House of Representatives Speech- White Ribbon Day 2009

I would like to congratulate the member for Lyne for moving in this chamber what I consider to be a very important motion. This motion is timely as this Wednesday, 25 November, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women also known as White Ribbon Day. White Ribbon Day started in Canada in 1991 on the second anniversary of the massacre of 14 female engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and it has since spread around the world. It was an attempt to come to grips with the horrific violence of that and other events and also with the violence and abuse that many women experience every single day of their lives. It was a recognition that for gender based violence to be eliminated men need to take responsibility for that violence and to work to prevent it.

I would like to congratulate the member for Lyne for moving in this chamber what I consider to be a very important motion. This motion is timely as this Wednesday, 25 November, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women also known as White Ribbon Day. White Ribbon Day started in Canada in 1991 on the second anniversary of the massacre of 14 female engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and it has since spread around the world. It was an attempt to come to grips with the horrific violence of that and other events and also with the violence and abuse that many women experience every single day of their lives. It was a recognition that for gender based violence to be eliminated men need to take responsibility for that violence and to work to prevent it.

Violence against women can take many forms. It can be domestic and family violence. It can be not just physical but psychological and economic, it can be sexual assault and rape including date rape, and it can be sexual harassment and discrimination. The damaging results of violence against women by men are felt at a personal level, at a family level and at a community level. Far too many women suffer enormously as a result of male violence in our country and, as the member for Lyne has already said, one in three Australian women report experiencing at least one incident of either physical or sexual violence since they reached the age of 15.

The abuse experienced can result in lasting damage particularly where women have been physically or sexually assaulted on an ongoing basis by their male partners or other family members. Last year in this House I talked about the 2004 VicHealth report into the health costs of violence, but it bears repeating because it illustrates the enormous effect of violence on women. For women under the age of 45 being a victim of domestic violence is responsible for more ill health and premature death than any other risk factor. It causes more ill health than high blood pressure, obesity or smoking.

Violence against women takes away from women the ability and the power to make choices about their own lives. Women who feel unsafe in their own homes, unsafe in public, unsafe in the workplace or unsafe in schools and universities do not enjoy the same rights, the same standards of living or the same quality of life that is enjoyed by the rest of the community. Gender based violence disempowers women, and that is why people often talk about it as being an abuse of human rights.

Preventing violence against women requires us to address the underlying issues of sexism, lack of respect for women and a sense of privilege that many men enjoy. It requires us to work to change attitudes, emotions and behaviours that support violence such as sexist jokes. Beliefs that women are inferior or that some women ‘deserve it’ or were ‘asking for it’ do not simply encourage violence; they create a culture in which silence becomes the acceptable response to violence against women.

The White Ribbon Foundation was established in Australia in 2007, and I have been an ambassador for the White Ribbon Foundation since not long after its establishment. As I said last year, it is an association that I am very proud to have. This year the white ribbon campaign is My Oath. I was with the Prime Minister in Sydney earlier this year at the launch of the My Oath campaign. Through this campaign, Australian men are being urged to swear an oath ‘never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women’. It highlights for us again the importance of challenging violence against women every single day. It is not simply about not committing violence against women. When we see violence, we must speak out. When we hear the expression of attitudes that lead to violence, we must speak out.

This Wednesday—which is White Ribbon Day this year—provides an opportunity for all men to commit to the goal of eliminating violence against women. I would urge every Australian man to commit to this goal. Directly, in this parliament on Wednesday, members of this parliament will have the opportunity to join the My Oath campaign. This should mean, I hope, that very many members of this parliament will be swearing never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. I again congratulate the member for Lyne for bringing this motion and commend the motion to the House.