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Tuesday, 25 November 2003
Page: 17975


Senator MOORE (11:00 PM) —On 17 December 1999 the United Nations adopted resolution 54 of 134 on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. That included designating 25 November as the international day for remembering the elimination of violence against women. This day was chosen to commemorate the lives of the Mirabel sisters. It originally marked the day that the three Mirabel sisters from the Dominican Republic were violently assassinated in 1960 during the Trujillo dictatorship. These sisters were political activists and highly visible symbols of resistance to a dictatorship. The brutal assassination of these women was one of the events which helped propel the anti-dictatorship movement and that dictatorship came to an end very quickly.

The sisters, referred to as the `Unforgettable Butterflies', have become an international symbol against the victimisation of women. They have become a symbol of both popular and feminist resistance. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is also linked to 16 days of activism against gender violence which arose from the global campaign for women's human rights. That time period encompasses four significant dates: 25 November, today; 1 December, World AIDS Day; 6 December, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre when 14 women engineering students were gunned down just for being women; and 10 December, Human Rights Day. Those dates culminate in the acceptance and the knowledge that violence is wrong and, in particular at this time, violence against women must be stamped out across the world.

Today, White Ribbon Day, is when Australia and the rest of the world mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The wearing of white ribbons—and many people in both houses of parliament today have been wearing white ribbons—began as a statement by a group of Canadian men to highlight the responsibility of men and the community at large to address violence against women. The white ribbon campaign is the largest effort in the world of men working to end men's violence against women. Wearing a white ribbon is a public pledge never to commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women.

The Australian government response to the Beijing conference in 2005 states:

Violence and the threat of violence against women and girls is a fundamental violation of human rights. Both are forms of discrimination that prevent women from achieving full social and economic equality.

The key objectives of the Office of the Status of Women in this area are to:

work towards a society where women's lives are free from violence and the threat of violence, and their safety and wellbeing is secured; and

position Australia as an international leader in reducing violence against women.

To work towards these objectives, OSW will:

promote policies and practices that address prevention, early intervention and crisis assistance;

promote incorporation of demonstrated good practice at national, state, territory and local levels;

facilitate the development of appropriate and comprehensive community responses;

raise community awareness to reduce tolerance of violent behaviours and to reduce the use of violence;

implement complementary strategies for men and boys and women and girls, to prevent family violence and reduce the use of violence in the community; and

promote programmes and policies for women's security and health—addressing the needs of women affected by violence, including recovery and wellbeing.

As we said, Australia has a role to play in the international fight against violence. The worldwide statistics are staggering. At least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, and the abuser is usually someone known to her. In a World Bank report it was estimated that violence against women was as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.

In Queensland, which is my state, the fear of violence diminishes the lives of many women, and that has been acknowledged by Premier Peter Beattie in his ministerial statement on International Women's Day in 2003. Violence is most like to occur in the home and be perpetuated by a family member or a current or former partner, someone who is near and frequently very dear to the woman. Twenty-three per cent of women who have been married or who are in a de facto relationship have experienced violence from their male partner. Last year, according to the Queensland police, 90 per cent of the women who were murdered in Queensland knew their killers. Seventy-one per cent of murdered women in Queensland were killed by a member of their family. More than 70 per cent of female assault victims and almost 60 per cent of sexual assault victims are family members and are very close to their assailant.

These statistics are even worse when we look at Indigenous communities. What we have is dedicated action in Queensland to address these issues of family and domestic violence. In Queensland the amendments to the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Act 1989 extended formal protection from abuse and violence to people in intimate, personal family and informal care relationships. The government has committed $10.4 million over three years for new and better counselling and support services to back up that new legislation. There is not time to look at all the programs that have been instituted in Queensland or at the national level, but there has been a growing awareness of the issues of violence.

The major Commonwealth initiative, Partnerships Against Domestic Violence, known as PADV, was launched at a national domestic violence summit in November 1997. The project was funded in two stages and was designed to encourage the Commonwealth, states and territories to work together on various pilot projects focusing on the prevention of violence against women. This program also funds the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, which publishes research on the key issues of family violence, policy, practice and research.

A key element of the partnerships strategy is communication. The development of a useful web site and information exchange has been a valuable component of the project. The Beijing experience clearly highlighted the absolute need for education and the strong exchange of experience, so that the causes and dangers of violence can be identified and addressed and the horrific cycle can be broken.

The Senate estimates process concentrated on the progress of the partnerships program and we received regular information through the estimates process from the Office of the Status of Women on how the pilot funding is going and what the ongoing commitment to funding must be. We expect that this funding will be extended into 2005, and I think that the work that has been done indicates that this must be a key initiative for the Commonwealth government.

The whole issue of the awareness campaign and the understanding and the elimination of violence is an important issue and we hope that in the future there will be continued involvement and awareness of the White Ribbon Campaign. UNIFEM Australia has taken a leading role in this program and has been encouraging leaders of government, both at the federal and state level, to be personally involved in this process. I know throughout many states today there have been public activities encouraging political leaders, sports leaders and personalities to wear the white ribbon and show that this is a public exercise that will promote the need to ensure that there is a peaceful society and that women will no longer continue to be the major victims of violence in our community. We hope that in 2005 there will be a much stronger involvement at the Commonwealth level. In the past there has been some activity at the Commonwealth level, but this year it has been quite small. We hope that next year, with 12 months to plan, there will be able to be a strong, public acceptance that White Ribbon Day is important and that we can work together to stamp out violence and make this a safer society for us all.