Republic of Fiji
Violence against Women Panel
7th December 2017
Nazhat Shameem Khan
Permanent Representative of Fiji to UNOG
1. Violence against women and girls is a form of gender discrimination, because it affects women and girls disproportionately, and because it targets the perceived vulnerability of women and girls in society. It is found in every country and in every society. The reported statistics in some countries are more discouraging than others either because reporting numbers are low, or because a country or society has identified the barriers to dealing effectively with such violence, and has set out to eradicate them. These barriers may be legal, they may be cultural and they may be institutional. If the barriers are legal, their removal is only an important first step to examining other barriers which continue unabated. Thus you can give women equal rights to litigate in a Constitution. However without recognising that lack of financial independence continues to prevent equal access to justice, such legal “rights” have limited effect on women. Legal rights must be accompanied by legal aid schemes which are gender competent, police stations which are sensitive to the barriers to reporting violence against women, judges who are gender competent and will not abuse restrictive rules of evidence to blame the victim and exonerate the perpetrator, and sentencing practices which are able to examine closely the gender politics of a reconciliation between perpetrator and victim. Systems and institutions are as capable of promoting patriarchal values and norms as much as individuals. For many years (and some would argue to this day) the legal system was seen as being fundamentally patriarchal. Medical services and the medical profession were infamous in promoting and perpetuating a paternalism based on the belief that the doctor or nurse always knows best. Such paternalism can only be transformed into a more inclusive and equal regime, when those who lead these institutions decide that policies must guide such a transformation. Thus many countries now have gender policies which aim to integrate gender responsiveness into every sector and every service provided by Government.
2. The Fiji Gender Policy is such a policy. The objectives are as follows:
“This is the National Gender Policy for the Republic of Fiji. The Government of Fiji commits to the aims and strategies set out in this Policy, and to the realisation of all policies designed to promote gender equality in Fiji. The overall goal of this policy is to promote gender equity, equality, social justice and sustainable development in the Republic of Fiji. The Government of Fiji is committed to removing gender inequality in Fiji. This Policy, endorsed by Cabinet, aims to:
· Improve the quality of life of men, women, boys and girls, at all levels of society through the promotion of gender equity and equality.
· Reinforce the inextricable links between gender equality and sustainable development goals in national development.
· Promote active and visible gender mainstreaming in all sectors and within civil society to ensure agency for gender equity and equality in all spheres of national life.
· Remove all forms of gender inequality and gender discrimination in Fiji.
This Policy aims to improve awareness among policy makers, planners, implementers and the general public of the provisions of the local and international instruments related to gender, and to identify strategies to implement these instruments. It provides a written commitment by government which the population can monitor and evaluate. It recognises that gender equality is a fundamental human right, and that it is an inherent component of economic growth and development. It recognises that ethnicity, disability, religion and gender often intersect and create a multiplicity of sources of discrimination against women in Fiji. This policy intends to promote gender equality in all aspects of Fiji’s development, and to eradicate or modify institutional and social barriers to such equality. The policy is consistent with the 2013 Constitution of Fiji, and with ratified international conventions and instruments. Specifically, this Policy aims:
· To promote the development of women’s human rights in accordance with Fiji’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and its General Recommendations, and all other conventions and international laws relevant to women.
· To incorporate and to integrate a gender perspective in all development planning and decision making processes as the strategy for promoting gender equity and ‘fairness’ so that development planning itself becomes fundamentally gendered.
· To establish a system of gender mainstreaming which binds all sectors of government, and guides community and faith based organisations, women’s and men’s organisations.
· To provide policy makers and other key actors involved with human and social development, with guidelines for identifying and addressing gender concerns in order to inform public policy, including guidelines on the evaluation of the social division of labour.
· To identify and strengthen institutions in Fiji which promote and protect the human rights of women, in particular in relation to gender-based violence.
· To transform material conditions to achieve economic, social and physical security of men and women, including conditions which will build peace
· To facilitate legislative change and public awareness of relevant legislation and their implications.”
3. The rates of reported violence against women in Fiji are a concern. Of course we do not know whether the increased rates are as a result of increased offending or increased reporting. Certainly the Domestic Violence Act in 2019, and the Child Welfare Act in 2010 were intended to increase reporting. Whichever is the case, the rates are amongst the highest in the world. They should force all Fijians to examine the patriarchal norms they have grown up with, to question every practice at home, at school and at work to ask whether the practice affects women and girls in a discriminatory manner and whether these practices disempower women. They also force a re-evaluation of professional practices in relation to sexual and gender based violence. Have doctors, lawyers and judges been guilty of trivialising domestic violence? Have they persuaded reconciliation without ascertaining the safety of the victim? Have they turned a deaf ear and blind eye to signs of the abuse of girls? Have they in their own profession discriminated against women lawyers and doctors such that the professions themselves have become insensitive to the gender politics of their work?
