Tuesday 11 March 2009, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, New York
Pacific laws on violence against women (VAW) are outdated and treat women with indifference despite the globally high rates of VAW in the Pacific region.
Pacific Island governments need to make a concerted effort to review this legislation so that laws can better protect women.
Secretariat of the Pacific Community/Regional Rights Resource Team (SPC/RRRT) Gender and Human Rights Advisor, Imrana Jalal, made the comments whilst addressing members of the Pacific Islands Forum who attended the 53rd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) held recently in New York.
Pacific representatives from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, as well as Australia and New Zealand attended the meeting.
Jalal told those Pacific government representatives that only a handful of Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) had made some progress.
"Only Papua New Guinea (PNG), Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and more recently, Vanuatu, had made any progress in changing outdated and discriminatory laws and interpretations. PNG and RMI had made changes to sexual assault laws but not domestic violence and family law, whilst Vanuatu had addressed the issue of domestic violence."
Jalal said Fiji had addressed some elements of domestic violence in its family law but had not touched sexual violence or domestic violence in its criminal or civil codes. Despite being the first country in the region to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, Samoa had not passed any legislation addressing any area of women's rights, since ratification.
Jalal was at the UNCSW as chair of the high-level UN Expert Group on Best Practices in Violence against Women Legislation. The panel advises the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on best practices from around the globe in terms of laws which relate to violence against women (VAW).
She told the PICT government representatives that SPC/RRRT had won a substantial grant from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Trust Fund. SPC/RRRT had to compete with 1027 applicants worldwide for the grant.
The grant, worth USD 720,000 provides SPC/RRRT with some resources to work with PICT governments and non-government organisations to help reform laws which relate to VAW. SPC/RRRT was the only Pacific organisation to win one of the 28 grants available.
Jalal said the grant focused on addressing the issue of legislation specifically, and SPC/RRRT's effort is meant to build on the groundwork already laid by organisations such the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre (FWCC) Pacific Women's Network on VAW.
"NGO partnership is critical otherwise the effort would fail. In most PICTs the best legislation was driven by NGOs dedicated to its passing."
The UNIFEM Trust Fund Pacific project ties in with the expert group's findings on best practices globally. Jalal said the best VAW laws emanated from the developing world, not the developed world, citing Mexico, Albania and India as examples.
Jalal said that compared to global standards, Vanuatu's new domestic violence law is also 'pretty decent legislation', although it is far from perfect. She said there were no perfect laws in the arena of human relationships.
Jalal said that the goal of the SPC/RRRT UNIFEM Trust Fund project was 'changing laws protecting women and lobbying for legislative change in violence against women and family law in order to enhance protective legislation for women and girls in six PICTs'.
Initially, SPC/RRRT will begin the legislative reforms with the governments of Cook Islands, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Samoa.
'The project recognises that laws are not the be all and end all, but can be an effective catalyst of social change as well.'
Jalal said that there was no need to re-invent the wheel as the UN Expert Group on Best Practices in VAW Legislation had come up with a compilation of best practices from around the globe which could be adapted to suit the Pacific context.
Whilst in New York Jalal made four presentations at various CSW panels as Chair of the UN Expert Group on Best Practices in VAW Legislation and also a half-hour video on VAW legislation for the UN's Division for the Advancement of Women (UNDAW). The video will be available on UNDAW's website shortly.
For more information, contact Sandra Bernklau, Programme Manager SPC/RRRT +(679) 3305 582 or email: [email protected]
Background: The Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), which is a programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), works with partners in nine focus countries (Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa,Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru and Vanuatu) to offer training and expert advice on the development of human rights advocacy, lobbying, mobilisation strategies and the drafting of national human rights legislation. The team provides human rights training, technical support, and policy and advocacy services tailored specifically for the Pacific region. Its mission is to seek a Pacific region that is respected for the quality of its governance, the sustainable management of its resources, the full observance of democratic values and for its defence and promotion of human rights.