Archive for November, 2011

Vote hailed as milestone for women in PNG

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Source: The Age


WOMEN danced, wept and embraced outside the Papua New Guinea Parliament

yesterday as years of campaigning culminated in a watershed vote to allow

22 reserved seats for women in the almost exclusively male chamber, where

just one of 109 seats is presently held by a female.

With time running out before the 2012 general election, expectation and

anxiety were high among supporters of the bill, with women loudly

admonishing MPs from the packed public gallery when the debate was delayed

on Monday.

But encouraged by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, the constitutional

amendment to allow the  women’s seats, one for each province, was

eventually passed by 72 votes to two, with several members abstaining and

some absent.

”Only with the input of women will PNG go on and thrive to become a great

nation,”  said Mr O’Neill.

The president of the National Council of Women,  Schola Kakas, described

the move as ”a cry of the mothers of this nation”.

She added:  ”So many of our problems as a society are faced by women -

health, violence, maternal mortality. Only women can understand what must

be done to make things better.

One of the nation’s most seasoned female political campaigners, Greens

leader Dorothy Tekwie, was in the country’s remote north-west when she

heard the news. She said women around her were overjoyed at the bill, which

she said was required if women were to push through fiercely male-dominated

political and social cultures.

”They were just jubilant, clapping their hands. They said – the men too -

‘Tame Blong ol meri’ – ‘time for women’.”

Celebrations were later tempered by confusion even among experts and key

players as to whether the Equality and Participation Bill (or the Women’s

Bill, as it is widely known) faces another legislative hurdle if the

women’s seats are to be in place in time for next year’s general election.

Dame Carol Kidu, the sole elected woman in the Parliament and sponsor of

the bill, said a critical second element of the bill had vanished from the

notice paper, but she hoped it would be resolved in the next few days. If

not, the seats would probably not be in place by the poll.

This issue remains on a knife edge, she said, as the enabling legislation

requires 73 votes to pass – one more than secured for the constitutional

reform yesterday.

The vote marked a huge milestone in PNG and signalled a hunger for change

in the nation, said Dame Carol. ”A lot of people who in the early days

said they would never support it are supporting it now. So whatever

happens, there has been huge progress.”

Queensland-born Dame Carol, 63, the widow of former chief justice Sir Buri

Kidu, will retire at next year’s election. Given entrenched cultural and

financial barriers to women’s participation in politics, there were wide

concerns that PNG  could become the 10th nation in the world without a

single elected female, most of them being Australia’s near neighbours in

the Pacific.

”The changes are very significant,” said Dr Jim Macpherson, a member of

the PNG legislative working group.  ”They are the first changes to the

membership of Parliament since independence – and in some ways a stunning

reversal and recognition of the way gender assumptions have excluded women

from decision-making.”

Another key vote cemented the creation of electorates in two new provinces

- including the critical electorate of Hela, home to the $US16 billion PNG

liquid natural gas project. ”No Hela, No Gas” had been a local refrain,

raising anxieties about the security of the Exxon-Mobil lead highlands


The votes come during a tumultuous period in PNG politics following the

vote on August 2 that installed Mr O’Neill as Prime Minister, ousting Sir

Michael Somare.

The constitutional legitimacy of the decision by Speaker Jeffrey Nape to

declare the office of Prime Minister vacant, triggering the vote that

deposed Sir Michael, 73,  is the subject of a Supreme Court investigation.

Last week the Deputy Prime Minister, Belden Namah, and the

Attorney-General, Dr Allan Marat, were arrested and bailed for contempt of

court after they led a bid by the cabinet to suspend Chief Justice Sir

Salamo Injia while Mr O’Neill was in Hawaii for the APEC summit.

They accused the Chief Justice of financial rorting, but were in turn

accused of trying to sabotage his delivery of the full bench judgment on

the legitimacy of their government, due on December 9.

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Pacific women suffering in terrible silence

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Source: The Brisbane Times
Virginia Haussegger

November 25, 2011Opinion

There are places where men still beat women to show who’s boss.

