News from the Region
Disturbing reality for women living in Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea
Story by: Charis Change, news.com.au
WHEN we think about Vanuatu and Fiji we think of idyllic island getaways where life is simple and the most pressing problem is what cocktail you should order next.
But the reality for many living on Pacific Islands is very different, and could not be further from the relaxing beach lifestyle many imagine.
In regions such as the highlands of Papua New Guinea, a shocking 100 per cent of women have experienced some form of violence.
Statistics in other areas are just as shocking. In Vanuatu, 30 per cent of women report being sexually abused before they turned 15. On this island nation, 41 per cent of women say they were forced into their first sexual experience.
In neighbouring Fiji, one third of women who experience violence were aged under 16 years old.
UN Women National Committee, Australia executive director Julie McKay told news.com.au that the Pacific had some of the highest rates of violence against women in the world.
“One in three women around the world experience violence but in the Pacific it’s one in two,” she said. “Put simply, the Pacific region is one of the most dangerous places to be born a girl.”
While the high rates of violence against women and children may not be something that holiday-makers are exposed to while travelling, UN Women hopes that Australians won’t turn away from helping.
Today, men, women and children are being encouraged to submit their photos to an innovative visual petition as part of the Face It Together campaign. The photos will be laid over an image of actor Nicole Kidman, who is supporting the campaign, to create a mosaic of support for combating violence.
People are also being encouraged to make a $20 donation or to support the campaign by purchasing a scarf from Esprit, with 100 per cent of sales going towards the campaign.
Ms McKay said violence against women in the Pacific, as in other countries, was linked to gender inequality.
But unlike Australia which has resources to put towards combating the problem, it’s a very different story in the Pacific, which lacks basic infrastructure like hotlines and specialist health care teams.
Ms McKay said this was particularly problematic in rural areas where police may not file reports or there was a lack of services for women to go to if they wanted to leave their home.
“These countries are our closest neighbours. Not even 4km separates Australia with Papua New Guinea; 4km that can mean the difference between life and death for a woman,” she said.
While there has never been more awareness of the problem of domestic violence thanks to 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, Ms McKay said she did not think this had translated into action.
“We are all bystanders to violence against women ... the women who experience it are in our workplace, the men perpetrating it are in our workplace,” she said.
“I think 2016 needs to be a year of action. If you really want to prevent violence against women, we need to put money behind it.”
Money raised from the Face It campaign will help women in the Pacific by increasing access to shelters and the establishment of a 24-hour crisis hotline.
UN Women will also continue its vocational training and education programs to help give women the tools to escape violence, change attitudes and promote healthy, respectful relationships. Resources have also been put towards galvanising influential locals, from village chiefs to faith community leaders, to promote a culture of zero tolerance.
“Your face is your pledge, but your donation is the easiest way for you to show your support and invest in the elimination of violence against women,” Ms McKay said.
“If every person who pledges their image were to donate just $20, then we have a real chance of saving lives. Make no mistake; this is a life and death issue. Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, a girl loses their life to violence.”