The income Pacific women earn from selling in markets is critical for their families and communities yet they endure violence and barriers in multiple forms while trying to do that.
This is one of the many issues surrounding violence against women and their economic empowerment that is being discussed at the Pacific’s major quadrennial meeting on gender-based violence taking place at the Warwick Resort in Sigatoka, Fiji.
“Market spaces around the Pacific illustrate the huge inequalities that women still face, including sexual harassment, unhygienic, inadequate and sub-standard selling spaces and absence of representation on vendors’ associations,” said Elizabeth Cox, a development worker who lives in Papua New Guinea, and whose passion for many years has been improving conditions for women market vendors around the Pacific.
Cox, affectionately known as Sabet, the former head of UN Women Pacific in Fiji, says the problems facing women do not just begin within the market precincts but start right from the women’s homes and plantations where they are often the main producers.
“Those problems begin at home, to get to market, on the way to market, at the market, on the way home from the market and when they are back home,” said Cox.
“These are all part of what we have to understand: that the violence is not just around the marketing and street trading.
“The violence is also happening before, whether they are allowed to go to the market, whether they have to take their children with them and then what happens to the money when they come home.
“Lack of control over the income is critical,” said Cox, who has worked with market vendors in PNG, Fiji, Solomons, and Vanuatu.
One of the difficulties women face is preventing their male partners from taking all of their income and savings.
The discussions taking place at the 7th Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women are focused on the multitude of issues surrounding violence against women in the Pacific.
Held every four years, the meeting gathers practitioners, government agencies, and their representatives and organizations responding to violence against women and children.
More than 60 people are attending the current meeting, which runs from Aug. 12 to 19 and is focused on the theme of responding to and preventing violence against women and girls in the Pacific.
The meeting has heard updates from 13 countries and territories on the work at a national level and how it links to regional and international mechanisms aimed at ending violence against women and girls.
Religious fundamentalism, patriarchy and cultural barriers and how they affect the rights of women and girls to live a life free from violence are being discussed.
Other topics include: the health system and the protocols for dealing with survivors of sexual and physical violence; women’s access to the justice system; prevention initiatives and how men can work with women to prevent violence.
A number of men working with women’s organizations to end violence in their communities will also be participating. These Male Advocates for Women’s Human Rights have undergone training on working in partnership with women to change men’s attitudes and behaviours about violence.
Participating at the meeting are representatives from the Cook Islands, PNG and Bougainville, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Fiji.