”EVERYONE wept!” Penny Williams, Australia’s new Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, had eyes the size of saucers as she described the scene at a recent Australia-US discussion about violence against women in the Pacific. ”They were loud tears too, and I mean really loud. We were all crying.”

The trigger for this was an address by a disabled Fijian woman who, quietly and with dignity, described how she’d been repeatedly raped. For many in the room it was just too much. Violence against women and the exploitation of girls in many of our neighbouring Pacific countries is endemic, with rates of abuse and rape now among the worst in the world.

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Barack Obama may have only taken up the mantle of ”Pacific President” last week, but already there are encouraging signs his administration is keen to work with Australia and Pacific partners to crank up efforts to stop the violence.

Two weeks before the President’s visit, he sent his chief gender adviser, Tina Tchen, to Canberra for discussions with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, Minister for Women Kate Ellis, and a select group of gender experts and NGO workers from the Pacific. It was an edgy, two-day discussion where shocking truths were laid bare.

Recent AusAID reports on violence against women in Melanesia and East Timor, and a UN report, provided the backdrop. In Papua New Guinea, 67 per cent of women are beaten by their husbands – 100 per cent in the highlands – with gang rape and pay-back rape common.

In Tuvalu, half the females surveyed lost their virginity in forced sex. In Samoa, 46 per cent of women are physically abused, and up to 8 per cent are beaten unconscious by their spouse. In Fiji, 66 per cent of women have been physically abused by their partners; 26 per cent were beaten while pregnant. And in Kiribati, 68 per cent of women have been physically or sexually abused.

These are unconscionable statistics. But even more alarming is the anecdotal evidence. A PNG field worker told AusAID: ”The husbands of working women like to give their wives black eyes, so everyone can see he is still boss.”

A policewoman in Timor-Leste, who described common domestic violence as ”beating, choking, whipping with rope, breaking bones, burning with fire, and banging heads on the floor”, went on to say many of the victims fail to see this as a crime. ”They think of it as a normal, acceptable event because it happens daily,” she said.

One PNG woman described in shocking detail how her husband would demand sex after he beat her. ”He would force me, even in front of the kids, he would strip me off and the kids are telling him ‘Daddy, Daddy stop’, but he just treats me like that.”

In a yet-to-be released AusAID report circulated at the discussions, a 2010 Vanuatu survey across 3700 households found 60 per cent of women had been subjected to physical or sexual violence by their husband or partner. A staggering 90 per cent of those suffered ”severe violence”, with one in five receiving a permanent disability. The survey also found nearly one in three girls are sexually abused before they are 15 years old – one of the highest rates in the world.

None of this comes as a surprise to the 28-year-old executive director of UN Women Australia, Julie McKay. While Obama visited Australia, she flew to Fiji last week for an update on projects funded by the Pacific Facility Fund, to which Australia has pledged $6.4 million dollars over five years. At a project McKay visited outside Suva, ”Homes for Hope”, she was met by 40 pregnant girls under the age of 16. The home teaches them a range of business skills, such as hospitality, jewellery and bread making, as well as organic farming. ”The aim is for girls to eventually earn their own income and independence, which means they can effectively buy some safety,” says McKay. ”It’s hard to believe, but many of these girls were sold by their own families for sex.”

As Pacific communities come under increasing economic pressure, amid global instability, it is women and girls who are most at risk. While responsibility for the safety of women clearly rests with Pacific governments themselves, issues such as poverty, remote locations, illiteracy, and the heavy weight of patriarchal culture, all continue to be major obstacles. Progress is painfully slow. In Vanuatu, for example, domestic violence was only made a crime three years ago after a 10-year legislative battle. Village chiefs argued that giving a wife the right to a ”restraining order” was against traditional ”kastom”.

The Australian government has committed generous funds – $96.4 million dollars over four years – towards ending violence against women in the Pacific. Nevertheless, there’s an urgent need for more long-term support and targeted attention. The cry from the field is for ”core funding” – ongoing money – in addition to the one-off handouts.

