Bainimarama launches public consultation for National Action
Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama speaking at the launch
Violence against women and children is a global menace which can be prevented through collective, positive action, Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama has said.
“Violence against women and girls is not a happy or simple subject for the Nation to discuss. But most of the things that are worth doing are hard, but we do not shy away from them precisely because they are worth doing,” he said speaking at a meeting to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women and Girls in Suva on November 25, 2020.
He also launched a National Consultation for the Development of the National Action Plan to prevent Violence against all Women and Girls at the meeting.
“Substantial global evidence shows that violence against women and girls is preventable. It is not inevitable. It is not a permanent condition that we must endure. And it is preventable within years, not lifetimes. When we look back on this gathering, wouldn’t we all like to say – that on this day, November 25, 2020, we started something that changed Fiji forever and for the better?” he said.
Mr Bainimarama said that the challenge is real and to be addressed by all- government at all levels, and each person in the society to act together.
A section of the audience at the launch
One too many
Acknowledging the contributions of advocates in stopping violence against women and the work being carried by organisations and volunteers, he said that the International Day marked the beginning of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
“One woman who experiences violence is one too many. One child who experiences or witnesses violence is one too many. One person who thinks it is okay to assault a woman is one too many. One witness who turns a blind eye to such violence is one too many. One woman turned away when she asks for help is one too many. And one man who assaults a woman or a child and is not held accountable and punished according to law for his crimes is one too many,” he said.
Mr Bainimarama said that when an offender is not brought to justice for an attack on a woman or child, it creates an environment of impunity and permissiveness that no civilised society can accept in good conscience.
Mr Bainimarama said that Fiji has changed its laws concerning this issue and will continue to enforce them so that the country can get rid of such violence.
Another section of the audience at the launch
Challenge for Fiji
However, he conceded that eliminating violence against women and girls will not be easy.
“We know that it is far too prevalent in Fiji, and it has unfortunately become embedded in our culture. But we are not constrained by history, and we can and we must purge the ugliness we retain from our past. As societies become more enlightened, they shed negative behaviours that were once common. They confront their past and their harmful traditions. They confront their prejudices, their superstitions, and their violence, too. It happens everywhere, and it is happening here,” he said.
Mr Bainimarama said that Fiji will be the first Pacific Island country and one of the only two countries globally (alongside Australia) to have a whole-of-government, whole-of-population, inclusive and fully funded evidence-based approach to developing a National Action Plan to prevent violence against all women and girls before it starts.
He acknowledged the support of development partners, including the European Union, the Australian and New Zealand governments and the United Nations in addressing the problem.
Rising violence against women
“It pains me to say that two of every three women in Fiji have experienced physical or sexual violence from a male intimate partner in their lifetime. One in five women have experienced sexual harassment in a workplace. One in three women in Fiji have experienced physical or sexual violence from a man who is not their partner. In 2019 alone, 10 women were killed by their intimate partners.
Our women and girls are targeted at home as well as in their workplace, in schools, hospitals, and universities, on the street and online. No space is immune. This not only affects the survivors themselves, but the children who are exposed to it, their extended families, their friends, their work colleagues and ultimately the nation,” Mr Bainimarama said.
He said that these are not only personal stories behind such statistics but also attitudes, social norms, gender roles and rigid stereotypes, where everyday sexism, discrimination and disrespect of women and girls go unchallenged in the Fijian society.
It is normalised, excused and tolerated. Those attitudes are embedded in gender inequality, men’s power and control over women and a failure to recognise the inherent equality and dignity of all women and girls.
Domestic Violence Law enacted
“As your Prime Minister, I am proud that it was my government that brought into law in 2019, the Domestic Violence Act, which for the first time laid a legal foundation that recognised gender-based violence as a very significant national problem. The Domestic Violence Helpline 1560 has made the reporting of domestic violence easier for survivors. The Child Helpline 1325 has given child victims of abuse a way to have their cries heard. Of course, as we know, girls and boys both suffer from violence at the hands of abusers. Those abusers can be men, they can be women as well, so it’s important all Fijian children know these are services they can call on,” he said.
Service Delivery Protocol
According to Mr Bainimarama, the Service Delivery Protocol for domestic violence service providers continues to provide and strengthen a collaborative and co-ordinated response to cases.
“Despite the legal and policy reforms we have undertaken and the programmes we have established, we know that much more needs to be done to stem violence against women and girls, and the statistics bear that out. In order to end this national scourge, we must first come to a shared understanding among us Fijians as to why violence against women and girls happens in Fiji—its root causes and contributing factors. For starters, we must eradicate the notion that women are in any way weaker or somehow lesser than men,” he said.
Free education helpful
Mr Bainimarama said that his government has made education free in Fiji, and that has had a profound impact on girls and young women.
“It used to be that, faced with financial considerations, parents would choose which children to send to school, and they mostly chose their sons. Together, we have flipped that narrative on its head. Today, 92% of girls in Fiji complete their secondary school education, and women make up the majority of graduates in our tertiary institutions,” he said.
Please read our Leader, ‘Fiji’s Plan to quell family harm laudable’ on Page 12.
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