Gender-Based Violence; Speak About It, Discuss It At Every Opportunity: Vuniwaqa

The following is Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Mereseini Vuniwaqa’s opening speech at the gender, violence against women and human rights training for the Republic of Fiji Military
09 May 2017 11:03
Gender-Based Violence; Speak About It, Discuss It At Every Opportunity: Vuniwaqa

The following is Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Mereseini Vuniwaqa’s opening speech at the gender, violence against women and human rights training for the Republic of Fiji Military Forces at the Pearl Resort Fiji on May 8, 2017.



The chief of staff – Fiji Military Forces, the co-ordinator – Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, senior officials of the Fiji Military Forces, friends from the media, ladies and gentleman; good morning.

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be here with you this morning to open this training of military personnel on the topics of Gender, Violence against Women, and Human Rights.

I must also from the outset thank the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre for their constant support towards my ministry in ensuring that gender becomes everyone’s agenda. They have been instrumental in facilitating the series of trainings of this kind that we have been organising.

So why is the topic of gender important for the military? From what I understand, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces has the overall responsibility under section 131 of the Constitution to ensure at all times the security, defence and well-being of Fiji and all Fijians.  And we all know that when the Constitution says all Fijians, it is referring to our national population ratio of 49 per cent females to 51 per cent males.  With that kind of ratio, gender mainstreaming into all RFMF’s operational and administrative agendas is crucial ie. if RFMF is to effectively fulfill its mandate of ensuring at all times the security, defence and well being of all Fijians.

This constitutional mandate will become even more of a challenge if we were to consider that the male to female ratio of soldiers in the RFMF is now approximately 1:10, compared to around 1:26 10 years ago.  This ratio becomes even more skewered if we are to consider those females who are in positions of leadership and who actually influence decision making in the military.  With these statistics, training on gender becomes very critical for the military and I hope that such training will become part and parcel of every basic recruit training done by the RFMF, if it isn’t included already.

Apart from this constitutional mandate, women also play an important role in the Military as military personnel. Approximately, 1 in every 10 soldiers in the RFMF today are females.  Females in the military mostly occupy non-combatant roles in the admin, logistics or support cadre – an indication of the impact of gender in the military. In that context, it also makes it important for male soldiers to be attuned to gender issues. As peacekeepers and as a key national human resource during times of disaster, military personnel may become the first persons to come in contact with women who are in need of humanitarian and protective assistance. Military forces from developing countries like ours have become increasingly important as facilitators of government’s foreign policy, taking part in peacekeeping operations, military exercises and humanitarian relief missions. In executing these crucial duties, it is very important that our officers uphold human rights and be gender sensitive at all times. Our own military force has a proud history and has been the training ground for some of the greatest leaders of our nation.

Our National Gender Policy which was launched in 2014 has as its main backbone the realisation of gender mainstreaming across Government with the ultimate aim of achieving gender equality. The Policy supports the Government development plan and is the guiding national policy on gender equity, equality, social justice, and sustainable development. Specific aims of the policy are to improve the quality of life of men, women, boys, and girls at all levels of society through the promotion of gender equity and equality; reinforce the complex links between gender equality and sustainable development goals in national development; promote active and visible gender mainstreaming in all sectors and within civil society to ensure agency for gender equity and equality in all spheres of national life; and remove all forms of gender inequality and gender discrimination in Fiji. As per the implementation framework we have managed to establish a group of Gender Focal Officers from across Government who help us progress and monitor the implementation of the policy in their respective agencies.

While we’re taking steady and solid steps in making gender mainstreaming a matter of priority, another important issue that this training will address is the cancer that is consuming our society every day in the form of violence against women. Violence against women is the most extreme form of global and systemic inequality experienced by women and girls. It knows no geographic, socio-economic or cultural boundaries. Violence against women and girls is among the most universal and pervasive human rights violations, affecting at least a billion women across the globe.

What makes today’s forum even more important is that you will be hearing from experts who deal with the incidence of violence against women as part of their mandate.  It is an opportunity to hear about their roles and maybe the challenges and opportunities that they see in enforcing the laws and policies in place to address violence against women.

Violence against women and girls is a social problem that many people witness and experience throughout their life cycle; sometimes as victims and sometimes as aggressors. Too many of our children witness the incidence of domestic violence within their homes on a daily basis.  Too many of our female relatives, our grandmothers, our mothers, sisters and daughters become victims of violence in their own homes at the hands of their male relatives on a daily basis.  And in some settings, violence in these circumstances is still being seen as justified and as such it goes unreported.

Whilst it is true that men can also be victims of such violence, statistics show that such incidences are negligible when compared to incidences where women are the victims.  The ferocity, frequency and consistency of men’s violence against women are statistically and significantly higher.  Gender-based violence in a domestic setting thrives in our silence. It is therefore important that we speak about it and that we discuss it at every opportunity. The message needs to be consistently loud, clear and unequivocal that Violence against Women and Children is illegal. It is immoral.  It can never be justified.  An apology doesn’t cut it.  It needs to be punished.  And if we don’t make that message consistently loud, clear and unequivocal now, we will run the risk of raising a generation of Fijians who will grow up thinking that gender based violence can be justified in certain circumstances.

It is a matter of shame and disgrace that violence against women is reported in such high numbers in Fiji. Our combined action is well overdue to combat this life threatening problem. A report by the Fiji Women Crisis Centre, “Somebody’s Life, Everybody’s Business”, revealed that 72 per cent of Fijian women experience one or more types of violence in their lifetime from their husbands or intimate partners.  This includes physical, emotional and sexual violence. The survey also highlighted that women were beaten during pregnancies and raped by their husbands or partners after physical abuse.  In more recently received statistics from the Fiji Police Force, in the year 2016, 1904 cases of physical violence and 559 cases of sexual offences against women have been reported.

It is the protectors of human rights and dignity like you who need to firstly understand how violence against women is destroying peace within homes and the negative impact it creates on the lives of each and everyone involved in it. Laws alone are not enough. We as individuals, must do more. We must all stand up against abusive behaviour. We all have a role to play in ending violence against women.

Fiji can no longer afford to let its women suffer in silence.  Our domestic violence helpline is going to further break the silence on violence. But we need your help. We need you to work with us in eliminating violence against women to ensure that women enjoy their human rights just as well as men do. I urge you to learn as much as you can in this week in relation to these issues and concepts that I’ve talked about and protect our women, empower them and help them live a life free from violence and discrimination. With these words, I am honored to declare this training open.

Thank you.

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