Violence Against Women in Fiji: Report From The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre
For The Special Rapporteur On Violence Against Women
We would like to thank the UN Special Rapporteur for providing us with this opportunity to report on the status of our country's progress in terms of implementing programs to eliminate violence against women.
The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre
The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) is a multi-racial non-government organisation (NGO) that was established in 1984 and is committed to the betterment of women’s lives through collective efforts against violence. FWCC provides a number of services to address the issue of violence against women, including free and confidential, non-judgmental crisis counselling for victims
/survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and sexual harassment. FWCC counsellors also provide victims/survivors with legal advice and accompany or refer their clients to court, police stations, hospitals and other agencies, upon request. FWCC also has a 24-hour telephone counselling line. Since opening its doors, FWCC has expanded and today has branches in three other parts of Fiji.
Other than its counselling services, FWCC conducts community education and public advocacy by conducting talks, workshops and seminars, and participating in regular radio programs. FWCC is also committed to undertaking research and documentation to assist in its work to eliminate violence against women in Fiji and the Pacific. FWCC has completed a national research on the incidence, prevalence and attitudes towards domestic violence and sexual assault in Fiji and also a smaller research to investigate the impact of the political upheaval of May 2000 on women in Fiji.
The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre is the first organisation of its kind in the Pacific region and over the past 18 years has done pioneering work to document, analyse and support the development of practical programs and services to deal with the problem of violence against women in contemporary Pacific society. FWCC was instrumental in setting up and is the co-ordinating body of the Pacific Women’s Network on Violence Against Women which is a network of women’s human rights organisations working to address the issue of violence against women in the Pacific.
The Fiji Government has committed itself to honouring the goals of the Beijing Platform for Action but violence against women, particularly domestic violence is still deemed to be a low priority issue by Fiji’s leaders, government departments, the judiciary and law enforcement officials alike. The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre welcomes the opportunity to present a report on domestic violence to the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and hopes that it will provide an impetus for government to implement appropriate measures to address the issue.
Current Status of Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
The Fiji Government ratified CEDAW in 1995. The first report to the CEDAW Committee was made in January, 2002. A shadow report was prepared by the Fiji Women's Rights Movement with input from other NGOs and was also presented to the CEDAW Committee.
Government Initiatives, Policies and Plans
In 1999, the Fiji Government launched its 10 year National Plan of Action based on the 5 areas of concern which it had committed itself to in Beijing. Taskforces made up of government agencies and NGOs were set up to assist in the implementation of these plans of action. Violence against women was one of the key areas which the government had committed itself to. The comprehensive plan outlined strategies which government and NGOs would take on to work towards the elimination of violence against women. However, it should be noted that while these commitments were largely progressive, through the successive governments there were no adequate budgetary allocations to these commitments. It should also be noted that the Taskforce on Violence Against Women, which included various departments like the Law Reform Commission, Ministry for Women, Social Welfare Department, Police, Health, Disabled People's Association and the Justice Ministry were working well together and had made some significant progress during the time of the Labour Government and prior to the take-over of government in May 2000. For example, for the first time ever, these government departments joined the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign (1999) - these included co-organised workshops and discussions between government agencies and NGOs around the country. At a public Forum held in Suva, the Attorney General made a commitment that they would give a reference for separate domestic violence legislation, the Minister for National Planning committed his Ministry to conducting research into the economical cost of domestic violence and following further lobbying the Minister for Women made a commitment to the tabling of the Sexual Offences Bill. These were significant progresses, not just in terms of work on violence against women but in relation to the history and progress of the progressive women's movement in Fiji.
Currently, there has been no significant moves by government to improve the status of women and work towards the elimination of violence against women. The Women's Interest Officers (government employed) who are stationed at rural outposts and are implementing programs for women remain largely isolated and under-resourced and are expected to implement the government National Plan of Action. Due to the fact that they do not have the expertise nor the resources to raise awareness on violence against women in their area, they often call on FWCC to facilitate and financially resource their programs.
However, a significant problem area is the elimination of one large sector of the community in various programs. Due to the racial divisions that exist in Fiji and following the political upheaval which aggravated this, Indo-Fijian women have been largely isolated form various programs. Firstly, the majority of Women's Interest Officers are indigenous Fijians and most of their programs are carried out in Fijian villages. Also, the Fiji Government has introduced a Social Justice Bill which is basically set out to empower the indigenous people through various government initiatives by the Year 2020. This Act is in direct contradiction with the Convention on the Elimination against Racial Discrimination (CERD) and most of the government programs are geared towards the objectives of the Act.
Constitutional, Legislative Reform
In 1997, Fiji adopted a new constitution which was largely progressive and had enshrined in it a Bill of Rights and it also ensured women equal citizenship rights. The two previous Constitutions (1970 and 1990) gave women second class citizenship rights in where women who married foreigners could not get automatic citizenship for their husbands whereas for men who married foreigners this was not the case. This Constitutional change in addition to the Bill of Rights marked a significant progress in terms of women' rights in Fiji.
However, there is no constitutional authority guaranteeing the prohibition of violence against women nor any other relevant legislation which passed or amended in accordance with international standards.
Although the Fiji government has made some progress in addressing the issue of violence against women, it continues to be a low priority in terms of review and reform of legislation, implementation of government policy and the provision of appropriate support services for victims/survivors. To date, Fiji does not have specific legislation on domestic violence and the few cases that do go to court rarely warrant custodial sentences. Sentences for domestic violence are minimal with sentences either being suspended and custodial sentences ranging from 2 weeks to six months, depending on the severity of the violence. However, it is very rare that custodial sentences are issued and most couples are made to reconcile in court. The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre had submitted a draft legislation to the Fiji Law Reform Commission (FLRC) and this area of law reform was being considered before the political upheaval of May 2000. Since then there has been no move by the current government to discuss the changes in legislation in this area.
