Representatives of Churches and Faith-based Organisations from nine Pacific countries gathered in Nadi this week (8-10 May) for a consultation convened by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resources Team (RRRT) to discuss ways in which to work together on implementing Domestic Violence and Family Protection (DVFP) legislation in the region.
Organised by RRRT with the support of the Government of Australia, and co-facilitated by UnitingWorld, the consultation focused on identifying common ground between human rights-based and faith-based approaches to ending violence against women, and working toward marrying these two approaches.
Twelve Pacific Island countries have now enacted some form of DVFP legislation, with Nauru being the most recent in May 2017. The main purpose of this legislation is usually to provide immediate, accessible protection for victims of domestic or intimate partner violence and, in some cases, enable justice for victims. However, as Rev James Bhagwan of the Methodist Church in Fiji pointed out in his opening remarks delivered to the consultation, “Legislation is one thing, implementation is another. We are now faced with the challenge of making this protection real for women and families.”
This is a challenge that RRRT is taking on; in nine countries, RRRT has Country Focal Officers situated in the government ministry responsible for implementing DVFP legislation. This work is undertaken together with governments, international organisations, NGOs and, indeed, faith communities, whose active partnership remains a critical ingredient in spreading awareness, breaking the silence and tackling the stigma around survivors accessing protection. Rev Bhagwan noted that there is nothing new about human rights organisations and faith communities working together; in fact the two often overlap and their histories are intertwined.
“Though they are sometimes positioned in conflict, it is increasingly recognised that there is an intersection between religious values and human rights principles, and that Pacific faith communities must be take the lead if efforts to protect women, children and families are to be meaningful and effective,” he said.
“It has fallen to us, indeed it is our responsibility to connect the head, the heart and the hands in this effort of guiding our communities of faith to recognise the divine imperatives at the core of human rights principles and in our Christian tradition – recognising that even beyond rights – are our individual and collective responsibilities to ensure dignity, safety and the vitality of our women, our children and our families,” Rev Bhagwan added.
The workshop acknowledged that, despite the work of both human rights and faith-based organisations, and despite some major milestones of progress such as passage of new legislation, the Pacific continues to be afflicted by some of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. The enduring scale of the problem mandates an intensified effort on the part of all actors working to end the violence, and closer cooperation than in the past. Human rights and faith-based organisations need to align their messages and, according to Rev Bhagwan, that means learning from each other and working toward a common language.
“For people of faith, that means being able to recognise the heart of secular human rights language. For those in secular organisations it means understanding the theological expressions used by faith communities. Your work is of listening and understanding each other, recognising the truths we both speak and the common objectives we all have.”
The consultation participants agreed that principles such as non-discrimination, equality, human dignity, access to justice, duty of care, love, peace and fullness of life were common to both human rights and faith-based approaches and could underpin this work going forward.
Countries represented included Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu. Guest speakers in attendance included representatives of the Pacific Theological College, House of Sarah, UN Women and the Fiji Police Force.