Fiji will implement a National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Minister Mereseini Vuniwaqa has said.
She said that Fiji will be the first Pacific Island Country to have in place such a Plan.
“Fiji will also be one of the only two countries globally along with Australia, to have an evidence-based approach to preventing violence against women and girls,” she said.
Ms Vuniwaqa was a speaking at a press conference in Suva on Monday, January 13, 2020 along Health and Medical Services Minister Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete, Education, Heritage and Arts Minister Rosy Akbar and Assistant Minister for Employment, Productivity, Industrial Relations, Youth and Sports, Alvick Maharaj.
“The Government of Fiji recognises its obligation to prevent violence against women and girls. My Ministry will lead the development of a five-year National Action to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls (2020-2025). Once developed, Fiji will be one of the only two countries in the world to have a whole of government, inclusive, evidence-based approach to prevent violence against women and girls. Fiji National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls will focus on preventing domestic violence, intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women and girls with an emphasis on stopping violence before it starts. Data and evidence from Fiji demonstrate that these are the most prevalent or widespread forms of violence against women and girls which urgently need to be addressed,” Ms Vuniwaqa said.
She said that ten women in Fiji were killed by their intimate partners in 2018.
“This is unacceptable. As a nation, we have a shared responsibility to recognise, challenge and prevent violent and disrespectful behaviour and attitudes towards women and girls,” she said.
Epidemic of violence
Fiji is facing an epidemic of violence against women and girls in both public and private spaces.
The country has one of the highest recorded rates of violence against women and girls globally, with almost two out of three (64%) women experiencing some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
Ms Vuniwaqa challenged the media to show responsibility and greater gender sensitivity when they report on violence against women and girls, saying that “because gender inequality is at the core of the problem, gender equality must be at the heart of the solution.”
Health and Medical Services Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete said, “almost all survivors of violence end up on the doorsteps of the health sector even if they do not disclose the violence they have experienced or explicitly seek care for their injuries. Violence against women and girls has health consequences that can be immediate and acute, long-lasting and chronic, and/or fatal – whether from prolonged illness and disability or homicide.”
Manifestation of gender inequality
“To me, at its core, violence against women and girls in all its forms is a manifestation of gender inequality, men and boys’ power and control over women and a failure to recognise the inherent equality and dignity of women and girls. While Fijian women and girls bear the brunt of the violence, the social, economic, physical, and psychological and health costs cut more broadly across our society, ultimately harming everyone,” he added.
Ms Akbar shared her personal experience of coming from a family where domestic abuse often took place.
“Evidence also shows that certain groups of women, such as younger women and girls, are at a higher risk of experiencing violence. Family history of violence also significantly increases the risk that girls and boys will experience or perpetuate violence as adults. Men are more likely to become perpetrators if they are beaten during their childhood. Women are more likely to experience violence as an adult if they have also witnessed or experienced violence as a child. This is the cycle of violence that must be broken in our homes and families,” she said.
Role of education
Ms Akbar said that education has a significant role to play in transforming the root causes of violence against women and girls as it is an important mechanism for the social, emotional and psychological development of young people.
“Schools make ideal environment to challenge some of the harmful social and cultural norms or standards that accept violence towards others,” she said, emphasising the need for strategic interventions including progressive gender sensitive curriculums in schools at all levels.
Assistant Minister for Employment, Productivity, Industrial Relations, Youth and Sports, Mr Maharaj said that amongst other stakeholders and priority areas that can support the prevention of violence and girls, youth and sport is key.
“There is no doubt that the action to stop violence against women and girls in Fiji must be taken now; and it must happen in full force and through every possible avenue. Sport can be one of the most powerful platforms for social change. Sport brings people together across the community and provides the opportunity to involve a diverse range of individuals and groups across the nation.”
He acknowledged that “we have also been plagued by disturbing allegation and news of sexual violence and harassment by high profile sportsmen.”
