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Monday, 24 November 2008
Page: 11136

Mr DREYFUS (9:08 PM) —Tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is a day for all of us to stand up and say that violence against women is unacceptable. Violence against women can take many forms. It can be domestic violence in the home. It can be dating violence, experienced particularly by young women. It can be sexual assault in which the perpetrator may or may not be known by the victim. It can be sexual harassment in the workplace, at sporting clubs or in schools. Regardless of the form it takes or where it takes place, violence against women is unacceptable, it is inexcusable and it is a human rights violation. Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, spoke of violence against women in these terms in 1999:

Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. And it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development, and peace.

We often assume that human rights violations only occur in other countries and not here in Australia. But the fact is that one in three Australian women has suffered physical violence. We need to say loud and clear that it is unacceptable for even a single Australian woman to experience physical violence. And one in five Australian women has been the victim of sexual assault. This is equally unacceptable. In any year, half a million Australian women will experience domestic violence or sexual assault. Each one of those women is someone’s daughter, wife, sister, aunt, friend or work colleague. Each one of those women is a fellow Australian, a fellow human deserving of respect and support.

The toll of this violence on women is great. Women suffer when they feel unsafe in their homes. Women suffer when they feel unsafe on the streets. Women suffer when violence or potential violence restricts their choices, when it prevents them from doing those things that they would otherwise do. And even without direct physical attack, the fear of violence, which is felt by many women, has a major impact. According to a 2004 report by VicHealth in my home state of Victoria which dealt with the health costs of partner violence, intimate partner violence is responsible for more ill health and premature death in Victorian women aged 15 to 44 than any other risk factor, including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking. And, of course, violence against women also affects, either directly or indirectly, children who live in households in which such violence occurs.

There are no easy answers to this problem; there are no simple solutions. Eliminating violence depends on work that all of us can do—that is, working to change attitudes and emotions. This is a campaign that requires men to stand up and say no at a national level, as we are doing tonight, within our communities and as individuals. Ending violence against women means creating a culture in which such violence is unacceptable. Many have traditionally viewed violence against women as a women’s problem. In fact it is a problem for men—it is men, working with women, who are in a position to create a culture in our country in which violence is unacceptable.

I have become an ambassador for the White Ribbon Foundation. It is an association that I am proud to have, and I encourage all men to take up the challenge set by the White Ribbon Foundation, which is to challenge the attitudes that lead to violence. Tomorrow is a day for every single one of us to stand up and say that violence against women is unacceptable. But it must not end tomorrow. On every single day of the year we must say that such violence is unacceptable. We must speak out. We must not stay silent.