NAMULAUULU TAUTALA MAUALA:
Secretary-General, Samoa Red Cross.
“Given the high rates of violence against women and girls (VAWG) in the Pacific, the workshop delegates strongly urge Pacific governments to prioritize addressing gender based violence (GBV) at the very outset of an emergency response alongside other lifesaving priorities,” said Ms Shamima Ali, Coordinator of Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) and Secretariat of the Pacific Network Against Violence Against Women.
Representatives from relevant government ministries, including National Disaster Management Offices (NDMO), as well as police, civil society organizations (CSO’s) and women’s crisis centres from across Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu participated in preparing key outcomes for preventing and responding to gender-based violence in emergencies (GBViE).
Participants from the workshop are urging governments, UN Agencies, and development partners to prioritise GBV prevention and response in a disaster and to ensure women’s leadership and active participation in all aspects of disaster response. Other key recommendations include increasing funding for GBV preparedness and response work; ensuring strong coordination through dedicated GBV sub-clusters and national preparedness plans and adopting International Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) guidelines on addressing GBV in humanitarian action.
Participants said the workshop, a first for the Pacific with the range of key ministries, agencies and organisations, was a unique opportunity to work together on GBViE within their country groups as well as regionally.
“As most key stakeholders are here, we can cover the key issues and have a plan to bring back to the ministries and relevant agencies to move forward on GBViE for Samoa,” said Malia Pisi, Senior Disaster Management Officer and Head of Logistics (in an emergency), National Disaster Management Office, Samoa.
Namulauulu Tautala Mauala, Secretary-General, Samoa Red Cross Society added “we need to work alongside each other to address GBV in Samoa, advocate for the most at-risk and ensure evacuation centres are safe places in a disaster. Gender and diversity should be part of everything we do, so all voices are heard.”
Merilyn Tahi, Coordinator of Vanuatu Women’s Centre said “now I see the link between disasters and GBV and I have a clear understanding of how to advocate and work within the cluster system, while keeping a focus on violence against women and girls (VAWG).”
Representatives from national police forces in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands committed their support to the issue of GBViE. “We have a responsibility to survivors of GBViE and to make sure offenders are held accountable. I will be recommending new mechanisms for police officers in Solomon Islands to know how to deal with GBV in an emergency,” said Solomon Sisima, Superintendent, Royal Solomon Police Force and Director for National Crime Prevention and GBV Centre.
Inspector Davis Saravanu, Officer-in-Charge with the Family Protection Unit, Vanuatu Police Force added “GBV is an issue of power and control. Things are changing slowly with the mindsets of men, but we need better awareness that violence against women is not in our practice or our culture, it’s a crime.”
The regional GBViE workshop included people living with disabilities and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities with representatives from Fiji Disabled People’s Federation (FDPF), Pacific Disability Forum (PDF), Pacific Rainbow Advocacy Network (PRAN) and Rainbow Pride Foundation.
Lanieta Tuimabu, Office Manager with FDPF highlighted “women living with disabilities are more at risk of gender-based violence in emergencies, but it is a silent issue. We need to advocate at all levels to ensure gender-based violence is reported.”
“Women with disabilities must be involved in disaster planning and implementing as our needs are not ‘one-size-fits-all’. We are especially at risk of gender-based violence in emergencies, but we can also provide assistance to others,” added Luisa Mana, Gender Intern with PDF.
“LGBT people are also victims of GBViE, so we need to include diverse groups in planning for disaster response,“ said Lasarusa Seru Nabairivalu, transgender woman and Programme Intern (Disaster Risk Reduction, Economic Empowerment and Creative Arts) with Rainbow Pride Foundation, Fiji.
The regional GBViE workshop highlighted the interconnection between VAWG and emergencies as well as the need for increased participation by women and diverse groups in disaster planning and response.
Lesila Lokotui To’ia, Staff Team Leader and Community Education Training with Women and Children’s Crisis Centre, Tonga said “the regional workshop has helped me know more about GBV prevention and response strategies in emergencies. As GBV rates are high in Tonga during peace times, we are sure they will accelerate in an emergency and we need to ensure vulnerable people have our assistance and support.”
“It is important to anticipate and prevent violence within communities during disasters, when existing issues are amplified. I am encouraging more participation by women in local government to ensure we address safety concerns in disaster response and recovery,” added ‘Eva Tuipeatau-Tu’uholoaki, Deputy CEO Local Government and Community Development division with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Tonga.
The Regional Training Institute of Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) delivered the five-day workshop in close partnership with UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office (MCO).
FWCC is working towards the elimination of violence against women in Fiji and the Pacific region and provides 24-hour counselling and emergency support; community education to raise awareness on violence against women as a human rights violation; and male advocacy to change engrained attitudes which promote and perpetuate gender inequality.
UN Women has worked in partnership with FWCC on advancing capacity building for GBV response in Fiji, and supporting activities to prevent GBV, including in disasters.
UN Women Fiji MCO’s EVAWG programme aims to help women and girls live a life free from violence by providing technical assistance in developing national legislation and policies on GBV as well as technical and financial support to Pacific-led organizations focused on prevention and service provision.