Let’s Keep Pushing Zero Tolerance on Violence Against Women, Children
This was a legitimate question asked last night: “Is Fiji making progress in tackling violence against women and girls?” The occasion was the Speaker’s Debate at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva.
It’s a parliamentary initiative by the Speaker, Dr Jiko Luveni, to engage the public and stakeholders in discussing important and pressing national issues that seriously challenge us. Dr Luveni can be described as a pioneer of the campaign to raise public awareness on violence against women and children. She launched her campaign when she became Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation after the 2014 General Election.
Dr Luveni set up violence free zones, villages and settlements. Fijian men were encouraged and convinced to change. The women celebrated and welcomed the groundbreaking initiative. Her successor Rosy Akbar has picked up the baton from her and is now running the campaign. Just when we think we are succeeding we see cases coming before the courts of men who bash their spouses; indecent assault of under-age girls and commit rape on the innocent and the vulnerable.
The cases appear to be increasing. But they cover only the reported incidents. What about the unreported cases that have been hidden from the public because of cultural sensitivity? The only way these cases can be flushed out is through public education to create public awareness. The Speaker’s Debate last night was a great forum and it would encourage public discourse. That would lead to real action and change. Over the years we have talked about this national shame. But it seems we have not done enough to rid ourselves of this national scourge. It is high time that we look deep inside our hearts and make a collective resolve that enough is enough. Not long ago, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said domestic violence had become the ugly underbelly of Fijian culture. He has subsequently seized every opportunity to condemn what he describes as “the epidemic of domestic violence”.
There was a time when male domination or superiority was part the norm in our culture. It sort of justified the kind of violence against women because it was perceived as men’s right.
Well, times have changed and this practice is abhorred, immoral and unlawful. It is no longer acceptable and we should all stand up and condemn it. We must protect the respect and dignity of our women and children. When we do it we will earn their trust and respect. It will replace the fear and distrust they have about us and our society. When men commit offences against their own family members, it is simply sickening and disgraceful. The pain, suffering and emotional trauma that individuals and families go through are beyond measure. They can last for an entire lifetime. The Government had done us a favour by changing the law to protect women and children from abuse. It has increased the sentencing regime including new offences of sexual assault and removing the archaic rules of corroboration which has made it difficult to obtain successful prosecution. But the new laws do not provide all the answers to this malaise. They may act as a deterrent but we see that men are still being hauled to court for violence and sexual offences. The only way forward is to keep pushing that zero tolerance message until it is embraced by families and communities.
My mother is the pillar of strength for me. I have always looked up to her while growing up and made her experience my ambition and followed her footsteps of becoming an independent, successful woman. Pooja Priyanka Miss World Fiji 2016