SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, October 23, 2012 --- Some Pacific countries have the worst gender violence rates in the world - undermining development in the region. This week the World Bank convened discussions with a range of stakeholders in Australia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to facilitate an exchange on how gender violence could be reduced.
Judge Sonia Amaral from Brazil and Merilyn Tahi from Vanuatu Women’s Centre shared their experience in developing and enforcing legislation that prevents violence against women. They participated in a candid exchange with scores of women and men from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.
Judge Sonia Amaral was integral in passing laws against domestic violence in Brazil. She discussed how women gained greater rights in Brazil, including the importance of constitutional changes, in enshrining women’s rights and the Law Maria da Penha, which made all kinds of violence against women illegal. Amongst other measures, it enabled judges to provide women with social assistance; to remove perpetrators from the home; give prison sentences for perpetrators, and provide treatment and re-education for perpetrators. She also reiterated the need for these laws to be reinforced with services like women’s shelters, to supplement the law.
Vanuatu took ten years to pass legislation encompassing domestic violence, following years of advocacy driven by women’s groups and the women’s movement in the Pacific. Merilyn Tahi stressed the need for women’s rights to be enshrined in the constitution, so that it enforces appropriate laws, resources and actions to address gender based violence. She also said that, while it was important for the government to legislate against gender violence – others have an important role to play too, like NGOs, law enforcement officers and traditional and church leaders.
“We need strong NGOs, a strong women’s movement and strong advocates so they can assist government,” she said. “Likewise, law enforcement is really important. The law is only useful as long as enforcement officers carry out their jobs”.
During the meeting, participants brought up a range of issues they felt exacerbated the impact of gender violence. These included police down-playing reports of gender violence; lack of awareness of protective laws in rural areas; patriarchal attitudes; the church not playing a stronger preventive role; weak law enforcement, and bride price.
"Addressing gender violence is a critical priority for many countries in the Pacific, and indeed globally," said Ulrich Zachau, Country Director for the World Bank in the Pacific Islands. "The World Bank Group supports efforts by governments and partners throughout the region to help reduce gender violence and protect women. More generally, promoting equal opportunities for women around the world is a top priority for the World Bank Group. Let's 'Think Equal' and 'Act Equal'."