Domestic Violence – Whose Responsibility?

If it were between countries, we’d call it war. If it were a disease, we’d call it an epidemic. If it were an oilspill, we ‘d call it a disaster. But it ‘s happening to women and its just an everyday affair.

A woman is in hospital with severe burns after setting herself alight. The attempted suicide was the result of an inability to cope with the constant domestic violence that she was subjected to by her husband – December 1998.
A young mother is currently in critical condition in hospital as a result of domestic violence. She and her children were starved and physically abused but the case against her husband will not proceed until she is discharged. This could take many months and her health has deteriorated so badly, that she may be in danger of losing her life. In the meantime her husband is free to enter her hospital room to pressurise her to drop charges and give him custody of their children – November 1998.
A man knifes his wife to death outside a public hospital full view of hospital staff and patients – September 1998

A man cuts off the ears of his de-facto wife with a razor blade and then repeatedly punches and kicks her. After the incident the 18 year old woman hangs herself – September 1998.
A woman is unable to move on her own after a vicious attack by her father-in-law. He slashes her with a knife at least 10 times, leaving her without an arm and severely damaging her leg – September 1998.
A 26 year old teacher is now a quadriplegic and in a rehabilitation centre following years of domestic violence. She will no longer work again and is literally being left to waste away. There is funding available for her to obtain medical treatment overseas but doctors are claiming that this would be a waste of resources and have refused to release her for overseas treatment – March 1998.

These cases are very real and all of them have occurred in Fiji over the last few months. Such cases do not reflect the full extent of the problem of domestic violence in Fiji. Many cases remain unreported and will continue to remain behind closed doors as long as society continues to regard domestic violence as normal, or to dismiss it as a private or cultural matter. If these very same crimes occurred outside the ‘sanctity of the home’ the hue and cry would be unimaginable. As long as domestic violence is tolerated publicly; is not recognised as a specific crime in law; is legitimised by custom and blamed on the victim herself, the crime of domestic violence will continue unabated, and many women and children in Fiji will continue to suffer gross violations of human rights within their homes.

Domestic violence has been the cause of an untold number of deaths, suicides, and mutilations, not to mention deep-seated psychological scars that have destroyed the lives of numerous women and children in this country.

Yet we still choose to ignore the problem, preferring to dismiss it as a private issue that is best resolved within the home. The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre has frequently been lambasted for “breaking up families”, with many of its critics preferring to blame the Centre for destroying relationships that have already been destroyed by violence. The reality is that the human misery that has been perpetuated within the home far outweighs human rights violations reported by Amnesty International. “Where recorded, domestic violence figures range from 40 to 80 per cent of women beaten, usually repeatedly, indicating that the home is the most dangerous place for women and frequently the site of cruelty and torture.” (Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 4)

In 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights resulted in the Vienna Declaration, which declared that the human rights of women and girls are an integral part of Universal Human Rights and that all forms of gender-based violence must be eliminated, including violence against women in public and private life. The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, resulted in the Beijing Platform for Action, which also recognised that women 0r violence in peacetime as well as in war, while protective laws lag dangerous behind. Governments, including Fiji, that have made commitments to honour the goals of the Beijing Platform for Action, have acknowledged that women’s rights are human rights, and are now committed to revising and enforcing laws and developing new laws where no protection exists. Domestic violence is one of these areas and raises once again the question of government responsibility for protecting women’s human rights.

The Fiji Government has made a commitment to addressing the issue of domestic violence in its National Plan of Action, a strategic objective of which is to educate the community and law enforcement agencies to prevent and eliminate violence against women and children. The Fiji Government has committed itself to introducing legislative reforms and community education programs as well as establishing support services and treatment programs to address violence against women. This is highly commendable but one is forced to ask, what portion of the national budget has been put aside to implement the National Plan of Action for Women? The best laid Plans are rendered meaningless if there are no resources allocated for its implementation. Our National Budget fails to do this and is perhaps a more accurate depiction of the degree of our government’s commitment to addressing violence against women than the National Plan of Action itself.

Raising women’s awareness of their rights is a crucial and basic part of building a movement against violence. The campaign to end male violence must be taken on by all levels of society, including government, judiciary, the health profession, educational institutes, law enforcement agencies, religious organisations, non-government organisations, the media and at the community level. We must all demonstrate a clear recognition that domestic violence exists on a magnitude that is completely unacceptable as well as display a willingness to address the issue. Unless and until this commitment is made by us all – we will continue to read and hear about the tragedies of domestic violence. The citizens of Fiji have a collective responsibility to condemn domestic violence and to give priority to the safety of victims/survivors. Everyone one of us must become intolerant of domestic violence and uphold the belief that no women deserves violence and that domestic violence is a crime. “Community concern for the safety of women must override consideration about privacy, the comfort and reputation of perpetrators and keeping relationships, families or households together whatever the cost!” ( National Committee on Violence Against Women, Australia, Position Paper, February 1992).

10 December, 1998, which is World Human Rights Day, marks the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is one of humanity’s most critical and empowering documents. As we approach World Human Rights Day, let us all commit ourselves to promoting and protecting the human rights of all our citizens. It is our duty, as Fiji Islanders, to ensure that our women and children are protected from the physical and emotional violence that so many of us have come to accept as part and parcel of domestic relationships. Are we prepared to take up this challenge?

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