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Violence against women at ‘epidemic’ levels

Friday 3 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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An INTERNATIONAL aid organisation says cuts to Australia's aid funding could see it fail in its commitment to reduce domestic violence in the Pacific.

The figures available show in some countries such as the Solomon Islands, two out of three women will experience physical or sexual violence.

But the non-government organisations that deliver aid programmes fear cuts to Australia's aid programme and a change in its focus could mean the issue is no longer a priority area.

Oxfam chief executive Helen Szoke said Australia's overseas aid had been cut dramatically, with the overall focus shifting from community programmes to helping with the development of major infrastructure.

"If we take away the resources, if we lose the momentum of the important work that's already being done and just focus on building roads or schools, we won't tackle the actual fundamental issues that need to be tackled to lift those communities out of poverty," Szoke said.

The Federal Government cut Australian aid by $NZ239 million million in the 2016/17 Budget, on top of $1.067 billion in cuts in 2015/16.

Non-government organisations working in overseas development have raised concerns about future cuts.

"Since coming to office the Coalition Government has cut more than $12.050 billion to current and future aid," Szoke said.

"The cuts to Australian aid threaten the progress that has been made in combating violence against women; programmes that support women are already suffering as a result."

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which now oversees Australia's overseas aid, said its spending on programmes in the Pacific had actually increased in this year's budget.

"Total official development assistance to the Pacific will increase to $1,215.75 million in 2016-17, up from $1,194.16 million in 2015-16," a spokesperson said.

"The Australian Government has zero tolerance for violence against women, both in Australia and internationally.

"Eliminating violence against women everywhere is a priority of the Australian Government and a part of its foreign policy and overseas aid programme."

The department said Australia had budgeted more than $28.8 million this year specifically for programmes to end violence against women in the Pacific.

One such programme is Safe Families in the Solomon Islands, in which Oxfam community facilitators work in small, impoverished villages to educate and influence people against using violence.

Participants in the programme, such as villager Jacob Manegaru, said it had shown them alternatives to violence.

"I hit my child, hit my wife, it was a normal thing for me," he said.

"Then this programme came then I realised that what I've done is very bad. All I can say I'm very sorry and I'm trying to make up for all those things that I've done."

Villagers like Jacob Manegaru live a subsistence life of poverty and disadvantage.

He said the challenges of caring for a disabled son and providing for his family often led him to drink and be violent.

But Manegaru, who has since become the chairman of a village committee aimed at reduced violence, now feels immense remorse.

"It's very challenging for me, it's very touching. I remember my wife, how I treated her, I'm very sorry," he said.

Women in the village said the programme had helped everyone understand the causes of violence.

Community facilitator Salome Gelisae said it had even helped educate her, and she no longer hit her own children.

"People have started to realise what their wrongs are and what they should do instead of doing the bad things and there's been lots of changes in this community which people talk about," she said.

"They say the programme is very good and it helps a lot in their own families."

- ABC