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Human rights, feminist principles essential for successful initiatives


Participants from the Pacific are meeting at the Warwick, Sigatoka, Fiji for the 7th Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women Meeting. (Contributed Photo)

SIGATOKA, Fiji—Prevention and response programs on violence against women must be grounded in a rights-based framework and feminist principles and accountable to the women’s movement if they are to be successful and sustainable, participants in the region’s gender-based violence meeting have heard.

The seventh quadrennial meeting of Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women (PWNAVAW) taking place at the Warwick Resort, Sigatoka, Fiji has been hearing from practitioners in places like the Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Tonga on the success and failure of programmes and campaigns to prevent violence against women and girls.

Experiences being shared show that initiatives that are women-led and use a human rights-based framework are more likely to succeed than those that do not.

The meeting heard that while different communities may need to use different approaches to ending violence against women, these must be based on the lived experiences of women and led by women to be successful.

“I believe if women are well trained and they have absorbed the principles of feminism and women’s human rights we can make an impact,” says Shamima Ali, the Coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC), which convenes the quadrennial meeting of Network members.

She said while women’s human rights workers may have to adapt their strategies to what is workable within their own communities, they must stand firm on feminist principles and human rights, “not compromising, not letting go, not editing ourselves out”.

A panel discussion on the best practices and principles in programs and campaigns to eliminate violence against women and girls heard that sometimes when men are brought on board as “champions” or leaders of these initiatives, the focus is taken away from women and girls and the violence they experience.

“When we’re talking about prevention and really getting to the root of ending violence against women and girls, we’re talking about challenging patriarchy, which is a huge system,” says Heidi Lehmann of UN Women Pacific, who was invited to participate in the discussion.

“Prevention is about transforming the way men and boys are socialized and taught to view, to treat women and girls. And when you are transforming something, you are challenging a norm; you are challenging a status quo.”

Lehmann says the focus of programs to end gender-based violence must remain centered on and accountable to women and girls—and that “language matters.”

“As soon as we start saying ‘male engagement”, women and girls literally are no longer in the sentence,” says Lehmann.

Lehman says not using “flowery language” is vital for successful prevention programs, “otherwise you talk all around the problem. Men feel good about themselves because they were at the meeting and things stay the same.”

Abigail Erikson, the eliminating violence against women specialist at UN Women Pacific, who was also invited to participate, highlighted the risks of programs and the messages they send out that are imposed by outside agencies who lack an understanding of the communities they are working in or by those within the community who do not have a thorough understanding of the dynamics of gender-based violence.

She has witnessed examples in the Pacific of various groups carrying out campaigns aimed at ending violence against women and girls, but whose messages skirt around the heart of the problem and at worse excuse men’s violent behavior.

“We need to make sure that those messages are not in any way condoning violence and that they are addressing what needs to be addressed to transform ideas and beliefs about why violence happens,” Abigail Erikson of UN Women.

Sometimes men being used to front these campaigns do not “walk the talk” and are not accountable to the women’s movement, further endangering the success of work to end violence against women.

Campaigns and programs must be grounded and accountable to the women’s movement, and reflective of their needs and aspirations, the meeting heard.

Convened by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre every four years, the Pacific Network Against Violence Against Women gathers practitioners and responders to violence against women and girls to review strategies and the status quo and share ideas going forward.

More than 60 women and men from around the Pacific working in the area of ending violence against women.

The PNAVAW meeting is supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (PR)

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