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UN seeks legislation to enshrine Pacific women's rights, counter domestic abuse

SYDNEY -- The United Nations on Friday called on Pacific leaders to enact laws that protect women as a first step in tackling the endemic levels of domestic violence in the region.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of U.N. Women, said governments played a key role in changing the regulatory and cultural environments that has seen the Pacific record some of the highest rates of violence against women globally.

“In the countries in the Pacific, the weak law enforcement and the fact that perpetrators often are not brought to book has probably created an environment for violence against women to go unchallenged, and for women to even accept it as their fate,” she told AFP.

“The women who bear the brunt don't even bother to report because they don't expect much is going to happen.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was speaking in Sydney ahead of the U.N. conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa from Monday, said it was important to “tell the leaders to play their part.”

“We have to help them to take seriously the overwhelming data and statistics that's generated about the size of the problem in their own country and in the world, as well as the impact it has on future generations.”

According to World Health Organization figures published in 2013, about 68 percent of women in the Pacific suffered physical or sexual abuse from their partner.

A U.N. study on violence against women in September last year found 80 percent of men surveyed in Papua New Guinea reported physically or sexually abusing their partners.

Rights advocacy group Amnesty International has said allegations of witchcraft were often used in PNG as a pretext to abuse women.

The Pacific nation controversially revived the death penalty in 2013 for violent crimes after a woman was stripped naked, tied up and set on fire in front of a crowd after being accused of sorcery.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said education — for both boys and girls — was key to dismantling the entrenched patriarchal attitudes and would help lift the low levels of women in leadership roles.

“Education is the closest thing to a silver bullet,” she said.

“Respecting the rights of women, especially reproductive rights, is very important, because with education and with the capacity to postpone having children ... you pursue your own development and you grow up to be very confident and a productive adult.

“When that protection doesn't happen, then girls are most vulnerable.”

The Pacific has the fewest number of women's parliamentarians in the world at 15.9 percent, compared to the global average of 21.9 percent, according to data collected by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

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