Today marks International Women’s Day, which aims to celebrate and acknowledge the importance of women’s empowerment but also to recognise the global commitment to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

Failure is not an option; we must reimagine the normal –

Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s former Commissioner for Sex Discrimination at today’s IWD Breakfast in Sydney

Staff from the Lowy Institute attended the International Women’s Day Breakfast in Sydney this morning hosted by the UN Women National Committee. The breakfast focused on the issues facing women in the Pacific. The panel of speakers included Sister Lorraine Garasu from Bougainville, Mr Tura Lewai  from Fiji and Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s former Sex Discrimination Commissioner. The rich discussion touched on how change can be enacted both in Australian society as well as in Papua New Guinea and Fiji to ensure gender equality is reached and violence against women is stopped.

Photo: Flickr/DFAT

1 in 3 women in Australia will experience violence in their lifetimes, compared to two thirds of women in PNG. These statistics are shocking and indicate that a change in systems, norms and social behaviour in both nations is needed to better protect and support women and girls. Violence against women damages not only women, their children and their communities but also impedes a country’s wider development, social and economic growth. Violence comes in many forms and can occur in the home, school, work, marketplace and streets. In response to this violence, there are some fantastic initiatives in both PNG and Australia which aim to end violence, educate communities and support women and children in the face of abuse.

To learn more about the rising occurrence of gender-based violence in PNG and Australia and the work being done to support women’s empowerment check out these links:

  • Sister Lorraine, one of the speakers at this morning’s breakfast, works at the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre in Bougainville, which offers refuge and support to women in PNG who have fled abusive relationships and homes. This centre runs training and leadership courses while supporting women and children who have escaped abusive relationships. Sister Lorraine discussed the need for more resources and services going forward, in particular education assistance as the centre tries to place children back in school.
(Photo courtesy of DFAT)
  • Vlad Sorkin documents the daily struggles of women in PNG with a powerful photo series that is also available as a book.
  • Médecins Sans Frontières recently released a report on the failure to protect survivors of family and gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea. Off the back of this report, The Age, the Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald have published pieces this month regarding domestic violence cases in PNG.
  • One initiative that has emerged from people-to-people links between Australia and PNG to combat violence against women and girls is the Safe Public Transport Program and the Meri Seif Bus (Safe Bus) in Port Moresby. A study conducted by DFAT and UN Women revealed that 90% of women and girls have experienced some form of violence and/or harassment when using public transport.  The Meri Seif Bus program now operates 2 women-only buses in Port Moresby. The purple buses operate daily, transporting more than 400 women during morning and afternoon peak times.
  • Nicole Haley writes for Devpolicy about women’s representation in PNG’s Public Sector following on from the implementation of the Public Services (Management) Act 2014. The analysis (based on June 2014 data) finds that while women are well-represented in central government agencies they are severely underrepresented at the subnational level. The article provides ideas of how to increase participation, making mention of the GESI policy and the potential to improve female participation via the Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct project.
  • Grant Walton and Anthony Swan discussed female representation in PNG politics in 2013. They argued an increase in the numbers of female politicians in PNG will have flow on effects for the status of women in society more broadly.
  • Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja, attended the launch of a new toolkit developed by the Overseas Development Institute that is designed to educate businesses about the costs of gender-based violence and advocate for greater gender parity. Explore the toolkit here.
(Photo courtesy of the Australian High Commission Papua New Guinea)


  • Ayesha Lutschini, co-founder of Meri Toksave, an initiative that harnesses youth leadership to address and minimise the impacts of gender-based violence, wrote last year about the success of the program for the Aus-PNG Network.
  • PNG’s Family and Sexual Violence Case Management Centre, Femili PNG, in Lae has assisted over 300 women who have fled abusive relationships since opening 18 months ago.  You can read more about the establishment and operation of Femili PNG here.
  • Listen to Dame Carol Kidu discuss the benefits of programs like Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, which are working to reduce the maternal mortality rate in PNG.
  • The Guardian also explored UN Women’s Safe Cities Initiative and its implementation in marketplaces in PNG – which are notorious for sexual violence, crime and gang activity – to ensure these areas are safe for women.
  • In Australia, NGOs like St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army provide crisis accommodation that grant women safety. Roxanne McMurray, who manages Leichardt Women’s Community Health Centre, advocates for increased funding to establish more refuge centres. She highlights the fact that if women do not have safe places to go they won’t leave an abusive relationship. Organisations and refuges in both Australia and PNG are struggling to cope with the high demand for their services.
  • UN Women’s #FaceItTogether campaign released a video in the lead up to International Women’s Day 2016 that powerfully explores the experiences of women in the Pacific.


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About the Author

Chloe Hickey-Jones - Intern, Melanesia Program, Lowy Institute - Lowy Institute

Chloe Hickey-Jones

Intern, Melanesia Program, Lowy Institute

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Chloe Hickey-Jones is an intern in the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute. Chloe has a Bachelor of International and Global Studies (Honours) from the University of Sydney where she majored in Government and International Relations. Chloe grew up travelling between Australia and Lae in PNG, where her interest in Australian policy in the Pacific Islands region developed. In her internship at the Institute she assists with research on the issues of corruption and development in Papua New Guinea.