4. If gender policies are to be effective, they must integrate gender perspectives into every sphere of human experience. To the law, to medicine, to training and education, and to capacity building.
5. The Fiji Gender Policy devotes the longest part to sexual and gender based violence. I set it out in full in this paper;
Gender Based Violence Service Protocol
1. Ensure the establishment and continuation of the Gender Based Violence Service Protocol to improve the provision and delivery of services to victims of gender based violence and individuals who are either vulnerable to domestic abuse or are likely to suffer harm due to physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse and /or neglect. The Protocol will recognise the need for cooperation and collaboration between the Fiji Police Force, the Ministry of Health, the Judicial Department and other services to ensure the appropriate provision of health care services, the timely investigations of reports of domestic violence, the prompt prosecution of cases and gender competent and appropriate counselling.
2. Ensure that the Gender Based Violence Service Protocol continues to provide an outline for action within the framework of the Domestic Violence Decree Act, and that it provides guidelines for key service providers attending to victims of gender based violence, in order that they are able to recognise the signs of such violence and to respond effectively to such victims.
3. Institutionalise measures to promote gender equality and mutual respect between men, women, boys and girls within private and public spheres, as a means of curbing gender based violence, including promoting gender sensitivity and awareness training for key personnel in relevant agencies, including the media, judiciary, social services, schools, and faith based institutions.
4. Conduct public education and awareness initiatives to improve critical understanding of gender based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, child sexual abuse, human trafficking and incest, including legal rights in relation to gender based violence, and ensure access to redress and support services.
5. Incorporate gender based violence issues sensitively and appropriately into programmes in primary and secondary schools, including the strengthening of School Child Support Services and the training of social workers and appropriately trained teachers or non-government organizations at each school to deal with such cases, to reduce and treat effectively with the incidence of gender based violence.
6. Promote initiatives which will enable women, including young women, to successfully negotiate sexual relations; asserting their right to refrain from sexual activity or to engage in safe sex, and educate men and boys to respect the rights of women and girls, minimizing the impact of date rape, forced sex, and gender based violence, and the spread of HIV and other STI’s.
7. Continue support for the Drug Education training programme with peer Education Training for Students and Training of Teachers within the integrated programme through the National Substance Abuse Advisory Council.
8. Support for self-report and victim surveys and research to identify the extent of dark figures of unreported crimes of gender based violence.
9. Identify social, cultural and institutional barriers preventing access to justice for women who have been victims of gender based violence, and develop policies to eradicate those barriers.
10. Conduct research and analyses of decisions and judgments of the courts in Fiji to assess any need for gender training of members of the judiciary and to make appropriate recommendations on the basis of such analyses to the Judicial Services Commission.
11. Monitor through the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Women the effectiveness of the provisions of the Employment Relations Promulgation which require every employer to adopt and implement a sexual harassment policy.
12. Evaluate existing labour policies and establish new policies which promote women’s economic empowerment including reducing the need for women to transact sex for money, thereby increasing their exposure to HIV and sexually transmitted diseases [STI’s] and violent behaviour.
Coordination and institutional strengthening
13. Establish functional collaborating protocols among social service agencies dealing with persons affected by gender based violence, and strengthen their response capacity.
14. Strengthen the Sexual Offences Units, to be operated by trained gender aware officers at police stations, to increase the level and quality of reporting of sexual offences, and to ensure that victims are appropriately assisted and supported through the investigative process.
15. Monitor the effectiveness of the no drop policy in domestic violence cases in the Fiji Police Force.
16. Expand the Police Zero Tolerance Violence Free Community Projects.
17. Institute legal literacy programmes for health care workers, with a focus on gender based violence.
18. Analyse the effectiveness of the Domestic Violence Act 2009 and ensure continuing review of its provisions based on the effectiveness of the implementation of the law.
19. Approve minimum guidelines for the establishment of shelters, refuges, and safe houses with professional gender competent counselling services for victims of abuse, and domestic violence. Implement strategies to ensure the provision of care for young men over twelve, whose mothers are victims of domestic violence, and who may be unable to be accommodated in most shelters. Such guidelines will include projects for income generation for victims of gender based violence.
20. Establish and continue safe houses for children who are victims of gender based violence and who need residential care in accordance with the Department of Social Welfare’s “Minimum Standards of Care, Children in Residential Placement 2007”
21. Separate victims of abuse from juvenile offenders, and preventing victims of violence from sharing the same facility as suspects awaiting trial for juvenile and other crime.
22. Ensure the privacy of women and survivors of sexual assault is maintained and that their identity is only released to the public with their consent.
