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.