On Friday 25 November I wore a white ribbon in support of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. So did my boss, Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. So did Australian men from all walks of life.
In doing so we joined the world’s largest movement of men working to end men’s violence against women. We joined men in all the countries of East Africa, and across the globe, seeking to raise awareness of gender-based violence and its profound effects and implications on women and children.
But this is just the start. All of us – men and women, Governments and civil society - must realise that this is not something we need think about on just one day of the year; or just over the 16 days of activism set aside by the United Nations that started on Friday. We must commit to action every day of every year.
Violence against women - any act capable of causing physical, sexual or psychological harm to women, whether in public or private – destroys lives and has a horrendous impact on all societies. Such violence continues to be a significant problem in every country on the planet. It is a global scourge. It requires a global response.
World-wide, one in three women will experience violence at the hands of men in their lifetime but less than one-third of victims will report it. In Australia many hundreds of women are violently assaulted every day. In East Africa, nearly half of all women will have suffered violence in their lifetime.
East Africa has played an important role in the development of international women’s rights by hosting the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women, held in Nairobi in 1985.
Described as “the birth of global feminism” this conference included representatives from 157 Governments and more than 15,000 people participated. The conference adopted the “Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies to the Year 2000.” This document broke ground in declaring “all issues” to be women’s issues.
Violence against women is recognised globally as a fundamental development issue. Gender inequity and violence must be tackled head on for developing nations to reach their full potential. As long as violence against women continues, women, their children, their families, whole communities and whole nations are at risk of entrenched poverty and suffering. By stopping violence and empowering women, we bring untold flow-on benefits to nations, developed and developing alike.
Critical to this are male advocacy training programs. Men must be educated to understand the long-term effects of violence against women. As Australia’s Foreign Minister, Mr Rudd, said recently “Gender based violence is not just a challenge for women, it is a challenge for men. The core problem is this, my gender, the male gender is responsible. Until we deal with this, in many of the developing countries of our part of the world, we will not be able to embrace full economic opportunities for women. That is a core truth.”
I recently met Wangu Kanja, an extraordinary woman who has made a life-time commitment to combating gender violence. She is working in the slums of Nairobi to achieve real respect and dignity for women. The slogan of her Foundation, Sita Kimya – I will not be quiet – is a strident call to us all to oppose silence and inaction on gender violence. The Wangu Kanja Foundation is particularly focussed on increasing the number of men who engage and participate in action address sexual violence against women and children.
Wangu and others can achieve real change in the future. Governments can also help. This year the Australia Government appointed Ms Penny Williams as Australia’s first “Global Ambassador for Women and Girls” to lead our response to this crisis. We have committed $96.4 million over four years to combat violence against women. In the Pacific, Australia’s own region, we are funding empowerment projects and contributing to the promising work already being done by Pacific communities themselves. We aim to promote greater leadership, education, entrepreneurship and employment opportunities for women, especially for those who are at the bottom class of society and therefore at the greatest risk of severe poverty.
But ultimately it is about individuals and the choices they make. In Australia, men and boys are encouraged to take a pledge not to tolerate violence against women. The pledge is undertaken by men who oppose violence against women with their words and with their deeds. The pledge reads;
• Never to commit violence against women,
• Never to excuse violence against women, and
• Never to remain silent about violence against women.
I made this pledge again this year. I have encouraged all the male staff at the Australian High Commission to do the same. I hope all men and boys in all the countries of East Africa will do the same.
Australia’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda
Australia’s Ambassador to Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan