Fiji women's groups united against sexual violence
Fiji women's groups say the country's high rates of gender-based sexual violence exacerbated by natural disaster, enhance the vulnerability of women and children.
Women's groups in Fiji are calling for more to be done to combat sexual violence.
They say Fiji's very high rates of gender-based and sexual violence, and the aftermath of natural disaster, adds to the vulnerability of women and children.
This was highlighted by the recent rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in Pacific Harbour.
Dominic Godfrey has more:
The killing has helped galvanise the push by women's rights groups' for greater vigilance as the country struggles with the aftermath of cyclone Winston. The executive director of the Fiji Women's Rights Movement says gender based violence is very much a feature of women's lives in post-cyclone Fiji. Tara Chetty says it's an issue that is exacerbated by crisis.
TARA CHETTY: And we've also seen the reality of gender based violence and sexual violence in evacuation centres during this crisis as well, which has again brought the issue to national attention.
She says international best-practice protocols are in place in the evacuation centres but the breakdown of infrastructure creates greater risk.
TARA CHETTY: Where women and girls are now having to walk long distances to collect water, that can make them vulnerable, not just perhaps to violence but also to injury and other factors.
The United Nations has recognised the risk of sexual violence to women and girls in disaster zones. The UN Population Fund's Pacific office director Dr Laurent Zessler says his agency has recently provided sexual health kits to Fiji, including a variety used when examining victims of sexual violence. He says these are of a global standard which provide quality care as well as forensic evidence to law enforcement.
LAURENT ZESSLER: These kits allow the medical facilities to ensure what we call forensic examination. After these examinations are done, this evidence work should be done in collaboration with the police to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and prosecuted.
The newly appointed director for the Fiji Human Rights Commission, Ashwin Raj, says the country must put an end to this abuse.
ASHWIN RAJ: And to do that, we have to work together. We have to constructively engage all the institutions that work in this area; the state, the civil society, the international community... and I think that it's not possible to do this in isolation.
Ashwin Raj says once he starts at the Fiji HRC in the coming week, he will be able to focus on the challenge of changing Fiji's culture of sexual and gender based violence. The Fiji Women's Rights Movement's Tara Chetty says it's important that the leadership of women and girls be recognised to help empower them in tackling the violence and discrimination they face.
TARA CHETTY: How rations are shared out, how they're distributed, how they can reach other women and girls, that sort of immediate decision making, but long-term, women being involved in local governance structures, women having a greater presence in senior levels of government and in the parliament. Those are all longer term measures where women can actually be the leaders because they are after all the experts on their own needs.
She says the responsibility belongs to all Fijian society to end violence and discrimination against women and girls.
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