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Launch of Empower Pacific Gender Based Violence brochure

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Speaker: Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja AM (speech as delivered)

Empower Pacific Counselling Centre, Lautoka Hospital

Thank you. Good morning, everyone. Bula Vinaka, Namaste.

What a great honour and privilege it is to be here. This is my first morning in Fiji in this capacity as the Ambassador for Women and Girls, so I'm particularly honoured to be here on such a significant international day – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. And so thank you for my purple ribbon and my equally beautiful purple garland. Great women's colours, are they not? Wonderful women's colours, but you'll also note that I'm wearing orange today before I go to the markets, because that is an international colour as well that signifies optimism and progress when it comes to countering violence against women and children.

Of course I acknowledge guests here today, Michael, Doctor, Patrick, what an honour to be here. Our wonderful MC, the trustees and the board of Empower Pacific, your staff, nurses, doctors, representatives from civil society organisations and of course representatives from the Ministry of Health.

It's wonderful to be here not only on this significant day but of course to be part of the launch of your brochure, a brochure that is much needed and so important. A brochure that talks about and provides information on the issue of gender based violence, clearly a scourge in many communities across the world, not just in Fiji. I've just come from Australia where yesterday in Canberra in Parliament House I stood with the Prime Minister, the Governor General, the Leader of the Opposition and all the state, territory and New Zealand Police Commissioners in a show of combatting violence against women. So all over the world we recognise that gender based violence is a problem.

So your brochure today is a significant piece of the puzzle. First of all informing people about the issue of gender based violence, but also providing services. It's been wonderful to have a look at the facilities that you provide here. And Patrick, may I commend you and your colleagues for the counselling services, which I understand are second to none. In fact, the largest provision of counselling in Fiji comes from Empower. And so Australia is very honoured to be a partner in that process.

We thought it was particularly appropriate today to make an announcement about the Fiji Community Development Program, particularly to do it on site, particularly in a place near a building that we helped fund. It's been in a wonderful partnership since 2010 for the Australian Government with Empower. We've been honoured to provide $1.2 million at that time as part of the Fiji Community Development Program, which we know has assisted up to 70,000 Fijians, 65 community social service organisations. So today, I wanted to make an announcement about that particular program as well. As you know, many of you, that program was due to finish in June 2015. Well, I'm very honoured today to announce that that program will be extended for a next phase. Starting in July 2015, it will continue until June 2017. So that's a very exciting part of what I get to do today.

But I do want to reflect on the other exciting part of today and that is the launch of the brochure. Again, Patrick, I want to encourage you and your colleagues, it's so important to raise awareness about these issues. The World Health Organisation calls gender based violence an epidemic. In Australia, I think it's a national shame. We know that all communities, regardless of your bank balance, your postcode, what nationality you are, what your cultural heritage is; all women are affected by this issue. All communities are affected. So anything we do to raise awareness, to reduce the stigma associated with gender based violence and then provide help is absolutely critical. So thank you for the work that you do in providing that information, providing services not just for women but for men and children in this facility.

And how wonderful to sit in the counselling rooms. I almost felt the need to start talking. It was such an engaging and comfortable atmosphere in which people can disclose some of their most personal and important information. So congratulations on the services you provide. As I say, Australia is excited to be a partner whether it's assisting building buildings or whether it's actually providing brochures that raise awareness of an issue that we must – must – address if we're going to ensure that not just Fiji, not only the region, but the world is to use its untapped resource, and that is the power and the talents of women and girls.

So thank you very much for having me today. It's a great honour to be here. I look forward to doing the honours with the brochure so that everyone can see the information that is going to be provided today. So thank you so much.

Last Updated: 25 November 2014
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