In a world full of acronyms 'VAW' is one that is not well known. It refers to events that impact the lives of millions of women every day, is one of the most widespread violations of human rights in the world, devastates communities, families and economies and in Australia alone will cost an estimated $15.6 billion in 2021-22.
VAW or violence against women will affect one in three women in their lifetime – look around, who in your life will become a statistic? It's important to note that violence against women is not limited to physical abuse, but also psychological, sexual and economic abuse, that cuts across the traditional boundaries of age, culture, wealth and geography.
At the centre of such abuse is gender inequality, which creates a cycle of violence that becomes acceptable. To reduce violence against women, efforts must be made to target the entrenched discrimination against women which has to be done through improvements to legal, governance and decision-making bodies that control women's representation and participation in society.
Sometimes people query why we focus on violence against women and not men. It is true that men make up more victims of violent crime than women, but women are frequently targeted specifically because of their gender. On top of this, women experience widespread economic and legal discrimination, which means, when subject to violence, they rarely have the ability to use the same protections offered to men.
In our neighbouring Pacific, women experience some of the highest levels of violence in the world. Two in three Pacific women have reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence from their spouse or partner and many studies show that Pacific women and men believe that men are justified in being violent towards their partner. This is an endemic view in some societies that must change for women to be empowered and enjoy the same rights and opportunities as their male counterparts.
The statistics highlight these perspectives – in Papua New Guinea (PNG), 55% of women have been forced into sex against their will and 97% of patients treated for domestic violence were women; in Fiji, 30% of rape victims are 11 to 15 years old; moreover, 66% of women have been abused by their partners and 44% of these women have been abused while pregnant. According to the recently released UN Women report, Progress of the World's Women: In Pursuit of Justice, 127 countries do not have laws against marital rape, and 66 countries do not have laws against domestic violence.
These statistics are horrifying, but things are slowly changing. Organisations like the Pacific Facility Fund provide much needed financial support, development and learning opportunities for individual women and grassroots organisations working to end violence against women in the Pacific Region.
The Pacific Facility Fund services a critical funding gap by providing grants of three to 25 thousand dollars based on need, to small organisations that are ineligible for greater financial assistance.
Currently operating in 15 countries around the pacific region, the fund assists government departments as well as small non-government organisations. It helps to increase awareness of gender based violence and progress the elimination of violence against women through scholarships and training programs on human rights, counselling, crisis management and awareness-raising.
Organisations like the Pacific Facility Fund are making significant progress at local and regional levels. Their successes are wide and varied, such as setting up Alcohol Anonymous and Family Recovery facilities in Kiribati, helping government departments establish violence free community programs with education, media and training components in Fiji and safe houses with counselling services for women in the Solomon Islands.
The training programs run by the fund prepare participants for awareness-raising and community education on the broad factors associated with gender-based violence. Kaitama Toroto attended a training program and while hosting the popular Solomon Islands TV show, One Television, she focused on gender and violence related issues, including the practice of 'bride price' customary in some parts of the country. Kaitama told us, "There is no justification for violence and domestic violence is clearly an attitude problem."
UN Women Australia is working with the Pacific Facility Fund to empower women in our neighbouring region and eliminate an issue that affects us all. We encourage you to visit the UN Women Australia website and see what you can do to help some of the most marginalised women in the Pacific. With your support, women in the Pacific can live lives free from violence.