australian High Commissioner to PNG, and I know many of you know him, Ian Kemish, along with all Australian Heads of Mission in the Pacific, have been appointed White Ribbon Ambassadors this week. I was very pleased to nominate them in those roles.

Today, I want to publicly congratulate them but I also want to congratulate all those men in Australia and in PNG who stand up against violence against women, who act as positive role models and this is important – they act as positive role models for younger generations of men. They help break the cycle and they demonstrate in what they say and in what they do, that "Strong Men Don't Bash Women".

By stopping violence and empowering women, we bring untold benefits to nations. That's why Foreign Minister Rudd said couple of weeks ago that if Australia is serious about delivering effective aid program, we must be serious about stopping violence.

Australia is funding research to better understand the problem in our region. As we are doing today, we are talking more about the problem, a problem that for so long has gone unspoken.

Earlier this month, Australia facilitated the Pacific Women's Empowerment Dialogue: Stopping Violence Against Women in Canberra. There was a large delegation from PNG and Ume of course was there.

It brought together over 130 representatives from Pacific governments, civil society, the police, UN donor countries and the private sector. They all came together to share information about what's working, identified programs that could be expanded, smaller countries were learning from larger countries.

There was an exchange of best practice in the areas of prevention, services for survivors and access to justice and research.

I think that dialogue was a watershed moment in the way that the Pacific cooperates in identifying practical ways forward in this area and I think that this symposium is a very timely follow on from that dialogue in terms of identifying practical ways that PNG can work through this issues.

As I said at the beginning, this is my first visit to PNG as Ambassador for Women and Girls and I am here to learn what the issues are on the ground and how we can all act for change. I can see that there are some positive signs in PNG. The government of PNG and the police have spoken out against family and sexual violence. Australia is helping PNG act to stop violence against women by raising awareness through symposiums like this, strengthening the law and justice sectors, by supporting more women in leadership roles and improving maternal and child health.

All of Australia's development programs in PNG, whether it's education, health, HIV/AIDS, transport, infrastructure, law and justice place women at the very centre of the planning and implementation and this will continue to happen with increased urgency.

So in conclusion, ending violence against women requires that every one of us rises to the challenges and plays our part. Australia is a steadfast partner to PNG to realise this change. I am so encouraged by how many people there are in the room today – all willing to talk about this difficult issue and to talk about practical ways forward. Let's make sure that our voice continues to be heard in PNG, not only this week but into the future.

Thank you very much.

Last Updated: 19 September 2014
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