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Violence against Women in Melanesia and East Timor: Building on Global and Regional Promising Practices

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Publication Date

December 1, 2008

This study from the Office of Development Effectiveness, AusAID, Australia, is part of their efforts to assess the effectiveness of current approaches to addressing violence against women and girls in five of Australia’s close partner countries: Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and East Timor. It confirms that the two most common forms of violence against women are consistent with global trends: (i) physical, psychological, and economic violence against women by intimate partners and (ii) all forms of sexual violence perpetrated by intimate partners or others. The document offers a framework for action and some promising practices.

Common customary practices and attitudes that put women at risk of violence in this region include: bride-price (price paid by husbands for their wives); economic dependence of women on men; and compensation and reconciliation to maintain peace between groups and their leaders ("injuries against a woman or girl are dealt with by compensating the male who had rights to her (father, brother, husband). Women are unhappy about family members benefiting from their injuries and feel it undermines their future safety.").

Multi-sectoral solutions against which efforts in the countries are assessed in the document include:

  1. "Increasing women’s access to justice by passing and implementing laws and policies that discourage violence and impose consequences on offenders; provide women with the means to protect themselves and their children from violence and the information necessary to access their rights; and ensure women are treated humanely and fairly by justice-system personnel." some efforts include: boosting the number of women on village courts in PNG; preparing comprehensive domestic violence legislation in East Timor; and issuance of Domestic Violence Protection Orders in Vanuatu.
  2. Increasing women’s access to support services including psychological, medical and legal support, and safe havens, as well as increasing support to organisations that provide these services. Across the region, there is an unmet need for emergency and temporary shelter for abused women. Services are almost exclusively provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and faith-based groups.
  3. Prevention of violence through coordinated efforts at all levels aimed at raising awareness; changing community attitudes about violence; and increasing women’s status in society. The greatest obstacle to eliminating violence against women is the belief, commonly held throughout Melanesia and East Timor, that it is justified - women are often considered to be "at fault". A second obstacle is the perception that violence is a problem to be addressed by women only."

 

Promising practices, listed by organisation, cited in the document include:

  • The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC), which counters cultural silence on violence against women through: crisis counselling; legal, medical, and other practical support services for women and children; and technical support for other organisations working in the Pacific region, such as the Vanuatu Women’s Centre.
  • The Vanuatu Women’s Centre (VWC), which has a network of community-level Committees against Violence against Women in all six provinces of Vanuatu, staffed by volunteers who receive basic training in legal literacy and counselling to provide support to women who suffer domestic abuse or sexual assault. They coordinate closely with local authorities, such as police, health providers, and chiefs. As indicted here, the committees have been instrumental in extending the reach of services to rural women - a key challenge for the region as a whole. The VWC counters cultural backlash through its own work with male advocates, many of whom are also pastors, chiefs, and community leaders who serve as positive role models for Vanuatu men.
  • The Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee (FSVAC), in PNG, which plays a coordination and advocacy role across NGO and faith-based groups. The Government of PNG Department of Community Development has begun to collaborate with the FSVAC.
  • In East Timor, a local NGO, Association of Men Against Violence (Asosiasaun Mane Kontra Violensia, AMKV), which is undertaking attitudinal and behaviour change interventions focusing on men. It was formed following trainings conducted in Dili, East Timor, in 2002 by the Nicaraguan men’s group, Puntos de Encuentro. It currently has 15 focal points in seven districts (six in Dili) and a fluctuating number of other volunteers. AMKV begins its community engagement by helping groups of community men organise around their own priorities, which usually involve income generation (e.g. from tending community gardens, doing carpentry work, or selling snacks). Discussion of violence against women and gender equality arises during these activities.
  • Faith-based groups, including churches that sponsor safe houses and provide counselling services. The Weavers Program of the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools uses a gender-transformative approach, including a curriculum for working with theological schools and faith-based organisations on violence against women.
  • The Vanuatu theatre group Wan Smol Bag (WSB), which uses education-entertainment (edutainment) programmes throughout the region. They use a combination of multimedia, including theatre and interpersonal-communication activities. During the first week, they perform several times, then conduct workshops with chiefs, community leaders, Committees Against Violence Against Women (CAVAWs), and provincial councils. WSB recognises the role of men, particularly chiefs and church pastors, in violence prevention.
  • MenEngage, which is an approach that has emerged to engage men and boys in open dialogue about violence and masculinity and focus on the positive benefits of more gender-equitable values and practices, encouraging men and boys to develop new ways of relating with women and girls based on solidarity, cooperation, and fairness rather than domination and control.

 

Advocacy and media campaigns include:

  • A yearly campaign commemorating the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence (November 25 to December 10) - This campaign draws attention to the issue and advocates for new laws and policies to protect women and girls. "Through radio and print media, the campaign has brought the subject of violence against women and children into the public domain and kept it on national and regional political agendas. In Vanuatu, for example, the CAVAWs carry out community-level celebrations for the 16 Days campaign, for International Women’s Day and other related dates/events. In PNG, many men and women wear black to work on Thursdays to remind others about women who have died from violence." In 2007, there was a PNG petition drive with signatures presented to Parliament, demanding that more attention be paid to curbing violence against women.
  • Awareness-raising with the general public in East Timor -- Media campaigns (especially around the 16 Days) and distributing printed materials are focused on promoting the fact that the prevention of domestic violence is a legal duty for local authorities.
  • Mainstream and alternative media - According to this report, though media have raised public awareness on violence against women throughout the region, in practice these media sources often exacerbate the situation through their coverage by sensationalising incidents, violating the confidentiality of victims, and promoting traditional stereotypes of women. One strategy has been to gain allies among media editors.
  • Fem’LINK Pacific programme "Radio in a Suitcase" and its quarterly newsletter - These provide a medium for women to talk about their experiences and the key issues they face. In Solomon Islands, the organisation Vois Blong Mere Solomon Islands (VBMSI, or Voice of the Women in pidgin) uses radio media to document and disseminate women’s stories and provide information to women about the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) and women’s rights generally.

 

The document addresses new opportunities including working with youth, using models from other regions like the Uganda-based Raising Voices methodology, and integrating violence prevention with health services and HIV and AIDS prevention programmes. It recommends ongoing inclusion of those who participated in building the document, while recognising that each island and organisation may be at different points in its advocacy and awareness process. Among the specific recommendations for Australia are the following:

  1. Stepping up its high-level policy dialogue on violence against women with partner governments.
  2. Integrating approaches to gender equality across all its interventions.
  3. Developing broad strategies involving a greatly increased and sustained contribution of financial resources.
  4. Encouraging greater investment in research on violence against women.
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