TWO huge programmes focused on the empowerment and protection of Pacific women and children costing more than USD70 million have been launched over the past couple of months, prompting calls from long-term advocates for donors, governments and civil society organisations to ensure their efforts are coordinated.
Women and girls in Pacific Island nations face violence at a much higher rate than in many other countries. In our region up to two in every three women are impacted by domestic and gender-based violence, twice the global average. Research from several national and international organisations show rate of lifetime experience with violence is high in Tonga (79 per cent), Samoa (76 per cent), Kiribati (73 per cent), Fiji (72 per cent),Vanuatu (72 per cent) and Solomon Islands (64 per cent). Pacific women also face much higher incidences of abuse at the hands of their partners. Women and girls with disability are particularly vulnerable.
The European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) are investing €50million (US$55.95m) in their Spotlight Initiative to eliminate domestic violence in the Pacific region. The UN and EU are also partnering with the Australian government in the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls. The Pacific Partnership represents a €19.5 million (US$21.82m) investment.
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ARE researchers from across Australia, the Pacific, Asia and beyond working on aid and development policymaking largely white and male? That was my first impression when I saw other registered participants at the two day conference held in Canberra between 18th-20th February. I missed seeing more women at a conference of this scale that was aimed at sharing insights, promoting collaboration, and helping develop the research community.
The Australian National University described this annual conference at the Crawford School of Policy as the ‘largest’ they have hosted – with more than 40 panels on a wide range of topics on aid and development as well as an array of presentations from key note speakers who are ‘thought leaders’ in their fields. Need I add that I wasn’t surprised that both the key note speakers were men from the Global South.
One of the speakers was the current finance minister in the Government of Rwanda – an African country which 15 years ago, was ranked 37 globally for the number of seats held by women in Parliament. Today, at over 60 per cent, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in parliament in the world! What I would have given to hear a female Rwandan cabinet minister share her reflections of the journey and struggle of her country that has steadily rebuilt itself after being torn apart by ethnic wars. Few know that its liberation struggle was organised, commanded and won by men and women largely under 35 years!
In the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW), violence against women is defined as any act of gender based violence that “results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including the threat of violence, coercion, or arbitrary deprivations of liberty. Violence against women (VAW) includes:
1. Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry related violence and violence related to exploitation. Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution and physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condones by the state, wherever its occurs.”
2. Of the 6 Pacific countries with national prevalence studies using the World Health Organisation methodology (Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Samoa), all have prevalence rates for intimate partner violence that greatly exceed the global averages, ranging from 60% to 68% in Melanesia and Kiribati, and from 40 to 46% in Polynesia. Rates of non-partner violence are also extremely high in the Pacific when compared with global averages, particularly non-partner physical violence in Tonga and Samoa.
The rates of childhood sexual abuse of girls are extraordinarily high: 37% in the Solomon Islands, 30% in Vanuatu and 8% in Tonga. Emotional violence and coercive control by intimate partners is extremely high across the region.
In Fiji, 58% of women were emotional abused in their lifetime, 69% were subjected to one or more forms of control by their husband/partner, and 28% to 4 or more types of control. For example, 39% of women have to ask for permission from their husbands before seeking health care for themselves. Women living with their intimate partner violence are subjected to economic abuse: 28% had husbands/partners who either took their savings or refused to give them money.
3. Women and girls who face multiple forms of discrimination due to ethnicity, sexual identity and ability/disability are exposed to increased risk of all forms of violence. Although prevalence data is scarce on violence against women and girls with disabilities, it indicates that these women experience much higher rates of violence. Our research also demonstrated that violence against women contributes to disability, due to the frequency and severity of injuries. It is widely accepted that the rick of violence against women increases during periods of political, tribal and ethnic conflict and in the context of natural disasters and emergencies.
4. Our analysis of the consequences of VAW highlights the health, social broader development and economic impacts. This analysis aligns with other international actors who identify VAW as a critical problem which contributes to and reinforces poverty and impedes sustainable economic growth and overall national development. Our analysis also highlights the fact that VAW, in addition to being caused by gender inequality, is a social mechanism that perpetuates and reinforces inequality and unequal gender power relations, by forcing women into a subordinate position compared to men.
Impacts of VAW highlighted by the findings of FWCC’s research report include: direct impacts on survivors including to their physical, reproductive and mental health. Direct economic costs to families, communities and the nation due to the significant health impacts of VAW and other costs of responding to the problem (such as by welfare and law and justice agencies). Enormous lost opportunities for social and economic development due to the threat of violence and coercive control, which undermines women’s agency and prevents women from participating in education, economic development and political decisionmaking and short term and long term impacts on children which further impede economic development.
Around the Pacific a lot of work is being done in the area of eliminating violence against women through the Pacific Women’s Network against Violence against Women (PWNAVAW) and other agencies in partnership with development partners.