The Government has recently listed the Sexual Offences Against Children as a Bill to be tabled in the current sitting of Parliament (July, 2002). However, the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre has been actively lobbying that all sexual offences should be looked at and legislation regarding sexual offences against women and children should be changed. In 1999, the Fiji Law Reform Commission commissioned a High Court Judge (Justice Gates) to look at the laws regarding sexual assault. A comprehensive report was completed and very progressive changes to legislation were suggested. A similar report was prepared in regards to laws regarding children. The Government is currently only considering changing laws regarding children. By avoiding the legislation regarding women, the government is committing a serious injustice to the women of the country in particular in light of the increasing crimes of sexual assault against women.
In September 1995 the Fiji Police Department introduced the “No Drop” Policy which requires all cases of domestic violence to be investigated. Prior to the introduction of this policy, the police force tended to put emphasis on reconciliation of cases involving domestic violence. Since the policy was introduced it is required that these cases be heard in the Magistrate’s Courts before charges can be dropped. Despite the introduction of the ‘no drop’ policy, the experiences of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre counsellors show that attitudes of investigating police officers towards women who are victims/’survivors of domestic violence lack sensitivity and there are considerable delays in the investigating process. Women who have been given Non-Molestation Orders (restraining orders) by the Courts for protection from domestic violence, are required to go back to court if the Non-Molestation Order is breached and they wish to press charges for the breach. The Police do not have the jurisdiction to arrest anyone in breach of a non-molestation order unless directed by the courts. This is a lengthy process and leaves the woman exposed to danger for considerable amounts of time. There is a great need for gender sensitivity training for law enforcement agencies and members of the judiciary, with particular attention to the dynamics of domestic violence.
In 1995, the police Department set up the Sexual Offences Unit (SOU) to deal with crimes of sexual violence. Of the four SOUs that have been set up, only 1 can be safely said to be fully operational ( this is the one in the Suva area). These units are largely under-resourced and are usually inundated with cases. The collection of evidence by Police Officers who do not have the required training has often led to many cases of sexual assault being lost due to insufficient evidence. Even the Department of Public Prosecution is ill-equipped to deal adequately with cases of sexual assault as they are not sensitive to the victims in their line of questioning which may result in the victim turning into a hostile witness and this sometimes results in offenders being acquitted. Sentencing in cases of sexual assault is highly inadequate and inconsistent with judges and magistrates totally insensitive to the victim/survivors of sexual assault.
Health services remain highly inadequate. In the Suva area, all cases of sexual assault are tended to at the gynaecological ward. While this is some progress in terms of privacy and some specialised treatment, not all medical staff are trained and many still remain insensitive and are judgemental towards victim/ survivors of sexual assault. In other parts of Fiji, there are no adequate facilities and proper equipment for collecting evidence for sexual assault cases. However, some of the medical authorities have begun to recognise sexual assault as a health issue and are conducting research into this area.
The only statistical data on the incidence of gender-based violence is from the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre National Research on the Incidence and Prevalence of Domestic Violence which showed that 66% of women in Fiji had been beaten by their partner. A copy of the Executive Summary of the Research is attached and a full report will be submitted to the Special Rapporteur's office.
All other statistics available are those of reported cases, mainly statistics compiled by the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre and the Fiji Police Department.
Support services for victim/survivors of violence:
The Fiji Government has no specific support services for victims/survivors of violence against women. The Department of Social Welfare has an insufficient number of specialised, trained Welfare Officers given the number of clients they see within a given time. These Welfare Officers provide general counselling services but they lack gender sensitivity and are not trained to deal with women or children who are victims/survivors of domestic violence. They also conduct Marriage Guidance counselling but there is a tendency to promote reconciliation between couples, even if domestic violence is the underlying reason for problems within the relationship.
Apart from the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre there are no other appropriate counselling and support services for women who are victim/ survivors of crimes of violence. While there are many other agencies who claim to have counselling services, they are focussed towards encouraging reconciliation in domestic violence cases and are very moralistic in their approach towards survivors of sexual crimes. FWCC has its main office in the capital (Suva) and branches in 3 urban/ semi-urban areas - Ba, Lautoka and Labasa. FWCC also has a wide community outreach conducting mobile counselling services in villages and settlements in rural areas and outlying islands. During these visits, counselling services are made available to women accessing health services at the medical centres.
Community Education and Awareness
The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre is the only organization raising awareness on violence against women as a human rights violation . This is done through its extensive community education program as well as through the community awareness and training for government agencies like the Department of Social Welfare, Police and the Military. A comprehensive training module has been developed by FWCC and is used in various training packages locally as well as regionally. International Human Rights instruments like the Declaration on Violence Against Women and CEDAW are used as lobbying tools to advocate for positive changes in Government policies. FWCC has also encouraged the members of the Pacific Women's Network Against Violence Against Women to report on their countries progress in regards to issues on violence against women and to submit the reports to the UN Special Rapporteur.
The Pacific Women's Network Against Violence Against Women which is made up of 33 organsations in 11 different countries resolved in their last meeting (February 2001) to bring advocate for more effective changes in terms of legislation and the ensuring of the human rights of women and children who are victim/ survivors of violence. FWCC and the Pacific Women's Network have tried to advocate for this view to be included in programs run by regional governmental bodies like the Secretariate for the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariate.