Address by Secretary General Meg Taylor DBE White Ribbon Day Dinner Papua New Guinea National Parliament House

Address by Secretary General Meg Taylor DBE
White Ribbon Day Dinner
Papua New Guinea National Parliament House
25 November, 2016

Good evening everyone. I am honoured to be speaking with you tonight.

Let me firstly thank Coalition for Change Papua New Guinea for your kind invitation to speak. Let me thank Ethan for St. Francis prayer. I was immediately attracted to your theme for this event, “Domestic Violence – Happens Every Day? Stop it!” Simple, direct – and so powerful because of that. It’s no secret that we have very high rates of violence against women in our country. And we need to stop it.

I have been thinking a lot this week about domestic violence. And I have reflected on what I would want if I were a person who was trapped in a cycle of abuse. What would I want to be assured of to free myself of this cycle?  I would want the assurance of:

  • A safe place to live.
  • A community that doesn't turn a blind eye to abuse.
  • A legal system that is accessible and that provides remedy.
  • If I had no education, I would want the opportunity to learn to read, write and know numbers.
  • I would want to know that I could get work and be paid a wage to support oneself and family. Or be able to borrow money so that I could set up a business to support myself and employ others.
  • I would want the assurance of a community that has male leadership that honours women and their contribution to family and community.
  • And friends that aren't ashamed to support me.

So many women in our country do not have these assurances.  These basis needs are not met. And so tonight I ask you to think about what you can do, individually and collectively, to change the situation of the many women who are trapped in a cycle of abuse, and struggling to access the basic needs that many of us here tonight take for granted.

Violence against women is a global problem. And while women around the world are exposed to many forms of violence, the most prevalent form is violence from an intimate partner. Worldwide, almost one third of all women have experienced physical or sexual violence by their intimate partner. And we know that in Melanesia, this violence is often encouraged and supported by family, so thereby entrenching cycles of abuse.

This violence is occurring in all countries, irrespective of the state of their economy, their political systems, their social infrastructure. I was both aghast and fascinated to read recently that Sweden has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Europe. Almost half of Swedish women experience physical, sexual or psychological violence at the hands of men in their lifetime. This is so at odds with common perceptions of Sweden as a very socially progressive society.

Turning to our own country, the statistics are undeniably disturbing. According to a study conducted in Papua New Guinea in 2015, 68% of the women surveyed had suffered some kind of gender based violence. 47% of the women had suffered severe forms of violence.

We see similar levels of violence in our neighbouring countries. For example, recent studies have found that 64% of women in Solomon Islands and Fiji have over their lifetime experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. In Kiribati, the figure is 68%. In Micronesia the figure is high.  The issue is also significant in Australia, where police deal with an estimated 657 domestic violence matters on average every day of the year. That's one every two minutes. These figures are quite simply shocking.

To truly appreciate the extent of the problem, we need to look beyond these figures and think about the consequences of gender based violence. There is obviously the immediate consequence of physical injury, possibly death. And there are the longer term impacts of psychological injury and trauma, which affect individuals, families, communities, and societies more broadly. Families break up. Injured and traumatized women are unable to work. Alleged perpetrators face criminal proceedings and the prospect of imprisonment.

We can also recognize gender based violence in terms of economic costs, both direct and indirect. Direct costs include things such as the cost of medical services to respond to the physical consequences of domestic violence, and the cost of services to provide protection to victims, such as safe-houses, and the cost of resourcing a legal system which enables enforcement of domestic violence related laws. 

Indirect costs include the loss of productivity capacity when women have to take time out from earning money due to physical and emotional injury, or have to pursue legal proceedings, or make alternative living arrangements. Workplaces and businesses feel the loss when productive women staff are unable to attend work due to a domestic violence incident. And they also lose the productivity of men who have perpetrated violence, or are alleged to have done so, and are then diverted into legal proceedings and possibly imprisonment.

For example, a 2015 study on the cost of violence to businesses in Papua New Guinea estimated that on average, each staff member loses 11.1 days of work per year as a result of the impacts of gender violence. One of the firms surveyed was estimated to lose a total 300,000 kina per year in staff time, for another almost 3 million kina, representing 2% and 9% respectively of those companies’ total salary bills. If other direct costs are included, such as medical costs, counselling etc, then the total costs for one firm increased by 45%.

Preliminary estimates on the costs of violence against women for Fiji in 2011 was estimated at 498 million which is 6.6% percent of the GDP. A comprehensive costs study in Australia estimated that domestic violence is costing Australia $21.6 billion a year.

It is also instructive to look at measures of women’s economic and political status, as they are inextricably linked to our region’s high rates of violence against women.  The Gender Inequality Index (prepared by the UNDP) provides an interesting reference point. It measures gender inequalities in three important aspects of human development—reproductive health; empowerment; and economic status – to arrive at an overall assessment of countries. It is of course disturbing to see our own country, as well as Solomon Islands, in the category ‘Low Human Development’.

I could provide you with a lot more facts and figures about the extent and impacts of gender based violence within Papua New Guinea and the wider Pacific region, but I want to honour the theme of tonight’s event, and focus on how we can ‘stop it’. 

We know that the issue of violence against women is a complex one. There is no singular cause and so no single solution. We need to tackle the issue from a range of different angles.

There is of course much action in many quarters of our communities and society at large in Papua New Guinea to combat violence against women and children.

Civil Society organisations, including churches play an important role. The Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation in Bougainville provides safe houses, counselling and referrals for women who are subjected to domestic violence. The Centre also focuses on working with men as part of the solution. These men are working with Women Human Rights Defenders and act as role models, challenging stereotypes and behaviours in their communities by sharing household duties and creating concrete changes for future generations.

