Gender based violence is a scourge of the Pacific. It can take the form of physical or sexual violence at the hands of partners, non-partner sexual assault, sexual exploitation and trafficking, and can arise through practices such as accusations of sorcery.
Its root causes are gender inequality, unequal gender power relations, privilege and patriarchy.
Statistically, Pacific Islands women are more likely to suffer violence than women in other parts of the world. COVID-19 has made a bad situation worse. The WHO says on average, 35% of women express gender based violence (GBV). In the Pacific, this figure can be as high as 70%.
The rate of intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence for women is also high in our region. Women and girls with disabilities can experience up to 10 times more gender-based violence than those without disabilities.
“It is a mark of embarrassment on our region and a prime hurdle to achieve inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. Pacific woman and girls are targeted at home as well as in their workplace, in schools, hospital, sport fields, universities and places of worships, on the street and online. It happens everywhere,” Fiji’s Minister for Women told the conference.
From the Solomon Islands, Director of Women Vaela Ngai spoke of the importance of SafeNet, a referral network of gender-based violence support services, coordinated by the Solomon Islands Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs that aims to ensure survivors of gender-based violence can access the support services they need, when they need it.
“The SafeNet roll out process to the provinces has been one of great learning for us in the Solomons,” Ngai told delegates, speaking of how they are tailoring the model to the circumstances of rural and remote communities, for example using phone trees and social media during COVID-19 related lockdowns and restrictions.
There has been progress. A Papua New Guinea parliamentary committee is holding its first ever inquiry into gender-based violence, with public hearings to look into funding, how to make a mooted GBV secretariat effective, justice system responses and the government’s position on gender-based parliamentary seats.
Fiji has developed a five-year National Action Plan to prevent violence against all women and girls. It’s a whole of government, whole of population, inclusive, funded and evidence-based approach to prevent violence against all women and girls before it starts.
And innovative programs ranging from sports-focused education and awareness initiatives such as ‘Get into Rugby’ where “boys learn to respect and treat girls as their equals”, to curriculum and education interventions, to church and faith based initiatives are growing across the region.
The meeting resolved that governments and their partners to take specific action to end violence against women and girls and increase support and services to survivors.
It called for:
- Stronger partnerships between civil society and governments at all levels
- Investment in GBV prevention programs that work with children and young people in formal and information education settings
- GBV prevention programs that are based on positive masculinities, respect for women and girls, understanding of consent
- More resourcing for all GBV programs to reflect the enormity of the problem
- Balance between prevention, survivor responses and support, criminal justice responses and rehabikita5ionf or perpetrators
- More support for crisis centres, safe houses and referral networks, including shelter, counselling, medical and financial support, and training towards financial independence
- Stronger laws, definitions and criminal penalties
- Training for health officials, counsellors, government officials and all levels, police and other first responders to ensure survivors are centred in GBV response