The ministers confirmed that the cause of violence against women and girls is gender inequality and patriarchy, and pledged their ministries’ collective commitment to develop and implement the National Action Plan, with other partners.
The five-year National Action Plan will set out short, medium- and long-term measures to prevent violence against women and girls by challenging its underlying root causes. It will influence social norms, promote community leadership and set a much stronger culture of equal and respectful relationships between men and women.
The Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation (MWCPA) Ministry plans to complete the development of the National Action Plan by 2020.
UN Women is the primary technical partner to the MWCPA in developing the National Action Plan. UN Women’s technical and financial support is provided through the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls.
What key work has already been undertaken?
Advisory Group Meeting
The Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation (MWCPA) organised a small advisory consultation group of experts and key stakeholders to participate in a two-day meeting on December 4 and 5, 2019 to advance critical discussions and agreement related to the content and development of the National Action Plan to Prevent VAWG.
It was attended by representatives of various government ministries, women’s human rights organisations, transgender people’s human rights organisation, a disabled people’s organisation (DPO), faith-based organisations, health-care service providers, nongovernmental organisations, and other civil society organisations.
This ‘kick-start’ meeting resulted in reaching consensus on the root cause and key risk factors/contributing factors for VAWG in Fiji; the scope of violence and agreement on shared language and definitions to be used moving forward; along with recommendations on the process for developing the National Action Plan.
In addition, the participants agreed to form and be part of a wider Prevention Advisory Group to support the development of the National Action Plan.
A strategic outcome document was developed and validated by all members of the Prevention Advisory Group and is the foundational first step to developing the National Action Plan.
The advisory working group provides technical guidance to the Government of Fiji in the development and roll out of the national action plan. A core group from the advisory group will further accelerate action on next steps. Members of the core group include Shamima Ali, Coordinator of Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, Reverend Sereima Lomaloma, House of Sarah, Nalini Singh, Executive Director of Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Hannah Mara, House of Khameloen, Prem Singh, Empower Pacific, Ashna Shaleen, Executive Director Medical Services Pacific, Josefa Ravula, Fiji Red Cross Society; and representatives of Government agencies.
The next steps
The National Action Plan will be developed in a participatory manner, engaging both government and nongovernment actors alike, with responsibility for various stages of design and implementation assigned appropriately.
Based on the main recommendations from the Prevention Advisory Group meeting, the following key steps will be taken: (a) A series of nationwide consultations and dialogues with stakeholders from key settings/sectors and communities will be undertaken in 2020 to inform the development of the National Action Plan. This will be led by MWCPA and partners. It will be inclusive, ensuring the voices of ALL women and girls in all their diversities are included (b) The Prevention Advisory Group will provide technical guidance to the Fijian Government in the development and rollout of the National Action Plan (c) A core working group nominated from within the Prevention Advisory Group will further accelerate action and provide strategic and technical oversight, and endorsement of the National Action Plan and processes as it develops.
The National Action Plan to Prevent VAWG will leave ‘no one behind’ and uphold the principles of inclusivity and non-discrimination, in line with the country’s Constitution.
The Plan will include all women and girls in all of their diversities.
What does a ‘whole of’ approach mean? What does a ‘whole of government approach’ look like?
A ‘whole-of’ approach to prevention means engaging everyone in the population, community, organisation or other group of people that you are working with. A Whole-of-Government Approach to Prevention of VAWG refers to the joint coordinated activities performed by diverse Ministries, Public Administrations and Public Agencies in order to achieve a shared goal and an integrated government response to solve the problem of violence against women and girls.
What does Primary Prevention and Secondary Prevention mean?’
Primary prevention means stopping violence before it starts.
Secondary prevention, commonly referred to as response services (i.e. crisis centres, health responses, police and justice) is responding to violence after it has occurred, with aim of preventing re-occurrence.
The National Action Plan will have both primary and secondary prevention (i.e. response services) strategies will be included. This is considered a comprehensive approach to prevention of violence against women and girls.