Across the Pacific region, high rates of violence against women and children, unstable political environments and ethnic conflict continue to undermine peace and security - compromising the safety of individuals, families and entire populations

On the eve of International Youth Day (August 12, 2011), the YWCA of Aotearoa New Zealand says it is time to challenge and redefine narrow gender roles and stereotypes that condone and perpetuate violence against young women in the Pacific.

"We have major concerns about the safety of young women not only in New Zealand, but across the Pacific region. Recent studies highlight intimate partner violence against women in the Pacific Islands is amongst the highest on the world and that is unacceptable" says Sarah Davies of the YWCA of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Violence against women rates are as high as 68% in Kiribati, 63% in the Solomon Islands, and 46% in Samoa.

The YWCA of Aotearoa New Zealand, in partnership with other Pacific YWCAs, recently launched the very first Pacific young women's leadership strategy that puts young women at the centre of efforts to strengthen women's leadership to create safe communities; including in the elimination of violence against women

The strategy was developed after consultations with young women in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa, Australia, Solomon Islands and New Zealand , an expert reference group of representatives from regional organisations, including the Commonwealth Youth Programme, Pacific Youth Council, Fiji Women's Rights Movement, New Zealand Family Planning, Leadership Solomon Islands and FemLINKPACIFIC, as well as key UN Agencies, amongst which UN Women, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNFPA, and UNESCO were invited to further develop the strategy.

In launching the report a number of Pacific women highlighted the issues affecting their communities including early marriage and violence against women.

"Young women in the Pacific have rights and International Youth Day is a great day to speak up and demand them. The YWCA firmly believes the best way to eliminate violence against women is to prevent it before it occurs and we strongly advocate for long term, adequately funded violence prevention initiatives that give young women and men the skills to develop safe and respectful relationships with their parents, peers and partners," says Davies.