Levels of violence against women in parts of the Pacific are “horrific” and must be addressed if development is to have any chance in the Pacific region, says an Australian aid agency head.
Speaking from the Solomon Islands, the CEO of Anglicord, Misha Coleman, said that over 60% of women in Solomon Islands report some kind of violence by an intimate partner.
“Over half of the women in the Solomon Islands have been forced into sex against their will,” she said.
Ms Coleman, responding to a campaign released yesterday by Amnesty International, “Change the Lights on Women’s Rights”, said that women in many parts of the Pacific were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence because few of the countries had effective laws specifically to tackle it, and those countries which do have legislation to prevent domestic violence don't necessarily enforce them.
“Development requires the ability of women to earn an income, care for their families, and enjoy the protection of the law,” said Ms Coleman. “The horrific levels of physical violence against women in our region are a manifestation of a systematic discrimination that prevents women from being able to fulfil their potential.”
Ms Coleman urged the leaders at the Pacific Forum meeting in Auckland this week to consider this issue.
“The lack of women in the parliaments represented at this forum is illustrative of the low priority given to the status of women,” she said.
“Australia, as a Pacific nation, must show leadership on this issue and encourage the full participation of women in society in our neighbours’ countries. We can do this by offering expertise, encouraging aid programmes that empower women, and setting a good example.”
"Given that nearly one in five women in Australia have suffered a sexual assault, and only 10% of executive managers in ASX200 companies are women, I suggest that we have some work to do here in Australia, too,” she said.
Gender-based violence leaves women vulnerable not only to poverty and homelessness but to trafficking and HIV and AIDS infection. Ms Coleman said the growing presence of extractive industries, particularly commercial logging, contributed to the problem through commercial and unprotected sex, and forced marriage to foreign loggers.
Ms Coleman is currently in the Solomon Islands for a meeting of the Anglican Alliance Pacific Consultation, a gathering of Anglican aid agencies from around the world.
“The churches are the backbone of society in the Pacific, and Anglican agencies are able to work with the people of the Pacific to effect real change around attitudes to women,” she said.
Anglicord is an Anglican overseas aid agency which funds programmes to try to reduce gender-based violence in the Solomon Islands and other parts of the developing world.
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