If Australia – and now the US – is truly serious about the Pacific, we have to get serious about ending the culture of silence and impunity that has allowed the abuse and degradation of women to go largely ignored. After all, what gives us the right to talk to China about human rights when the rights of women to be protected from violence – in our own neighbourhood – are so badly abused?

Virginia Haussegger presents ABC News in Canberra and is a member of the UN Women National Committee. These views are her own.

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Stopping Violence Against Women

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Source: Saipan Tribune

Special to the Saipan Tribune

In early November, Australia and the United States co-hosted a policy dialogue with Pacific nations to devise ways to stop violence against women in the Pacific. It’s an endeavour that sits sharply in my mind, having returned from a visit to Vanuatu only last month.

In Vanuatu, I was privileged to see the work of the AusAID-funded Vanuatu Women’s Centre, or VWC, to combat violence against women in that country.

Traveling with members of the VWC to the remote northern province of Torba, I met a local chief, Greg, who had walked for eight hours from his village in West Vanua Lava just to tell us his story. Disturbed by the high levels of violent attacks against women on his island, five years earlier Greg had become one of the local Women’s Centre’s male advocates working to combat violence against women. His dedication to the role was measured not only in each mile he walked through Torba’s jungle to chronicle his work but in the daily challenge of protecting the women in his community from vicious, often permanently disabling attacks.

I had the honor of being appointed by the Government to be Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls in September this year, tasked with international advocacy to advance the position of women and girls across the globe but especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

My role as Global Ambassador was created by the Australian government and announced jointly by Prime Minister Gillard, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Rudd, and the Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare and the Status of Women, Ms. Ellis. A global scourge requires a global response. It’s a cause to which the Australian government is deeply committed.

Globally, one in three women will experience violence at the hands of men in their lifetime. In the Pacific this is as high as two in three-two-thirds of the female population experiencing violence from husband, partner, family, or friend in their lifetime.

Violence against women is a fundamental development issue. Gender inequity, and the violence that attends it, 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.

That’s why Australia recently committed $96.4 million over four years to combat violence against women. This includes $25 million to expand efforts to end violence against women in Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific. In the Pacific, we are funding empowerment projects and contributing to the promising work already being done by Pacific communities themselves.

We are funding research to create a baseline for understanding the problem in the Pacific. Recognizing the specific and universal aspects of this phenomena, we are supporting programs to improve women’s access to the justice system, strengthen the justice system so male perpetrators can be brought to justice, provide assistance for survivors, educate women, and educate men-changing consciousness about gender-based violence so we can bring about lasting change, relational change.

We are pleased to be working with partners like UN Women and neighbouring governments and non-government organizations on this important issue.

Critical are male advocacy training programs-like the one that has seen Greg in Torba become such a committed advocate for the rights of women and girls in his community. Men being trained to understand what violence against women is, how they can stop it, through modifying their own behaviour and the behaviour of other men.

By educating men in this way we will achieve real change for the future. As Australia’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Rudd, said to the APEC Summit on Women and the Economy in September, “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.”

White Ribbon Day on Nov. 25, is a call to action for all men to stand up against violence against women across the world. Mr. Rudd is a White Ribbon Ambassador and has “taken the oath” never to commit, excuse, or remain silent about violence against women. In San Francisco he called on male leaders across the region to do the same.

In only a few short months as Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, I have witnessed the changes that can occur if violence prevention programs work: women and girls free of violence, taking up their rightful equal place as productive members of society.

I greatly value the opportunity to work with our partner countries in the Pacific to learn how we can best assist to stop violence against women for good, and to learn from your experiences, to fight violence against women and girls in Australian society.

Every woman has a right to live a life free of violence. I join Mr. Rudd in calling on men to take a stand on White Ribbon Day, for the women in your lives, and for women all over the world, sharing the path of Greg and other male advocates in Vanuatu, across the difficult terrain of this complex issue.

Penny Williams is Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls.

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