Regional members of parliament from ten Pacific Island countries expressed strong political commitment to address all forms of violence against women in the region by signing a statement that sets out 18 points of action under the framework of the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign. This builds on the existing 2009 Cairns Pacific Leaders’ Communiqué, which acknowledged that sexual and gender-based violence is pervasive and under-reported in the region. Pacific MP’s stressed that strong political commitment is needed to ensure that Pacific women can lead lives free from fear and violence. The MPs felt that the Leaders from all 22 Pacific nations should commit to this Statement and lead the region to change this “shameful reality” faced by Pacific women.
The action statement was the outcome of a five-day SPC RRRT Pacific Human Rights Consultation for Regional Members of Parliament held at the Park Regis Hotel in Brisbane from 16 to 20 July 2012, of which one day focused on legislative reform in addressing all forms of sexual and gender-based violence. UN Women is supporting governments and civil society actors across the Pacific to better address violence against women, and provided technical supports on the issue.
Members of parliament discussed the alarming rates of violence against women. For example, in Kiribati, more than two in three (68%) women aged 15 to 49 who had ever been in a relationship reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner and almost half (47%) reported experiencing emotional abuse by an intimate partner. This is compared to the UNFPA SPC Solomon Islands Family Health and Support Study which indicated that nearly two in three (64%) ever partnered women, aged 15-49, reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, or both, by an intimate partner; 42% of the women reported experiencing such violence in the last 12 months. Data from the studies on violence against women in the region is now a rich resource which informs policy and legislative change.
Comprehensive legislative reform, including reform of outdated laws that addresses assault and sexual assault, and improved family law, in addition to the development of specific domestic violence legislation, is one vital step towards addressing violence against women and within families. Members of parliament reviewed progress countries in the region are making in enacting laws to address this regional concern — Vanuatu’s Family Protection Act of 2008 and Marshall Islands’ Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act of 2011 are just two examples.
Members of parliament discussed the cross-cutting nature of addressing violence against women, children and persons with disabilities. It is hoped that this statement will be a catalyst for change at the national level, urging all government and development partners to take immediate steps to address all forms of violence against women.
Dame Kidu described the challenges she encountered in implementing human rights approaches as a Papua New Guinea parliamentarian, and emphasised that legislative reform, especially in human rights-related issues, demanded courage of the parliamentarians and careful sensitisation of their constituencies on the relevant human rights issues. She posed the following critical question to parliamentarians in attendance, ‘Why are we defaulting on our social justice contracts and yet we are not defaulting on our economic contracts?’
Source: UN Women