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Remarks at the UN 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women side event: The Critical Services Initiative

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Topic: Australia's efforts to address violence against women domestically, and the support we provide through our aid program for women who have been subjected to violence.


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

United Nations, New York

Australia very pleased to co-sponsor this event and to be an early partner with UN Women to develop the Critical Services Initiative.

Shortly after I was appointed as Australia's first global Ambassador for Women and Girls, I travelled to Vanuatu, and in the company of some dedicated staff from the Vanuatu Women's Centre, I travelled to one of the most remote provinces in the far north of the country where excellent work is being done to address endemic violence against women and girls.

It was an early and very valuable lesson about just how challenging it is for any of us to provide frontline emergency services to women and girls who experience violence, especially in remote locations, and how much we have to learn from each other as we work, each in our own countries, our own cultures, within our own resource constraints, to deliver those services.

While there have been improvements in the provision of, and access to, services for women and girls experiencing violence, progress remains uneven within and across countries.

This is the case in Australia, too, where particular groups such as our migrant women, women with disabilities and those living in remote and rural areas require specific strategies to enable their access to critical services.

So I commend UN Women for the Critical Services Initiative.

It will provide crucial support to women who experience violence, including access to health services, counselling, refuge and justice systems.

It will promote a set of global standards for services and responses to women and girls who have experienced violence.

And it offers the opportunity to bring together global experts from different sectors within the violence against women field.

Importantly, they will be able to develop technical guidance on what is needed in relation to essential services and how these can be implemented in different contexts.

Australia is pleased to have provided support for the development of toolkits and other material to assist countries to implement the Critical Services Initiative.

Australia's work internationally to support women who have been subjected to violence

Australia's work with UN Women to develop this Initiative builds on a longstanding focus through our aid program to support survivors of violence.

There are three key elements to these endeavours. We are:

  • Increasing resourcing for organisations that provide support services
  • Supporting capacity building to improve the quality of formal and informal support, and
  • Supporting efforts to increase coordination among services

And we are working with partners to build a strong and shared evidence base on the prevalence and forms of violence against women.

Our immediate region is a priority.

Australia has supported the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre since 1989 and the Vanuatu Women's Centre since 1994.

Our funding for these centres enables the provision of counselling, legal and medical services, emergency accommodation and other practical support services for women and children who are survivors of violence.

These civil society organisations are leading the way in meeting the needs of women who have experienced violence by providing practical support and counselling to women and by working with other agencies such as the police, courts, doctors and welfare agencies to ensure that women can access these services.

They have significant knowledge on providing services to women in small island states with a dispersed population.

I consider that a particular benefit of the Critical Services Initiative is that it will provide an avenue for organisations like the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre and the Vanuatu Women's Centre to share their expertise and knowledge on service delivery with others around the world.

I am pleased UN Women has underlined the importance of developing and implementing national strategies to provide a framework to respond to violence including service delivery to survivors of violence.

Like UN Women, Australia regards these action plans as key mechanisms to coordinate efforts and maximising the impact of interventions to tackle violence against women.

So, Australia is funding the development of a new National Action Plan to End Violence Against Women in Cambodia.

The National Action Plan will strengthen law enforcement, coordinate responses to violence against women and improve services for survivors of violence (shelters, legal and medical support, counselling).

This is work that we are doing with the Government of Cambodia, UN Women and civil society.

We look forward to the Critical Services Initiative drawing on the experience of countries such as Cambodia to provide guidance on how other states can strengthen their service delivery through national strategies.

Our new $320 million, ten-year program of activity to support Pacific women's empowerment, the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Initiative, announced at the Pacific Islands Forum in 2012, includes core programming to combat violence against women and girls and provide enhanced support services for survivors.

It builds on the sustained work of many Pacific women and organisations to provide much needed services for women affected by violence and to advocate for policy and service delivery reform

As this initiative is rolled out over the coming decade it will offer up significant opportunities to share expertise across the region and further afield.

In addition to our efforts through our bilateral aid program, we are also a close partner of the United Nations to prevent and respond to violence against women, including in disaster and conflict situations.

We have made a multi-year commitment to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.

We are supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' sexual and gender-based violence protection initiatives, to prevent and respond to violence among refugees and other displaced persons.

Since 2008, we have supported the Inter-Agency Gender Standby Capacity Project (GenCap) to promote the mainstreaming of gender in all elements of humanitarian response including practical reforms to enhance the safety of women and girls in refugee camps.

Important lessons learned and best practice examples can be drawn from each of this programs and I urge that through the Critical Services Initiative we take advantage of opportunities to deepen our analysis of where we are succeeding and where there are key service gaps that must be addressed.

Australia's domestic response

Of course, when Australia comes to any partnership to respond to violence and support its survivors, we recognise that this is also an issue in our own community.

Although Australia has zero tolerance for violence against women, in Australia and internationally, we too have a confronting domestic record.
Our national research shows that over 1.2 million women and girls over the age of 15 in Australia have experienced domestic or family violence, usually at the hands of a male partner and Australian women with disabilities are abused at least twice as often as women without disabilities.
Responding to this, in 2011 Australia released a 12 year National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

It draws together the efforts of governments across Australia and civil society to achieve a sustained reduction in levels of violence and to improve service provision for victims of violence.

The Plan focuses on primary prevention and building an evidence base through national surveys to inform policy and programs.

Some recent achievements to address violence against women in Australia include:

A highly successful social marketing campaign, The Line, which encourages respectful relationships among young people and 32 Respectful Relationships education programs in schools and community settings aimed at preventing sexual assault and domestic violence.

Free, accredited training for health workers to assist them to recognise, respond and refer victims of domestic violence (with specifically targeted culturally appropriate courses for Indigenous workers).

We have established a National Centre for Excellence to develop a national research agenda to improve policy and service delivery in response to violence against women.

Since 2010, a National Telephone and Counselling Service has been in operation to support victims of violence and workers assisting victims.

Community Action Grants and funding for programs to support children at risk are also important elements of the Government's agenda.

We look forward to sharing lessons from these programs through the Critical Services Initiative.


For a global problem, a global response is essential.

Australia highly values its close cooperation with UN Women, UNFPA, and other arms of the United Nations as well as our bilateral partners and civil society organisations in developing and implementing programs to prevent and respond to violence against women.

We look forward to continuing this partnership through the Critical Services Initiative in the expectation that together we can work effectively towards universal access to high quality services for all women and girls affected by violence.

And I urge other governments to join this effort to ensure women and girls receive the support they need.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 30 April 2013
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