Violence against women in the Pacific

By Jenta Tau

 Jenta Tau, Programme Associate, Young Women, from the YWCA of Solomon Islands gave a speech at a side event at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations, on Pacific Women’s Rights . Jenta shares the speech with us.

Jenta Tau

Many Pacific women and girls experience violence in their lives, which include:domestic,sexual, economic, psychological, and emotional violence, as well as sexual harassment and sorcery related killing and harmful traditional practices of early child hood marriage and bride price

If we look at the situation across the Pacific, the current statistics show that violence is widespread:

In Fiji it is reported that 66% of women have been beaten at least once by their husband

In French Polynesia 17% of women reported cases of physical violence and 7% reported cases of sexual violence by their partner in the 12 months preceding the survey. 36% reported having endured psychological pressures and 21% reported verbal attacks from their partner.

In Kiribati At least 2 out of 3 (68%) of partnered women experienced physical or sexual violence, or both, by an intimate partner; 19% had been sexually abused before the age of 15,  mainly by male family members and male acquaintances. For 20%, their first sexual experience was coerced or forced. The younger the girl at her first sexual experience, the more likely sex was forced.

In New Caledonia 19% of women reported physical violence and 7% experience sexual violence by their partner

In PNG the total number of assault cases reported from 2006-2008 were 1490, of which 20% were sexual assault; 32% physical assault; 48% non-physical assault

In Samoa 46% of women experienced some form of partner abuse (38% physical, 19% emotional, 20% sexual)

In Tonga in 2007, there were 5–6 cases reported to the police every week

In Tuvalu 37% of women experienced physical violence since the age of 15; 25% reported having experienced physical violence in the 12 months preceding the survey;

In Vanuatu in 2009, according to police records, there were 296 domestic violence or assault cases reported to the police;

And in my own country, the Solomon Islands, 64% of women who have ever been in a relationship reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, or both, from an intimate partner. More than 90% of those surveyed who have been pregnant reported intimate partner violence during their last pregnancy;

These statistics show us that violence against women is widespread throughout the Pacific. In many countries, it is a common experience for women, whether it be in a relationship or in the family home. They also show us that in some countries there is no reliable data or research, beyond police records, on the extent of violence, and more needs to be done in this area.

The following are factors that contribute to violence:

Cultural practices and beliefs – Culture plays a vital role in societies and can also be a barrier for women and girls. Coming from a society where men are the chiefs, or bosses of the household, there is a mindset that they have authority over women. They have every right to touch, hurt or do what ever they wish to their wives, girlfriends or sisters. Women generally do not speak out because our culture has shaped our thinking, and we believe we deserve it and it is punishment for not listening or obeying to our partner. Women are expected to be obedient and submissive at all times. There is, however, an ongoing conflict between traditional practices and international obligations to human rights.  Traditional customs usually take precedence over women’s rights.

Lack of sexual and reproductive health education – This is rarely provided in Pacific Island schools due to cultural and religious norms. As a result, girls are often unable to manage risks associated with unwanted sexual advances and are not aware of support services for those experiencing sexual abuse.

In terms of the policies and legal framework to protect women in situations of domestic violence, the institutions of Government, culture, religion, civil society and commerce are not immune from gender-based violence within their own structures and organisations, among their members and constituencies. It is not only the ‘common man’, the grassroots, uneducated or poor man, who commits violence against women. Doctors, lawyers, judges, parliamentarians, policemen, security guards, senior public servants, chiefs, priests and pastors, teachers and nurses commit crimes of violence against women in their personal and professional lives, often betraying their trusted roles as partners and as providers of services intended to lead, guide, comfort, support and protect.

For example, sentences related to sexual assault are often lenient and in some Pacific islands, rape and abuse within marriage are not recognised as a criminal offence. There is also a lack of gender sensitisation among law enforcement agents. The Family Protection legislation which was introduced in Vanuatu in 2008, was the first stand alone domestic violence legislation in the Pacific.

Most UN Member States from the Pacific have committed themselves to ending gender based discrimination and violence against women through ratification of CEDAW, and by signing on to the Beijing Declaration and Millennium Development Goals, as well as UN Security Council Resolutions that address the gendered dimensions of conflict (such as Resolutions 1325, 1820). However, it is now time to close the gap between commitment and action in the form of laws, policies, services and budgets to provide adequate protection and access to justice for women and girls.

I also want to highlight that young women are those most at risk of violence. This has to do with their status in the household, workplace and communities. Violence is frequently experienced in the home, and continues as young women begin relationships, marry and become pregnant. This is one of the reasons that the YWCA of the Solomon Islands actively targets programmes for young women.  The YWCA, which was established in 1975, recognises the need and importance of supporting young women as they navigate relationships and deal with these first experiences of violence.  We provide a range of services and programmes focused on young women’s empowerment and rights awareness.  One of these programmes is “Rise Up!”, a young women’s leadership programme, which was piloted in Honiara and Munda in the Western Solomon’s in 2010. Rise Up! trains and equips young women and girls in the Solomon Islands to create social change in their lives and communities.  It centres on human rights and gender equality education, leadership skills and advocacy.