Private sector organisations are also increasingly involved – for example Oil Search Foundation, with their work in Hela Province supporting the Family Sexual Violence Action Committee, which this year has also received substantial support from Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development.

The work of provincial FSVAC committees throughout the country and the progress and success of some provincial committees for example in Lae, where a facility for rehabilitation has been established, and in Goroka with their partner Family voice – these are important successes.

We should also acknowledge the efforts of our Police, in establishing their provincial Family and Sexual Violence Units.

There is now better cooperation between departments of Health, Police and Justice, who are working together with civil society, in establishing Family Support Centres, and coordinating strategies at the provincial level, and working with civil society organisations in rolling out legal literacy material, to support the new family and children’s protections legislation.

We also see good works with magisterial services, with faster issuing of protection orders for victims, as well as through the appointment of more women magistrates.

So there is great progress in raising the issue by Government, including through the Gender Equity & Social Inclusion (GESI) policy in the public service, in the private sector and civil society, including within our churches.

But changing attitudes is a bigger challenge. There are various constructive programs for male advocacy, that involve our male community leaders from civil society, government, private sector, and sport, receiving training and going out as advocates and mentors.

In addition to this, many former perpetrators have stepped out – and spoken out – and have become some of the most important and active advocates against violence. But as valuable as this group is, it still remains a very small group at this stage.

There must be a change in attitude and a big part of this requires strong male advocacy. Because – while we have strengthened our efforts to provide assistance and protection to victims – of course at some point the individual must return to their community.

If the community and its members are not supportive the cycle will repeat itself. So male advocacy is fundamental.

The contribution of our financial sector in ensuring that women have access to Finance through Micro Finance has certainly been supported and implemented by the Central Bank of PNG, as well as BSP Rural Bank and various micro finance organizations. But access to critical financial literacy and services remains almost exclusively to urban centres, and women, particularly in rural areas have almost zero financial inclusion.

This is not an exhaustive list of the good work that is being undertaken. There are many more projects and programmes being undertaken by government, development partners, civil society and the private sector. But I do not want to give you the impression that the space is full. I believe there is always room for more innovation. And more importantly, there is always room for more investment.

Just this week, the outgoing Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, observed that there is growing global recognition of violence against women as a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development. But he observed with frustration the chronic under-funding of initiatives to address violence against women.

I see this happening in the Pacific. We have many high level commitments to address gender based violence. But we do not see these commitments matched with budget allocations to make meaningful differences on the ground.  So I echo the Secretary General’s call on governments to show their commitment by increasing national spending in all relevant areas, including in support of women’s movements and civil society organizations.

I believe that the private sector also should be willing and able to invest in our quest to eliminate violence against women. As employers, you can do work to change attitudes and behaviours, for example through workplace awareness raising and sexual harassment policies.

But more fundamentally you have a critical role to play in empowering women’s economic status, which we know can be a significant factor in women’s vulnerability to gender-based violence. Equal pay for equal work should be a given, although we know that this is often not the case. And similarly equal opportunity in employment and promotion, where merit is the deciding factor rather than gender.

As investors, the private sector also has so much power to improve women’s economic status. Improving access to credit can enable women to apply their many skills and considerable energy in setting up useful and profitable businesses.
Before I close let me turn to developments at the regional level. As I am sure
many of you are aware, in 2012, Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum adopted the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration. In my view this represented a historic step for the Forum, a mature acknowledgement that gender equality is a clear priority for the

 The Gender Equality Declaration includes a commitment by Leaders’ to take certain actions to eliminate violence against women, including the provision of services for women and girls who are experiencing violence, and the enactment of legislation to protect women from violence. Some notable progress has been made in these areas. For example, eleven Forum countries – including Papua New Guinea – have enacted domestic violence legislation, with most of these reforms having taken place since 2012.

More recently, Forum Leaders have endorsed initiatives on fisheries, climate change, human rights issues in West Papua, cervical cancer, labour mobility, and people with disabilities. Each of these initiatives have the potential to promote women’s empowerment in some way.

For example, Forum Leaders decided this year to strengthen the management of coastal fisheries. At the community level, women are the ones who fish and who sell fish to augment community incomes. As such, women will be key actors in supporting and driving this initiative, and key beneficiaries. This initiative will have important outcomes for the sustainable management of our fisheries, but also the food security and health of our coastal communities’ right across the region.

Forum Leaders have also committed to addressing cervical cancer through regional measures. As you may be aware, the rates of incidence and mortality for cervical cancer in Melanesian countries, including Papua New Guinea, rank amongst the highest in the world. Leaders have undertaken to develop a regional approach to bulk purchasing vaccines against cervical cancer. Ready availability of the vaccines will be a significant asset in tackling a major cause of death for our women across the Pacific region.

Distinguished guests and friends, standing here before you, I am struck by the fact that we are talking openly in the Annex of our National Parliament House about violence against women – an issue that for so long has been tabu. We have come a long way in recognizing the need for public discussion and action on this issue. But we still have a long way to go to eliminate this very insidious problem.

I started the presentation this evening by asking what I would need if I was caught in a cycle of abuse. I found out  as this paper was put together that there are many committed people who will do all they can to change the current situation in our country – and there are many people and organisations that are doing good work and answering my questions.

This morning I spent several hours at House of Ruth – indeed a very emotional experience in a sad house with many brave women and children and capable strong staff to help victims of abuse through the next weeks and months of their lives. As I was leaving I asked Mrs Richards: what do you really need help with? And her response was:

“Repatriation of Women back to their families in Provinces. Home to a family that we know is supportive of their returning home. And yes where bride price has been paid we have challenges – but this is where we need help. Victims need to be able to live again and this is where we need support.

Friends – we are all in this together and I ask you to see where you can help. Thank you for your concern, for your support, and for listening to me this evening.

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