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‘Crisis within a crisis’: Violence against women surges in Fiji

Suva, Fiji – Much of archipelagic Fiji was compelled indoors by lockdowns and a nationwide curfew in March final 12 months when the South Pacific nation recorded its first case of COVID-19.

The fast and decisive motion by legislators was profitable in serving to include the unfold of a extremely contagious virus and acquired worldwide reward.

But in different methods, the coverage has scarred the nation.

Civil society teams say that social isolation and confinement is proving way more harmful for most of the nation’s women than the lethal virus stalking the outside.

Activists and non-governmental organisations report a “concerning increase” in violence against women and ladies because the pandemic started in a nation the place charges of home violence had been already among the many highest in the world.

“It (the pandemic) has definitely increased [violence against women] compared with 2019 and last year – the frequency and intensity has increased,” mentioned Shamima Ali, the coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC).

“The beatings are getting really bad too – there is punching and kicking, which was always there but also the use weapons such as knives and cases of forced prostitution of women and children.”

The Pacific area, residence to simply 0.1 p.c of the world’s inhabitants, has a few of the highest charges of violence against women and ladies globally.

On common, 30 p.c of women worldwide skilled some type of bodily or sexual violence, principally by an intimate accomplice earlier than the pandemic, in line with the United Nations.

The determine was twice as excessive in Fiji, the place some 64 p.c of women mentioned they’d been the goal of some type of abuse. The numbers had been equally excessive in different Pacific islands together with Kiribati (68 p.c), the Solomon Islands (64 p.c) and Vanuatu (60 p.c).

Although there have been no research but to find out the total scale of Fiji’s post-COVID-19 home violence, the suggestions from women’s teams, coupled with developments seen abroad, point out a grim state of affairs, fuelled by the rise in unemployment and poverty which have accompanied the pandemic.

Experts describe the development as a ”disaster within a disaster” and warn that except pressing motion is taken, the social material of the area is in danger.

The FWCC’s toll-free nationwide helpline recorded a 300 p.c improve in home violence-related calls one month after curfews and lockdowns had been introduced, together with 527 in April, 2020, in contrast with 87 calls in February and 187 in March.

While the lockdown has been eased, the curfew – from 11pm till 4am every evening – stays in pressure.

‘Shadow pandemic’

The UN reviews that each one varieties of violence against women and ladies intensified worldwide in the course of the pandemic, labelling it the “Shadow Pandemic”.

Ali says the basis trigger for the violence is a pervasive tradition of patriarchy and entrenched attitudes throughout Fijian society in which women are considered as “second-class citizens”.

“And then you add on the issues of religion, which is very patriarchal also. We have a deep belief and reverence for religion and it is often used to keep women oppressed,” Ali mentioned.

These pre-existing home violence triggers have been exacerbated by the pressures inflicted by the pandemic’s socioeconomic impacts.

With a inhabitants of 900,000, Fiji is the Pacific’s second-largest financial system and a common vacationer vacation spot.

The decline in worldwide journey and the next collapse of worldwide tourism led to greater than 115,000 job losses in the nation, in addition to an total financial contraction of 21 p.c in 2020.

The impact has been biggest in the western a part of the nation, which depends most closely on tourism, which has worldwide lodge chains reminiscent of The Marriott Fiji Resort, Sheraton Fiji and Radisson Blu Resort.

Sashi Kiran, the founder and director for the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises and Development (FRIEND) in Fiji, mentioned males had been discovering it tough to take care of the stress of job losses, which was resulting in household violence and different social points.

The mixture of unemployment-related stress and social confinement, compounded by women’s lack of entry to the formal justice system, has created the right situations for violence to thrive, she mentioned.

Nalini Singh, the chief director of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM), says the rise in violence was not surprising. Previous crises have tended to disproportionately have an effect on women and ladies, she famous.

“It’s a great concern for us because violence against women and girls is already a shadow pandemic in Fiji; COVID-19 only makes the situation worse,” Singh mentioned.

Rajni Chand, the board chair of FemLINK Pacific, a feminist regional media organisation working with rural women, mentioned social isolation was “increasing and intensifying” violence inside houses.

“The woman is socially isolated, and in a ‘lockdown’ at home and the perpetrator is also in the same ‘lockdown’,” she mentioned.

The violence women and ladies expertise at residence can also be detrimental to their financial and political participation, in a area the place women are traditionally underrepresented in each these sectors.

A 2015 paper on Domestic Violence and its Prevalence in Small Island Developing States discovered that the price of home violence to the Fijian financial system was 6.6 p.c of gross home product (GDP).

More just lately, a report by the National Democratic Institute discovered that the “shocking levels of violence” in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands hindered women’s participation in politics.

National and regional governments, in addition to civil society organisations, have launched varied initiatives to deal with the difficulty.

In 2018, the European Union, Australian Government, United Nations, the Pacific Community and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat launched a 22.7 million euro ($27.5m) Pacific Partnership to End Violence against Women.

The key consequence of the five-year venture is to advertise gender-equitable norms by training to stop violence against women and ladies, in addition to empower civil society on the nationwide and regional degree.

Patriarchal attitudes

Fiji’s Ministry of Women can also be holding nationwide consultations to develop a “whole-of-government and whole-of-community” National Action Plan to stop violence against women and ladies.

But the post-COVID-19 surge has added to the pre-existing challenges, with requires these initiatives to include a extra holistic method in the wake of the pandemic and its gender-specific impacts.

“At the moment, there’s a lot of emphasis on reviving the economy rather than continuing with the work that was put in place before the pandemic,” mentioned Shamima Ali of the FWCC.

“Fiji is very lucky to have a robust feminist movement and we’re raising our voices to ensure women are included in economic planning but other countries [in the region] don’t have that.”

Ali provides that Fiji has a variety of items of progressive home violence laws, together with the Domestic Violence Restraining Order and No Drop Policy, which implies that authorities will examine even when a girl withdraws the case or there’s a reconciliation.

“These legislations do work in many cases; but they also don’t work due to the attitudes of the implementers,” she mentioned.

“There’s a lot of talk saying the right things but how it actually plays out in the system – the courts, police stations and medical services – is very different and does not often protect women.”

FWRM’s Nalini Singh says a long-term resolution was wanted to deal with the basis reason for gender-based violence – patriarchal attitudes – and encourage males to alter their attitudes and behavior.

“There is a need to allocate specific resources during the pandemic to deal with domestic violence,” Singh mentioned.

“The battle is still ongoing.”

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