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Fiji women's minister defends domestic violence decree

ABC RADIO AUSTRALIAUpdated 6 December 2012, 12:36 AEST


Despite all efforts to curb domestic violence and violence against women and children the incident rates continue to climb.

According to a recent World Bank study, one in every three women in the world will be physically or sexually abused at some point in their life.

In some Pacific countries, the statistics are worse.

Awareness-raising programs on violence are growing in number, including the recently concluded international "16 Days of Activism against violence against women".

This year, Fiji's 16 days of activism focused on pregnant women and their partners.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Dr Jiko Luveni, Fiji Minister for Women

LUVENI: The pregnant women and their partners is the a team that has been selected by one of the NGOs, that is also doing a campaign during the 16 days. But the government is really focussing on declaration of zero tolerance of violence against women by communities. We have, many of our NGOs that are doing their own thing, in fact the government, out theme is to increase the number of villages, communities that can declare commitment to this zero tolerance campaign that we are doing, and then later on after preparations, they will declare zero tolerance, preferably before the next 16 days of activism next year.
COUTTS: How does the zero tolerance work? What are you proposing?
LUVENI: We are looking at evidence based results of the awareness that we have been conducting in the past so many years. This time we would like to have communities that can be strengthened, particularly with community support, so that the communities or women NGOs living in settlements can go through preparatory activities which entails firstly is the formation of a gate-keepers community within the community made up of church leaders, traditional leaders, women leaders, youth leaders and influential people in that community. Once that committee is formed they become the eyes and ears of the ministry at the community level. So their role is to keep watch on people in their communities, and also because of our violence against women decree, any cases that are reported to the police will not tolerate any other reconciliation that used to happen in the past. It is one drop policy. So that before any cases are reported to the police because the community have indicated to us that the violence against women decree is a bit too harsh, particularly when couples are able to reconcile almost immediately after an abuse experience. So that we have this gate-keepers committee that can mediate between the community and the police department so that the couple can undergo counselling, reconciliation skills and also connected to the community through the gate-keepers committee, so that there is a community effort, extended family effort to try and ameliorate what the problem is with this couple. And also that this gate-keepers committee will also look at abuse that is being done on women and children, particularly sexual abuse. So that they are the body that is present in the community every day, every time, and are available to women and children should they need some assistance in the reconciliation process.
COUTTS: Dr Luveni you said there that the decree has been considered by some to be too harsh. Do you think that it will be amended, and if so, how?
LUVENI: Well according to the communities it is harsh, but for us we will not amend it. The only thing that we can do is to have this gate-keepers committee that can mediate between the community and the police department. But the decree is there and it is there to stay, and the communities are being advised that should these abuse cases reach the police, there is no drop policy, and the decree will have to be upheld.
COUTTS: Is there a danger then your gate-keepers policy that the people you're asking to inform on their fellow community members might create even more violence, because they've been dobbed on basically or put into the authorities? Could that create more crime and more violence?
LUVENI: Right now the gate-keepers committees everywhere are undergoing training. Our skills development training, anger management skills training and they are to understand their role, their role in the community so that such instances will not occur, because they are in the villages there are some positive cultural behaviours that can also help in such cases. There are many negatives, which we are addressing, but there are some positives which really calls for respect for this gate-keepers committee, and also that the traditional Chiefs are also spearheading or chair these gate-keepers committee, so that through training they understand their role and they understand how they can address such issues so that they will not aggravate the situation.

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