International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (White Ribbon Day)—25 November 2012

In 1999, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (also marked in Australia as White Ribbon Day). Each year since then the UN has encouraged governments around the world to raise public awareness on this issue.

In its anti-violence campaign fact sheet the UN points out that violence against women can take many forms (including physical, sexual, psychological and economic) and estimates that up to 70 per cent of the world’s women may experience violence in their lifetime.
Certain women, such as some Indigenous women, women with disabilities, women living in poverty and women living in conflict zones, are at higher risk of violence and assault. The UN fact sheet also identifies other types of violence against women which are often hidden and difficult to combat such as the violence often experienced by human trafficking victims. Females account for 80 per cent of trafficking victims and make up the greater share of forced labour victims. While the size of the human trafficking trade is unknown, it is estimated that there are at least 20 million forced labour victims globally, including 11 million in the Asia Pacific region. The term forced labour includes human trafficking victims and other forms of ‘modern day slavery’.

While certain women and certain regions may experience higher levels of violence than others, it is important to note that violence against women is present in all cultures and not confined to any particular country or region in the world. The UN fact sheet points this out and notes that the most common form of violence experienced by women universally around the world is ‘physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner, with women beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused’. It is likely that this is only the tip of the iceberg as it is estimated that crimes of this nature often go unreported. A Parliamentary Library paper on domestic violence provides more detail on these issues.

Government responses
The world pays a high price both economically and socially for the significant levels of violence experienced by women. In Australia alone, a 2009 government report, The cost of violence against women and their children, estimated that violence against women and their children cost the Australian economy an estimated $13.6 billion in 2009. If no action is taken to address this issue, it also estimated that ‘three-quarters of a million Australian women will experience and report violence in the period of 2021–22, costing the Australian economy an estimated $15.6 billion’.

For many years, governments all over the world have implemented anti-violence measures in an attempt to prevent violence against women. Internationally, the UN supports inter-governmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, to assist Member States in implementing best practice standards. The UN also endeavours to advance gender equality for all women through agreements such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

In July 2010, the UN General Assembly created UN Women with the aim of better coordinating the UN’s gender equality initiatives. One of the priority areas for UN Women is ‘ending violence against women by enabling states to set up the mechanisms needed to formulate and enforce laws, policies and services that protect women and girls, promote the involvement of men and boys, and prevent violence’.

In Australia, while it is the states and territories that have the law enforcement responsibilities in relation to policing and prosecuting instances of violence against women, the Australian Government plays a leading role in the development and implementation of best practice models for addressing and preventing it. The Government’s anti-violence initiatives and programs are administered by the Office for Women (OfW).

The Australian Government’s role in preventing violence against women formally commenced with the National Agenda for Women consultations in 1986, followed by the implementation of a National Strategy on Violence against Women in 1992. On coming to power in 1996, the Coalition Government implemented and funded the ‘Partnerships against Domestic Violence’ and Women’s Safety Agenda programs which included funding for an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Women's Safety Survey in 1996 

In April 2009, the current Labor Government launched the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children’s national plan—Time for Action. The resulting National plan to reduce violence against women and their children 2010–2022 sets out a framework for action over a twelve year period across all jurisdictions in Australia (to be implemented through four threeyear plans). The Plan aims to better coordinate the efforts of state and federal governments in order to ‘make a real and sustained reduction in the levels of violence against women’.

While there have been some concerns regarding the adequacy of funding levels, the Plan has been generally well received by stakeholders and many are hopeful that it will be effective in reducing the levels of violence against women in Australia. In May 2011, during the international launch of the Plan at the United Nations, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, stated:
This National Plan is a landmark moment in Australia. It is incredibly important for the very large and often hidden group of women in this country that, every day, live their lives in fear within an intimate or family relationship. This Plan sends a clear message that all state, territory and the federal governments of Australia will be working together with women to address these issues.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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