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Gender-based violence ‘is a pandemic’, survivor calls on Pacific govts to act

Saturday 9 December 2023 | Written by RNZ | Published in Pacific Islands, Regional

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Gender-based violence ‘is a pandemic’,  survivor calls on Pacific govts to act
Hennah Joku, journalist, GBV survivor and advocate. Photo: Supplied/ PIF/23120821

Pacific governments have a lot to prove in the fight against gender-based violence, a Papua New Guinean survivor and activist says.

"This is an issue that's worldwide," freelance journalist and gender-based violence survivor Hennah Joku said.

Joku said the issue is rampant in PNG.

"We as a region, really just [need to] face and accept that it is a pandemic," she said.

The UN's annual international campaign against gender-based violence is well underway, ending Saturday, 10 December on Human Rights Day.

The Pacific has one of the highest recorded rates of violence against women and girls globally; with two out of three women subjected to physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Joku said for many, conversations about the issue were hidden behind culture.

"[Gender-based violence] is not cultural Because of that cultural attachment it's a taboo topic," she explained.

She said Pacific nations needed to be celebrating culture not attaching it to gender-based violence.

"Our ancestors and forefathers didn't live like this," she said.

Pacific leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the 2012 Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration last month in Rarotonga.

Incoming forum chair Tonga Prime Minister Hu'akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni said there was a push for action at the political level to ensure change trickled down.

"Getting that political support is crucial," he said.

"I know we have adopted it before, this is basically re-energising the adoption," Hu'akavameiliku said.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat gender specialist Dr Fiona Hukula said real change following the declaration has been slow off the mark.

"I don't want to say that nothing's been done, I think there's been a lot of progress," Dr Hukula said.

"While we have a lot of work to do, there's been a lot of progress.

"But we do know that if we're going to really have an impact on our future generations we as Pacific people, all of us, have to own this issue and work towards a safe and free society that all of us can contribute to."

Pacific leaders endorsed the pledge in 2012. Ten years later, in 2022, there was a review of the declaration and now leaders have only just revitalised it.

"It's a declaration for all of us, including those of us who work for the regional agencies," Dr Hukula said.

"The partners who come in to support to ensure that we're working collaboratively and supporting the needs of our member countries to ensure that they're also able to deliver on this declaration."

Dr Hukula said changes were needed after the independent review, which found people were not aware of the leaders' commitments, there was no ownership of the declaration and no oversight.

"Now that the declaration has been endorsed, we are working on an implementation plan," she said.

"This is going to be a high level political commitment, it will be a high level implementation plan and monitoring and evaluation plan."

Joku is pleased to see the leaders make a commitment to ensure change happens.

She said action was needed now, not in another ten years.

"It will force the governments to realise how much of a pandemic it is, as much as climate change is and the other issues that we are facing.

"Papua New Guinea, specifically, and each of our Pacific countries to a degree, if you can just tackle gender-based violence, by default, you will automatically be addressing the other issues that come with it," she said.

However, she believes tackling the issue requires both a top-down and bottom-up approach.

"We have to be fixing our systems and our laws, changing what needs to be changed at national level, in our own countries that filters down to local level [in the community], district, and village level," she said.

Dr Hukula, who is also from PNG, believes having women in decision making positions is vital for real change to kick in.

"Having women at the highest level - political leadership - ensures that we bring different views," she said.

"When I speak to diversity, it's not just about having women there at the table, but it's bringing different views and views on many things, including gender equality," she said.

This pledge does not mention LGBTQIA+ communities but it does make reference to 'women and girls in all their diversity', Dr Hukula said.

  • RNZ