A new agreement between Solomon Islands’ Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs (MWYCFA) and UN Women will see the two partners supporting the implementation of the country’s new Family Protection Act through the creation of a national resource group on gender equality and ending violence against women and girls, and support for frontline personnel responding to reports of domestic abuse or sexual violence.
The resource group will include representatives from the main disciplines that play a role in responding to and preventing violence against women, including health, police, social welfare, justice and education, while frontline responders will get specialised training to help them be more effective.
These initiatives will be funded with the help of a US$600,000 grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, and UN Women and MWYCFA will also be working in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, UNFPA, UNDP, and other key stakeholders to implement them.
The activities are part of the UN-Solomon Islands Government Joint Programme on Eliminating Violence against Women and Girls (Joint Programme), an initiative that leverages the combined skills and specialties of six UN agencies – UN Women, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, ILO and WHO – and the Solomon Islands Government to create noticeable change for the country’s women and girls, and by extension the wider community.
The Joint Programme aims to strengthen capacity within government and civil society organisations to expand survivor services and prevention activities as well as changing the environment in which those services are delivered, making violence less acceptable through social transformation.
Solomon Islands has one of the highest documented rates of violence against women in the world. A Family Health and Study released in 2009 found that 64 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 who have ever been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner. Of those women, 70 per cent never sought help and only 17 per cent sought help from services such as health or police.
Despite the severity and extent of the violence, services for survivors are limited, especially in remote areas. Women often don’t have equal access to resources and opportunities, and those who look to challenge the status quo by speaking out against violence face cultural norms that encourage them to return to abusive partners, as well as formal, often legal, barriers.
Passed by parliament in late 2014, the Family Protection Bill is the first of its kind in Solomon Islands, creating a legal framework that criminalises domestic violence, while also acknowledging its dangerous effect on society as a whole.
The new law opens opportunities to create an environment that encourages and enables women to have access both to the formal justice system and effective survivor services, which will hopefully increase number of women seeking help when they experience violence.
Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs in Solomon Islands, Ms Ethel Sigimanu, says the programme is unique and offers an opportunity to build a stronger bridge between gender violence against girls and women.
“Evidence shows that adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to gender violence and that violence experienced during childhood is related to violence against women in adulthood. By intervening early and preventing violence in childhood, we can stop the cycle of violence that often damages entire families for generations.”
Nicolas Burniat, Deputy Representative at UN Women’s Fiji Multi Country Office, is in Honiara to sign the agreement and says the programme recognises the need to take an integrated approach to ending violence against women and girls.
“The programme brings together frontline service providers from a number of sectors to change the way survivors of violence against women and girls receive support, at the same time as building a stronger network between the service providers themselves. This makes a big difference for women and girls, enabling them to get to the right people, faster, and receive better assistance.”
The Joint Programme was officially launched with a ceremony and inception workshop in March 2015.