This is my first visit to Solomon Islands and I come as Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls – what an honour it is to be here.
Over the past three days I have had the pleasure to meet champions for gender equality from every walk of life in the Solomon Islands, representing village and community leaders, civil society organisations, businesses and government.
In all these encounters it is clear that Australia and Solomon Islands remain very close friends and partners. We have a deep and longstanding relationship, stretching back decades.
Today we are both striving to take our countries forward for the benefit of future generations. And our partnership continues to prosper and grow stronger, as we work together and from a place of mutual trust and respect. As RAMSI comes to an end, Australia remains committed to helping support our friends and neighbours in Solomon Islands.
Australia recognises the Solomon Islands Government’s leadership. Nearly three years ago, in 2014, we saw the passing of the landmark Family Protection Act. This was followed by the very important Child and Family Welfare Bill, in February this year. Congratulations to all involved in such significant legislative achievements.
Australia firmly supports the efforts of those working tirelessly in the implementation of these new policies. The Family Protection Act recognises violence in the home to be a criminal act. It is a clear statement that domestic violence is not only unacceptable, it is a crime.
The Act seeks to change attitudes and beliefs across communities which had supported the idea that family violence is just a private matter – something to be sorted out in the home. The Act makes it clear that this abusive behaviour is not acceptable, and will be met by the force of the law.
This law aims to protect women, girls, men and boys from violence in their home. It is a significant achievement and all Solomon Islanders should feel deeply proud. The challenge now is to effectively implement the legislation so that all Solomon Islanders – particularly women and children - are protected from acts of violence in the home.
Individuals, community and government have a responsibility to speak out wherever violence against women persists. In our workplaces, in our schools, in our communities and in our homes, we must be vigilant and all say “enough is enough”.
It is shocking that violence against women persists as one of the most prevalent human rights abuses around the world. While there is no shortage of good work being done in every country, the statistics remain deeply disturbing. Globally, more than one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way, most often by someone she knows.
In Solomon Islands, the reported rate is two in three women – double the global average. It’s not just women living in rural areas who are the victims. Women who hold a paying job are just as likely to have experienced domestic violence as those who do not.
We have a shared responsibility to change our cultures so that our families are safe from harm. We need a culture where empathy and compassion override violence and hate, where Christian values are lived and practised. The impact of violence on the well-being of our families and communities is devastating, and children learn from seeing their fathers abusing their mother, and so this behaviour passes from one generation to the next.
This message I share as a friend and partner in tackling this problem. Australia is not immune from the horrors of domestic violence. In my country, at least one woman a week is killed by an act of violent crime. This is totally unacceptable. Twenty per cent of Australians still think that there are some circumstances in which violence against women can be excused. This is an appalling statistic.
So when it comes to the generational issue of domestic violence, Australia does not have the answers. But as in the Solomon Islands, the Australian Government recognises domestic violence as a serious issue. As a government we are committed to ending this deadly criminal behaviour.
We are working to change attitudes so people recognise there is never a time when violence is ok. Not ever. This includes when people are drunk. Alcohol is not an excuse for domestic violence, not ever.
And we come to Solomon Islands as equal partners in tackling domestic violence, sharing ideas, experiences and successes. This is the approach we are taking in our overseas engagement, represented in Solomon Islands by High Commissioner Brazier and his team at the Australian High Commission.
In Solomon Islands we are working with local partners to provide AUD $34.8 million over ten years in an effort to boost outcomes for women. We do this because we recognise, along with the Solomon Islands Government, that gender equality is important for the nation’s broader development. Australia is committed to supporting Solomon Islands take concrete steps towards achieving gender equality. We are investing in initiatives to enhance women’s leadership, to support women in business and to end violence against women and girls.
As Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, I feel a personal responsibility to get involved and try to make a difference. No one can simply stand by, and I need to speak out and be an advocate where ever I can. I’m heartened that many local, provincial and national leaders in Solomon Islands share this belief. During my visit I spent a lot of time with your Minister for Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs, the Hon Freda Soriacomua, a strong advocate on these issues for your country.
Australia will continue to invest in Solomon Islands, with an emphasis on gender equality, focusing on those approaches that are most effective and appropriate for the Solomon Islands context.
I had the opportunity to visit the Lilisiana community in Auki and see first hand our joint efforts to make communities and families safer. This village is making impressive gains on addressing violence in their community, together with support from Australia. I am proud to know Australia is part of this work.
We will work closely with Solomon Islands Government and development partners in this endeavour – recognising that Australia faces challenges too, in delivering better outcomes for women and girls. We need to think creatively about how we can most effectively do this, both here in Solomon Islands and Australia. And to do this not alone, but together.
Press Release: Australian High Commission Office, Honiara