Modern manifestations of bride price, polygamy, early and forced marriages (sometimes including custom marriages), witch-burning and traditional forgiveness ceremonies to excuse or forgive violence against women (VAW) are some of the harmful practises against women in the Pacific Islands.
These practises are part of the large numbers of harmful practises committed against women globally, including female genital mutilation, honour killings, attacks with acid and stove burning, the UN Expert Group on Good Practices in Legislation to Address Harmful Practices Against Women heard in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia earlier this week.
The Ethiopian harmful practises meeting, consisting of 18 global experts from Egypt, Turkey, the USA, Kenya, Ethiopia, Belgium, India, the UK, Pakistan, Uganda and the Pacific, is chaired by Imrana Jalal, Human Rights Advisor at the SPC's Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT/SPC) in Suva, Fiji Islands.
The harmful practises meeting is the second expert group meeting chaired by Jalal that has focused on laws to combat VAW. The UN expert group meeting is part of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's special drive to reduce VAW and to increase the number of countries in the world that have specific legislation on it. Only half of the countries in the world have legislation addressing VAW.
The UN expert group heard that in the Pacific, even if some experts feel that bride price, custom marriage and traditional forgiveness ceremonies were not previously harmful to women, the ways in which they are practised in modern times have effects that are harmful to women. Many traditional practises have evolved into contemporary practises that are harmful to women.
In November 2008 Vanuatu became the first Pacific Island country to pass stand alone comprehensive domestic violence legislation. The Vanuatu legislation complies with global best practises by stating that the payment of bride price in custom marriage and compensation shall not be a defence against prosecution for domestic violence. Samoa is also currently planning to pass legislation to address domestic violence.
The UN expert group is developing frameworks for legislation based on best practises globally which will list options for new legislation that UN member states will be encouraged to adopt.
Jalal said the framework of best practises legislation to combat harmful practises developed at the Ethiopian meeting will further advance the global model framework for VAW legislation and will assist the Pacific Islands in developing legislation that is compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which all Pacific countries have ratified except for Tonga, Nauru and Palau.
(Source: Secretariat of the Pacific Community media release, contact Imrana Jalal, Human Rights Advisor at SPC's Regional Rights Resource Team, [email protected])