Let’s Keep Push­ing Zero Tol­er­ance on Vi­o­lence Against Women, Chil­dren

Fiji Sun - - Comment -

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

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