Pacific police look to remove barriers to justice for women
Police officers in the region aim to eliminate existing cultural and religious attitudes that have been creating barriers in getting justice for crimes against women.
Police officers in the region are trying to eliminate cultural and religious attitudes that have created barriers to justice for crimes against women.
A training program involving police officers from ten Pacific countries is currently underway in Fiji.
Indira Moala reports.
The regional police training program is run by the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre with officers from Kiribati, Tuvalu, Palau, Nauru, Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands, PNG, Vanuatu and Fiji and is sponsored by the Australian Federal Police. Issues up for debate have included Feminist Legal Theory, Human Rights Conventions and laws that deal with violence against women and children in the region. The Crisis Centre's Coordinator Shamima Ali says the lack of gender sensitivity has seen many female victims fall through the system.
SHAMIMA ALI: The crimes against women and girls are not treated as gendered crime - they're very gender neutral. And when the police force is not sensitized to those issues there are all these traditional, religious attitudes that police officers come in with towards women. But when you also have gender neutral laws then men also take advantage of that. And also a lack of knowledge of the laws and the different interpretations of how they can exercise those laws when they are treating with crimes against women.
Inspector Detective Maryline George from the Vanuatu Police force has been participating in the programme. She says it is very challenging to combat attitude problems in a male-dominated force.
MARYLINE GEORGE: The police women's are few and they cannot get access to training and promotions so it's still very challenging in the police force today. What we are doing is the police women, they have set up the networks where we combine with other pacific islanders and then these issues are brought up to the commissioners when they have their yearly meetings. There's times we share with the male officers this understanding and it makes our work easier to deal with female victims.
But Ms Ali says it is not just male officers who need to be sensitized when dealing with crimes against women.
SHAMIMA ALI: The problem is, even if you have female officers sometimes they behave badly also. So the sensitisation is really important. And definitely, we do advocate for female officers to be dealing with such cases. But again, trained officers - it doesn't automatically follow that just because they're female, they know all about it. They need all police to be desensitised.
Ms Ali says that in the past, getting justice for female victims of domestic and sexual violence has often been intercepted by customary practices for reconciliation. She says the region is slowly seeing a move away from those traditions, with law enforcers pushing that cases be dealt with in the court system with no cultural interference.
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