Following my experience in working with young women and girls through the Rise Up programme, I would like to make the following recommendation for Governments and the International Community:

Firstly, I want to recommend investment in young women and girls leadership. It sounds obvious yet many people don’t see the value of leadership in ending violence. They just think additional police and better laws will make the situation better. But there is a need to realise that change must start from the individual person. It needs to be a bottom-up approach and investing in young women is the best way to start this.

Secondly, educate and empower young people on respectful and healthy relationships. This is about working with young women and men as the best method for creating cultural change and enabling young people to take responsibility in caring and respecting themselves and others.

Thirdly, we need to promote partnership and work in collaboration. Violence against women can only be stopped if individuals, families, church leaders, local community leaders and Government officials work together, providing opportunities, sharing resources and collaborating on services.

And finally, Governments need to strengthen or develop policies that are non discriminatory and look for effective mechanisms to support monitoring and evaluation of both the experience of violence and the responses.   Ever since its independence, the Solomon Islands have had policies on eliminating violence against women, gender equality and women’s development. The challenge remains in how to implement these policies and achieve these visions.

Male control and power over women often begins at infancy and may continue throughout a woman’s lifetime, through various relationships as a daughter, sister, partner, wife and mother. All forms of violence against women and girls occur in our communities on a daily basis – in our homes, families, communities, institutions, workplaces and even in the songs, films and images of popular media.

We are all accountable to unite to end violence against women. The right to live a life free from violence is a right that all women, including those in the Pacific, like myself, must demand from our governments, our families and our partners.

Buscando Palabras

Marjorie Herrera

Marjorie Herrera de la YWCA de Chile fue una de las delegadas de la YWCA Mundial en la Audiencia de la Sociedad Civil, reunión previa a la Reunion de Alto Nivel sobre VIH.

Marjorie Herrera

Marjorie Herrera

Ya han pasado algunas semanas desde que se realizó la Audiencia Interactiva Informal con la sociedad civil en preparación a la reunión de Alto Nivel sobre el SIDA desarrollada en la sede de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas (ONU) en Nueva York, los días 7-8 de Abril del presente año 2011.  Y aún considero que me faltan palabras para  lograr describir todo lo que ha significado para mí, la oportunidad de vivir esta experiencia como delegada y representante de la YWCA de Chile.

Podría partir comentando lo que implicó estar en la sede de la ONU, que en un principio, me resultó un tanto inquietante el pensar que me encontraba en el lugar donde los Estados Miembros suelen decidir el porvenir de diversas temáticas que son trascendentales para la vida de las personas de alrededor de todo el mundo. Tal como era el caso que nos convocaba, donde representantes de la sociedad civil repasaron los avances y los problemas de los últimos diez años de respuesta al VIH y SIDA, (información que será considerada en la próxima Reunión de Alto Nivel de la ONU sobre el SIDA, que se realizará en Junio en Nueva York). De igual forma reflexionaba cuánto de lo que ahí se discutía sería realmente llevado a la práctica.

Además podría mencionar lo trascendental que fue para mí haber convivido con personas de otros países que compartían sus experiencias, especialmente con aquellas/os que viven a diario la discriminación y el estigma por vivir con el VIH. Y si a ello agrego las vivencias extraídas desde otras mujeres, que a pesar de la distancia geográfica y cultural que nos separa tienen que lidiar con las mismas injusticias que nosotras lidiamos en mi país. Por nombrar algunas, como  la cultura patriarcal, la visualización de la mujer como un mero ente reproductivo, la carga cultural que impide comprenderla como un ser activo que juega un rol importante en los cambios de ésta sociedad; han reafirmado mis deseos y compromiso por seguir trabajando en la reivindicación de los derechos de las mujeres, a través de un esfuerzo por empoderarlas en todas las instancias que estén dentro de mis posibilidades.

Además podría mencionar que esta oportunidad fue algo inimaginable dado mi contexto, ya que provengo de un pequeño pueblo rural llamado Jahuel, ubicado en la pre-cordillera de la zona central de Chile. Es más, podría detenerme y dar a conocer como ésta experiencia ha modificado algunas estructuras de mi vida, lo cual me ha permitido ampliar mi mirada, comprendiendo situaciones y despojándome de aquel sentimiento mitológico ante aquella realidad que, a pesar de saberla, me resultaba un tanto lejana.

En fin podría comentar bastantes cosas, sin embargo, aún sigo buscando las palabras para lograr describir a cabalidad aquello que viví…