Over the last 34 years we have seen changes- many more stakeholders including faithbased organisation, traditional leaders and some governments are committing to ending violence against women and children through specific legislation, policies and programmes. Most of the funding for this work is from foreign governments. Its time our own governments come to the table and take responsibility to demonstrate this commitment to our women and children.
47-year old Emily Qilarisa lives in Sepa, a remote village of around 240 residents in Choiseul Province in the northern most part of Solomon Islands. For the people in her community, the adverse impacts of climate change is something they’re having to contend with as coastal erosion, severe storm surges and inundation resulting from tropical cyclones has destroyed food crops and threatened food security.
To address the needs of Pacific rural women like Emily, The Pacific Community (SPC) with the financial contribution of USAID has helped over 300 women set up home gardens in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu and taught them new farming skills to grow a greater diversity of crops for enhanced food security.
SPC has also helped the women learn new food preparation skills, and assisted with the setting up of poultry farms, piggeries and honey bee farms to generate income and strengthen their communities’ resilience. Prior to the assistance, Emily and other women in her community would walk long distances to bush gardens to grow root crops and vegetables in order to feed their families and bring in some much-needed income for household needs.
Today, they have thriving home gardens and nurseries where they grow a greater diversity of food crops and sell the surplus produce at the village market day on Saturdays. Compared to their urban counterparts, Pacific rural women face a myriad of challenges; from accessing basic services and infrastructure such as water and sanitation, electricity, health and education; to being more at risk to domestic violence and unwanted pregnancies; as well as being more exposed to the adverse impacts of climate change like cyclone and droughts. Laisani Adivuki is a single mother of two sons aged 23 and 11 who lives in Ra Province on Fiji’s main island Viti Levu.
She has leased 120 acres of prime land from her clan (or landing owning unit) for growing food crops and setting up her ilapia pond. She has set up a small roadside market, where she and other women from her community sell fresh produce to passing motorists.
When Laisani embarked on tilapia farming, she was made fun of by people in her village and surrounding community. Often men would ask what she knew about tilapia farming, insisting that this was no job for a woman. Undeterred, Laisani persevered reinvesting the earnings from her farming and aquaculture activities back into her business.
Being able to make her own decisions has been very empowering, she said. Additionally, it has been empowering for other women in her community when they sell produce and earn their own money at the roadside stall that Laisani has set up.
Aquaculture and inland fishery is relatively new in the Pacific with very little information on the division of labour and women’s role in aquaculture. The assumption, as usual, is that fish farming – is performed by men, with little help from women.
A gender analysis of the aquaculture sector in Fiji conducted by SPC in 2017 found otherwise with rural women playing a major role in aquaculture farming across tilapia farms in the country, however they are not often included in training opportunities.
The analysis found that aquaculture activities are having an impact on the empowerment of women like Laisani with respect to more decision-making opportunities (outside the household) and are leading to their greater recognition in formal structures within communities. In addition, group-managed farms – either a women’s committee collective or a cluster – and large family-run farms appear to give women a sense of power, notably as a result of associations of women and the opportunity for a collective voice.
Prior to the study, SPC had undertaken gender mainstreaming training and field work for extension officers in the Fijian Ministry of Fisheries with the view that women’s roles and inputs are included in community based projects.
With the empowerment of rural women and girls a specific focus of the sixtysecond session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York in mid March, SPC is strengthening its commitment to work alongside Pacific Island governments to improve the lives of Pacific rural women.
The different divisions of SPC are working together across a number of critical development areas including fisheries and agriculture, water and sanitation, and energy to name a few to improve the livelihoods and living conditions of Pacific rural women. In addition, SPC is also addressing the social dimension of empowerment by raising awareness about inequality, building capacity to progress gender equality, and promoting women’s human rights to empower Pacific rural women.
THE Fiji NGO Coalition on CEDAW has said as Fiji moves towards another election, it must show that a robust constitutional democracy has replaced all vestiges of authoritarian rule. In their written submission to CEDAW, the NGO Coalition report states “authoritarian military presence remains,” and women’s political rights and participation, both at the local and national level, will continually be constrained. “In 2018, the Fijian elections will serve as a benchmark of whether women have the political agency and opportunity to engage at the political level or whether they will continue to be marginalised from public life,” the NGO Coalition said.
CEDAW was informed Fijian women continue to face wide gender disparities in Fiji. Based on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index of 2015, Fiji ranked at 121st out of 142 countries. By Anish Chand “In the last five years, Fiji’s rank has declined from 108 to 121.5 These results indicate that women’s progress, specifically in the economic and political empowerment sphere are severely curtailed,” the NGO Coalition said.
CEDAW was told the Fijian 2013 Constitution has not expressly adopted CEDAW’s definition of “discrimination” and makes no explicit reference to women. “Both the CEDAW Committee and women’s rights NGOs agree that a general equality provision is insufficient to cover the intersecting structural factors that continually impede women’s progress.