Kiribati's anti-violence bill under spotlight
Anti-violence campaigners in Kiribati say a bill that aims to stop domestic violence has been misunderstood and cannot be blamed for a spate of murders in the country.
Anti-violence advocates in Kiribati say a bill that aims to stop domestic violence has been misunderstood and cannot be blamed for inciting a spate of murders in the country.
Five women have been violently killed in the past six months, all allegedly by their partner or former partner.
Rates of violence in Kiribati are among the highest in the Pacific.
But as Amelia Langford reports, some people appear to be blaming the bill for the deaths:
The Kiribati Government has recently taken steps to counter high levels of violence against women including the establishment of a Ministry for Women, Youth and Social Affairs last year. The new ministry has since introduced the Family Peace Bill, which aims to ensure the safety and protection of all people, including children, who experience or witness domestic violence. The bill recognises that domestic violence, in all its forms, is unacceptable behaviour and a crime. But its Minister, Tangariki Reete, is upset some people in Kiribati appear to think the bill may have contributed to the recent attacks on women.
TANGARIKI REETE: What I heard from people - the bill is something that has made a barrier between a wife and husband and we are working on that, at the ministry, to do an awareness programme to tell the community that the bill does not support women only. The bill is for men and the family as a whole.
Tangariki Reete says the aims of the legislation and the role of the ministry both appear to have been misunderstood. Ms Reete says the ministry is doing all it can to stop violence and it is not empowering women over men. She is very concerned about the recent violence but says the ministry cannot be blamed for the actions of the individual.
TANGARIKI REETE: The Ministry and the Government has nothing to do with the behaviour that has been done, it is the individual's behaviour not the Government. What has been done to these women that's the individual's behaviour of a perpetrator not the ministry.
Kiribati's Minister for Education, Maere Tekanene, who has researched gender-based violence, also thinks the Family Peace Bill has been misunderstood by some.
MAERE TEKANENE: The Family Peace Bill isn't just protecting women but it also protects everyone in the family, it protects the men and it protects children.
Maere Tekanene says more advocacy work needs to be undertaken by men - so men are also championing the anti-violence message. She is also disturbed by some local media reports that appear to blame the female victims of violence.
MAERE TEKANENE: I think sometimes the way we convey the news to the public is victim-blaming and that shouldn't be the case. It is not encouraging the ending of violence to women.
Kiribati Independent publisher and editor, Taberannang Korauaba, worries the media might play a role in encouraging copycat behaviour and he believes journalists should stop reporting the details of violent deaths.
TABERANNANG KORAUABA: We spend a lot of time telling stories about how the women were killed. I think that is unfair. We need to be looking at how we can balance the stories so we can empower women and we can empower society that this is not right and everyone can stand up against men who are committing such crimes.
Taberannang Korauaba says media groups in Kiribati are going to start working together to raise awareness about violence prevention and the law - rather than putting emphasis on the crime itself. Mr Korauaba says the media want to sell a story but also need to be aware of the possible implications of their reporting especially in a small island nation like Kiribati. He doesn't have much faith in the legislation and believes it could create more problems.
TABERANNANG KORAUABA: I don't think that the bill will make things better. The problem is from the grassroots. The government and those who are working in the ministry need to go and talk to the men because in the family, just say in the law outside of the family, we say 'this is the law' but when we all go back to our home we say 'the man is head of the family' so what is the importance of the law when people on the ground are not obeying the law?
In a statement, the police commissioner of Kiribati, Loeru Tokantetaake, also says he has doubts about the Family Peace Bill.
LOERU TOKANTETAAKE STATEMENT: I personally think the Family Peace Act can do very little but the people themselves need cultural change and that cannot happen overnight. It may take 50 to 100 years. The Kiribati culture that people were brought up in and taught to strictly observe is the norm that women are generally expected to behave - with limited rights.
Loeru Tokantetaake says there are practical limits to the law and the police cannot be everywhere to prevent or stop violence. But he says Kiribati police have moved to a more community-minded approach since 2005. That includes introducing public awareness campaigns and community education programmes, which mainly focus on the human rights of women and children. He says he is concerned about the possible effects of the Family Peace Law.
LOERU TOKANTETAAKE STATEMENT: My concern is that after passing the bill, such incidents may tend to increase. It is an avenue for further research to determine whether the bill, or education and public awareness programmes, are doing the right thing.
But the head of UNICEF's office in Kiribati and the UN joint presence, Nuzhat Shahzadi, says she is optimistic the bill will be accepted. Ms Shahzadi says during the development of the bill, consultation was undertaken all over the country and the bill had the communities' support in its implementation. But she says changing behaviour and attitudes takes time.
NUZHAT SHAHZADI: According to the culture of context, some abused people don't even realise it is an abuse. Those sort of things also happen. I think things will grow better but then there has to be more effort here, more care for looking into the issues, and supporting the victims and also more systems in place.
Nuzhat Shahzadi says the reporting system could be made more user-friendly as it is not easy for a woman or girl to go to the police. She also says family members and neighbours should encourage victims to report a crime. Meanwhile, a 2008 study, prepared by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, found almost 70 percent of women in Kiribati had experienced some form of violence. It found the majority of those women did not seek help because they believed that the violence was 'normal'. The study found many of the men interviewed used the concept of 'culture' as an excuse for violence.
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