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White Ribbon Day Luncheon

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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

Honourable Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Mr O'Neill, Ms Julia Babao, Lady Winifred Kamit, Ministers, Dame Carol Kidu, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you today. I really would like to congratulate the Coalition For Change for the leading role they are playing to end violence against women in PNG.

And something that I would particularly like to acknowledge is the ground breaking work in driving the draft Family Protection Bill. You really should be congratulated for that.

I was appointed as you heard, Global Ambassador for Women and Girls only a few short months ago, and made it a priority to visit Papua New Guinea early in my term.

The position has a particular focus on the Pacific so I was keen to get here early. I promised the honourable Prime Minister when I saw him in Perth, I promised a number of people at the table that I was going to get out here quickly. I really wanted to come this week at a time when I could join the march this morning, when I could go to the symposium against family violence, and when I could attend this lunch.

But, Prime Minister, when I decided to come this week, I certainly did not know that it was going to be such a historical week for this theme, which has just added an extra air of excitement to the visit.

On Wednesday, I opened the PNG Family and Sexual Violence Symposium which enabled the discussion of law on domestic violence, health issues, and how HIV/AIDS transmission rates relate to family & sexual violence.

It was a particularly impressive initiative by the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee. One of the most effective things the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee have done is to establish male advocates against sexual violence who now number over 500 men in PNG.

These men, some of them who have actually committed acts of violence in the past, are now trusted members of their communities, speaking out about family and sexual violence.

Recruiting men for this is not just symbolism. Men are the key to eliminating violence against women. In Australia, nearly one in three women and girls will experience some form of violence in their lifetimes. In PNG, it's roughly double that figure.

The violence is committed almost exclusively by men against women. But most men of course are not violent towards women. Indeed, one of the most significant barriers that we have is that too often violent behaviour towards women and girls is met by silence by other men.

One of the male advocates against violence who I was just talking about, Francis, a counsellor and trainer in Bougainville, said he came to the realisation that his use of violence did not make sense.

He said: "I spent a lot of energy getting this woman to be my wife and I ended up using a lot of energy hurting her, and it did not make sense. I vowed never to do it again and try and make a difference in my community by becoming an advocate".

This shows that it's possible and indeed necessary for men to be part of that change.

The truth is men have nothing to fear about stopping the violence. On the contrary, men have everything to gain. Violence against women results in real economic and social costs which affect everyone, men included.

Violence means women have difficulty working and holding down a job. Without an income, they can't access medical treatment or send their children to school. Violence contributes to the overloading of the health system. Women lose out, families lose out and children lose out and ultimately men lose as well.

By empowering women and keeping them safe, households are healthier and happier, communities are more productive and nations are wealthier. That is definitely in men's interest.

Men like Francis, the counsellor from Bougainville have an important role in breaking the silence and acting as positive role models for younger generations of men.

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

Part of my role is to bring people together to talk about how to solve this issue. Because violence against women is a global problem, every country in the world needs a plan to address it. Australia has a plan for our own problems. It's called the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children and male advocates are key part of that National Plan.

But importantly, it's the very first plan that we have ever had that focuses on prevention and critically, working to increase gender equality to stop violence from occurring in the first place.

Because, research released by the UN shows that gender equality improves when the prevalence of violence against women is lower. Countries with greater equality between women and men tend to have lower levels of violence against women. At the same time, when we challenge attitudes and behaviours that tolerate violence, we also work to reduce economic, social and political inequality between women and men.

Yesterday, I was very lucky to be in the Eastern Highlands to see first hand how Australia and PNG are working together to eliminate violence against women. Tribal fighting has had severe impacts in Eastern Highlands Province including loss of life, displacement of communities and damage to critical infrastructure including schools and health clinics.

Australia has supported peace building efforts which have seen active tribal fights reduced from around 84 major incidents annually, five years ago to about only five last year.

With Australia's support, Eastern Highlands Province had shown leadership in placing and training women to become village court magistrates in the formerly male dominated courts.

The number of female village court magistrates in the province has risen from just one or two five years ago, to over 100 today and I was very lucky yesterday to actually sit in and watch one of the female village magistrates there, and to see the respect that she received by the community. It was a true an example of empowerment and leadership.

The case involved two men; it wasn't a domestic violence case. It was about a fight between two men and she was absolutely amazing.

I also had the chance to visit the Family and Sexual Violence Unit at Goroka Police Station which is also supported by AusAID's law and justice program. And if you ever have a chance to see how sexual violence effects people working on the front line, the women police officers working in that unit were just amazing. They work very closely with the Sexual Offences Squad investigating family and sexual violence related offences.

Australia was also pleased to help with the introduction of interim protection orders and also to establish safe places for women to escape violence. So there is much that is actually taking place in the area.

The organisers of White Ribbon Day are asking men to take a public oath to never permit, excuse or remain silence about violence against women. I join with them in urging men here today to show the leadership by taking this oath.

I was very pleased last week to be able to nominate our High Commissioner here, Ian Kemish, along with all our other male ambassadors and high commissioners in Pacific Island nations to be appointed as White Ribbon Day Ambassadors.

So the statistics are horrifying and the stories of the women survivors are even more horrifying. But after this very short week that I have spent in PNG, I'll leave PNG this afternoon with a sense of optimism. That might sound contradictory, when you look at the statistics and hear the stories.

But I have a sense of optimism because of the organisations like Coalition of Change, because of the work and commitment of people on the ground that I saw yesterday. Because of the number of people who joined and walked together in the streets of Port Moresby this morning. Because of the men who are standing up in PNG and saying that Tough Men Don't Bash Women and because most importantly of the historic steps that Parliament took this week towards women's political empowerment.

To echo your words, Prime Minister, this has been a momentous week in PNG.

Thank you very much.

Last Updated: 19 September 2014
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