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UN Women Markets 4 Change – 'Orange the Market' event

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

Lautoka Municipal Market

Thank you Nicholas, Deputy UN Representative, UN Women. I also acknowledge invited guests as well as the UN Resident Representative. Thank you, CEO, Meria Volavola for that wonderful inspirational address and messaging. But to vendors, sellers, friends, one and all. Bula vinaka. Namaste. Good morning.

It's an honour to be here, my first morning in Fiji and on a glorious day. Not just a beautiful Fijian day but a day of orange. A day of commemoration of an important international event. A day that we acknowledge the issue of gender-based violence in the world.

Nicholas, you have talked about terrible statistics in Fiji for violence against women and children. But you know what? No country in the world has got it right when it comes to gender equality or completely erasing violence against women. In Australia we also have terrible statistics. A third of Australian women over the age of 15 has experienced some form of physical assault. And one in five Australian women has experienced sexual assault. Every week in my country a woman is killed by a partner or a former partner. So we have a shared problem.

So I'm excited to be here today to commemorate this day dressed in orange with you all. You're right Nicholas, in Australia we also call it White Ribbon Day. And it's a day when men take a leadership role when it comes to changing male behaviour. When they demonstrate male leadership. So Tura, it's very exciting that you're here today as well, because we need men to take responsibility and to acknowledge that we must have healthy, happy, equal and respectful relationships between men and women, and boys and girls.

So thank you for the opportunity to be here today, particularly on this day. I was telling Empower Pacific earlier – I went to a wonderful event to talk about their counselling services earlier – and we were talking about the fact that I'd just come from Canberra, Parliament House in Canberra. And I stood with every territory, state and New Zealand and Australian Police Commissioner – all men. And the Governor General and the Prime Minister – all men. And they made a declaration yesterday that they would wear their white ribbons and that they would oppose violence against women. So it's wonderful to see the same events taking place today. So thank you.

But thank you also for the opportunity to come to the market. I'm excited to be here. The markets are the lifeblood of any community. You know, when I go on holidays it's the first thing I do. I go and visit the market. So in Lautoka to look at the market but also to look at the special role that women play in the markets because women make up a majority of those in the markets – vendors, sellers as well as buyers. But we also know that the predominance of women in the markets and the fact that this is such an important part of women's income doesn't always mean that women have an equal say in decision-making or in the governance of those markets. Or that markets are necessarily always the safest or cleanest places for women and children to be, which is why I'm excited to be here to celebrate Markets 4 Change.

The Australian Government is excited to partner with UN Women in conjunction with your partners like Westpac and UNDP to ensure that markets are cleaner, they're safer, they're all-inclusive places for women and children. And I'm really interested at looking at the accommodation and the resource centre after we've had these commemorations today to look at the facilities that are provided for women who stay here or need a place for their children to stay while they're working, but also while they're engaged in the work of this market.

Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development is one of the biggest programs that Australia provides - $320 million over 10 years in 14 countries. And one of the biggest parts of that spending for us is the Markets 4 Change program. So I congratulate UN Women on its efforts. I'm glad that we are able to partner with you. We acknowledge that markets are so important to communities, not just for women specifically and their families and their livelihoods, but generally we know that the income generated from this market alone is almost a million dollars every year.. So thank you for the opportunity to be here to celebrate and commemorate this day with you. But I leave you with my message and that is that we can't really celebrate this international day or indeed the position of women and girls in our world until we are free of the fear of violence. The fear of violence as well as the reality of violence. Because until we are free of that fear of violence, we can't reach our full potential as women. And there is no country in our region or in our world, let alone Fiji or Australia that can really benefit without using its potential and the talents of more than half of its population. So all power to you today, women and girls, but also a special message and thanks to the men here for showing leadership on this vital issue of eliminating violence against women. Thank you.

Last Updated: 25 November 2014
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