23. Institutionalise parenting support programs, which include gender sensitive approaches and increased support to parents in more effective ways of child rearing, fostering gender equity in upbringing boys and girls, and promoting nonviolent ways of discipline and child development.
Counselling Services for Perpetrators
24. Ensure the availability of gender competent counselling services through the Ministry of Social Welfare and approved non-government groups for perpetrators of gender based violence.
25. Provide compulsory and gender competent counselling by counsellors who are gender aware, through the Ministry of Social Welfare and approved nongovernment groups for offenders who are serving terms of imprisonment within the correctional institutions for gender based violence.
26. Ensure that all counsellors in Fiji have a minimum qualification which includes gender competence counselling training, for providing counselling services to perpetrators of gender based violence, and provide a general registration regime for qualified counsellors. 27. Incorporate restorative justice in the counselling of perpetrators of gender based violence, thus encouraging perpetrators to take responsibility for their behaviour.
6. The Ministry of Health then issued its own guidelines in 2015. Described as the first guidelines in the Pacific on gender based violence for the health sector, it was reported in the Fiji Times as follows;
FIJI has notched another first as the first Pacific country to have a gender-based violence guideline for comprehensive case management, after it was launched on December 5, 2015 by the Speaker of the Fiji Parliament, Dr Jiko Luveni.
To be used by health workers, the guideline will ensure a uniform approach by all those involved when cases that have elements of gender-based violence present themselves.
The guideline entitled Responding to Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence against Women and Girls cover a basic understanding of gender-based violence (GBV), the role of health systems in the response to GBV, clinical management (as in the immediate health care response to GBV) and referral pathways.
The guideline is part of a general health system strengthening based on findings of violence against women prevalence studies conducted in Pacific Island countries — 10 so far. Both activities are supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Pacific sub regional office.
The guideline was launched during the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Violence, at the annual Fiji Midwifery Society annual scientific conference.
7. The guidelines include practical guidance based on clinical principles in assessing cases of abuse. For instance they say;
“Studies have shown that women are more likely to disclose such stigmatizing experiences if screening is done by a nurse instead of asking patients to complete a brief written assessment. Computer-based health-risk assessment has also been shown to encourage more disclosure and documentation of abuse when patients receive computer-generated health advice and physicians receive patient risk summaries. Researchers at the Centre for Research on Women with Disabilities developed a tool for identifying women with disabilities who are in abusive situations, called the Abuse Assessment Screen - Disability, or AAS-D. It is concise and relatively simple to administer in a clinical setting. …The basic components of safety planning should be done by the counselor or health care providers to identifying family, friends, or church members the woman could stay with if her safety were threatened; developing a code system with a trusted person to signal for help; and keeping cash, keys, and other important documents at a safe location. We have added to these the disability elements of preparing plans for emergency accessible transportation; alternative means of communication; keeping extra medications, medical supplies, and, if possible, extra assistive devices at a safe location; and arranging for emergency backup personal care assistance. Planning is also appropriate on safety measures in medical settings, such as having trusted persons accompany the patient and always keeping mobility devices within reach. Referral information should be on hand for the local police, Social Welfare Department, Legal Aid, and FDPF such as the local centre for independent living or home health care agencies. Acknowledge that healing occurs at varying rates and support the patient’s method of coping. Solutions to abusive situations are much more difficult to identify for women with disabilities, particularly when financial dependence and the need for personal assistance serve to perpetuate the abuse.”
8. What do we learn from Fiji’s experiences?
First, that we should acknowledge that we have a problem. Second we should take steps to remove legal barriers to reporting and to equity in the health, education and justice sectors. Third we should supplement laws with policies which actively aim to remove barriers to equality and respect in the health sectors, in the classrooms, in the employment sector and in the courts. For this, gender competence training is essential. Fourth, we should establish mechanisms for evaluating effectiveness of strategies and policies. Fifth, we should encourage civil society to conduct surveys and studies to tell Governments how well (or how badly) laws and policies are doing. Sixth we should use the treaty bodies and their reports and general recommendations to guide continuous change and improvement. Gender competence and the need for better responsiveness to violence against women cannot be static. Unfortunately perpetrators will not stop their violence simply because Government has passed a good law on domestic violence. They will simply find cleverer ways of perpetuating the violence.
9. Fiji has taken the first important steps to responding to the serous levels of reported violence against women and to encouraging better reporting statistics. However we still need to work harder at evaluating how well our laws and policies are doing, how effective the National Gender Policy is in responding effectively and in a cross institutional manner to sexual and gender based violence. In this sense, our reporting mechanisms for instance to CEDAW and at our Universal Periodic Review provides us with a good opportunity to assess our own success.
Nazhat Shameem Khan
7th December 2017