Latest on how to tackle extreme violence against PNG and Pacific women | Pacific Beat

Latest on how to tackle extreme violence against PNG and Pacific women

Latest on how to tackle extreme violence against PNG and Pacific women

Updated 26 August 2014, 11:00 AEST

While tackling violence against women in the Pacific is a big job, Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja, says she's optimistic change is possible.

The latest figures suggest seven out of ten women in Papua New Guinea will be raped or sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, while in Fiji reports suggest around 70 women a day are being beaten unconscious in domestic assaults.

Ms Stott Despoja has been taking part in a panel discussion organised by the Lowy Institute under the banner of Extreme Challenges facing women in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

Jemima Garrett went along for Pacific Beat.

Jo Chandler: freelance journalist and author of an upcoming Lowy Institute paper on violence in PNG and the Pacific 

GARRETT: Most violence against women in the Pacific is domestic violence, attacks from husbands and close family members.

But it was the infamous case of a young women who was burnt at the stake in Mt Hagen in a sorcery-related killing that made media all over the world.

Jo Chandler, the freelance journalist behind the story told the Lowy Institute discussion perpetrators of violence in that, and other cases, believe they can get away with murder.

CHANDLER: There were hundreds of witnesses to that event. People took pictures on their mobile phones. No-one has been arrested for that a year later and that was such a visible case.

GARRETT: Like many men and women across the region, Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls Natasha Stott Depoja has been deeply touched by the plight of women in PNG.

DESPOJA: These personal stories shine a light on this epidemic, this most pervasive and damaging problem in the world today. I think though the complexity of the issue is not disputed.

GARRETT: Ms Stott Despoja says tackling domestic and other forms of violence is not an easy job.

DESPOJA: I know one thing that leads to violence and that is gender inequality and no one country has got that right. So we tackle that, you know not simple issue but complex, all these factors that may compound or exacerbate or indeed add to the root causes of such violence we tackle that in a range of ways.

GARRETT: Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has made the empowerment of women and children in PNG and the Pacific one of her top priorities.

The agenda is broad and, with just 5 per cent of the Pacific's elected leaders being female, it includes support for boosting the number of women parliamentarians.

Jo Chandler says despite the strength of Pacific women, domestic violence is taking a toll.

CHANDLER: There is so much resilience of women even in the most oppressed and difficult environments that I often feel guilty if I am sort of portraying the community as victims who deserve pity because in my head I can see these incredible women who are doing amazing work and men who are supporting them. So it is very difficult to capture the horror and how oppressive it is, it is such a big factor in why women are not standing for political office, or anything else, because they are trapped in these relationships.

GARRETT:  Natasha Stott Despoja says despite the extraordinary obstacles she is optimistic things are improving for women.

Vanuatu and Samoa have brought in quota systems to guaruntee a minimum number of women are elected and in Fiji, she notes, all 5 political parties have a female President.

Australia is supporting a host of gender equality initiatives from access to finance to education, reproductive health and more.

It is also assisting countries draw up new domestic violence legislation.

Natasha Stott Despoja welcomes the PNG legislation passed last year but warns against complacency.

DESPOJA: The fact that the legislation exists is not enough. It is the implementation that is now the challenge. You know, looking at case studies in place like Lae out of 338 cases in the last year, one went to trial so then there is a rle for us partnering for other organisations as well as directly with the government to lead community awareness campaigns about the legislation.

GARRETT: In PNG, Australia is supporting 14 new domestic violence units in police stations to ensure womens needs are met.

Domestic violence programs are running in 9 Pacific countries.

DESPOJA: In the Solomons, you know, we have this great 'Channels of Hope' program where we partner with the churches, talking with male advocates talking about the issues of how women are treated or what we need to do to minimise and, hopefully, eliminate violence against women. I mean that is a program in 30 communities across 2 provinces.

GARRETT: It will take time before all or even a majority of women have access to services.

Natasha Stott Despoja hopes that when they do they find a service that meets their needs.

DESPOJA: In Tonga the Women's and Children Crisis Centre which is a different model again, a one-stop shop, for couselling, for complaints for access to justice. It is not going to be that one model is going to work for every country, let alone within every country.

Reporter: Jemima Garrett

Speakers: Natasha Stott Despoja, Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls; Jo Chandler, Journalist

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