Respond, Innovate & Leave No One Behind to Orange the World.UNDP’s regional response to Gender-based Violence

SUVA  (UNDP)— The UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women and project partners joined efforts in a series of multi-country Livestream events on Facebook and Fiji TV One from 25 November to 08 December to mobilise the UN system, government partners, civil society and women’s rights organisations to advocate for a world free of violence against women and girls. 

Violence against women and girls takes many different forms in the Pacific. These include intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence, non-partner sexual assault, sexual exploitation and trafficking. Prevalence of these types of violence is high in the region; in most countries, it is much higher than the global average of 35 percent. National research shows high rates of gender-based violence (GBV) lifetime experience in Tonga (79 percent), Fiji (72 percent), Vanuatu (72 percent) and Solomon Islands (64 percent). 

In this sad picture, women and girls with disabilities experience much higher rates of violence. Current data reveals that they face up to 10 times more GBV than those without disabilities. Women with intellectual disabilities and psychosocial impairment are particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual violence.

To address violence against women, it is necessary to ensure all interventions are grounded in a gender transformative and survivor centered approach. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the existing gender inequalities in the society. One aspect stands out: equal access to technology is more and more crucial to ensuring public health and safety. Around the world, information and access to health care have largely moved online, and those left behind face grave disadvantages. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reports that more than 50 percent of the world’s women are offline.

Climate change effects are also responsible to exacerbate existing gender inequalities, often resulting in more negative impacts for women and girls. During and after disasters, women and girls are at greater risk of GBV, including rape, sexual exploitation, and assault.

In this context of physical distancing and climate crisis, preventing and responding to GBV in the Pacific region is more crucial than ever. Under the theme “End Violence against Women Now! Respond, Innovate and Leave no One Behind to Orange the World”, UNDP Pacific Office raised awareness together with partners, first-line responders, governments, civil society and private sector on ongoing prevention actions against GBV and the existing response GBV services available in the region.

During the live streaming events, various examples of innovative approaches and solutions were presented. For example, the Tonga Family Protection Legal Aid Centre (FPLAC) in partnership with UNDP are developing an online portal to enable GBV survivors to access legal information and reporting mechanism. 

In her presentation on Thursday 02 December, Fitilagi Faanunu from the Tonga FPLAC said, “The idea of the online platform is to provide information to survivors of domestic violence and gender-based violence in remote locations. There has been a significantly low number of people accessing justice and utilizing these services from the outer islands since.” 

“We know that violence takes many forms and we know for a fact that many who suffer from this type of violence can’t share it so, if this online platform can empower them to share that information and report it, it serves its purpose, so I commend UNDP for this great initiative,” Faanunu added.

In Solomon Islands, participatory theatre was applied to engage communities in advocating against GBV during the 16 Days of Activism. 

Neil Niua from the Solomon Islands Dreamcast Theatre commented, “We’ve had some powerful stories that have come out…when you put a gender topic into this scenario, you have stories that cover all oppression that women, young girls, children, people with disabilities face every day. So, gender equality for development is a model that is based on experience and we complement that with facts and data that we collect from the Ministry of Women, NGOs and IGOs.” Samantha, one of the actresses, added, “Theatre is the most wonderful form of advocacy in the Solomon Islands, its new yet captivating as it gives you more empowerment to stand in front of an audience and say what you want to say or do what you want to do and also you get to inspire many people through what you do.”

Thanks to stories of positive masculinities shared by the male champions Tevita Seruilumi, Family and Sexual Violence Legal Adviser and Lester Kisina, UN Women male champion, participants could recognise the importance of engaging men and boys at all levels of gender-based violence prevention and response.  

Speaking from PNG during the second event,Seruilumi said, “By engaging men to do this work, you really have to train them, Change is not easy but it is possible. You just have to have the right mechanisms in place and part of this is making sure that the men doing this work are aligned to the women’s movement, they are learning from them and taking directions from the women’s movement.”

“I believe men who do this work have to be grounded by feminist principles and have to have no shame whatsoever with the word feminism, or women’s groups, or women’s empowerment or women’s human rights,” Seruilumi added.

The livestream discussions have also highlighted how to formulate inclusive projects and activities where development is centered on the principle of Leaving No One Behind. If something has opened a door for drastic progress in the lives of women and girls worldwide, it is this principle. Leaving no one behind means prioritising human beings’ dignity and placing the progress of the most marginalised groups of persons/ communities first, especially women and girls being all too often at the top of the list.

In ensuring no one is left behind in our fight against GBV, promoting women’s participation and leadership in all forms of decision-making can challenge structural barriers and support the development and implementation of gender equality laws across the Pacific Region. 

In her opening remarks for the final event on Wed 8 December, the newly appointed Senator for the FSM Congress Dr Sappa Konman stated that to have a brighter future for women and children in the communities, elimination of violence against women is the key. “The response is here, but implementation takes years. Creating and enforcing those essential laws are the main factors to prevent cases in the communities,” Dr Konman added.

The events contributed to share good practices from the criminal justice system in responding to violence against women and girls. With financial and technical support from New Zealand, UNDP supports the Fiji Police Force to strengthen police responses to GBV. Being the Police the first point of contact for sexual and gender-based violence survivors, it is imperative that the police are equipped with relevant skills and practices to deal with the complaints of domestic or other gender-based violence.

SSP Bereta Naisua, Director of Community Policing, the Fiji Police Force said, “We understand and take serious preventative and reactive roles in addressing GBV within the community. The key to achieving this is trust and collaboration. We are actively doing all we can and this message has been reiterated to all officers from the senior command to the very junior officer by the Commissioner of Police.”

Ensuring that Agenda 2030 commitments are translated into effective action requires an increased support to women’s organisations and local/grassroots-based organisations, recognising their role as first responders, together with key ministries and the private sector. It also needs a precise understanding of target populations: collecting gender-disaggregated data for improvement of GBV services and programs is essential to inform a more comprehensive and sustained response to ending violence against women globally.

In closing the campaign, Deputy Resident Representative for UNDP Pacific Office in FijiYemesrach Workie challenged everyone to work together to protect women and girls against violence as a key principle in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. “We need to make every woman count. We all need to join hands with the aim of creating awareness and act to end violence against women and girls in partnership with governments and civil society.”

The 16 Days of Activism, which is powered by grassroots organisations globally, is an opportunity to leverage the renewed sense of urgency COVID-19 has created and propel concrete action against GBV. The process of building better post COVID-19 interventions should contribute to create a society free of violence, where women can enjoy human rights. The promise of the Sustainable Development Goals—to leave no one behind—cannot be fulfilled without ending violence against women and girls…..PACNEWS

For media queries, please contact:Emily Moli, Knowledge Communications Analyst, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji. Email; emily.moli@undp.org  or mob: +(679) 722 5301 

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