“It’s everybody’s business”: addressing gender-based violence in Solomon Islands
It’s a busy market day in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands, and a small but vocal group of people are walking behind a banner that reads “STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, GIRLS AND CHILDREN.”
Some people ignore the group, but others stop to hear what they have to say. They hear that violence against women and girls is never acceptable. They learn that every woman and girl has the right to safety and respect. They discover ways to promote respectful relationships in their own lives.
This is one part of a multi-pronged strategy to end violence before it begins. One that IWDA partners Christian Care Centre (CCC) and Family Support Centre (FSC) have been tirelessly working on for years. Through awareness-raising activities like this one, they have been engaging communities in Solomon Islands in life-saving conversations – placing themselves firmly at the frontlines of the mission to end gender-based violence in the country.
Gender-based violence in Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, with 64% of women who have been in relationships between the ages of 15-49 experiencing physical or sexual violence, or both, at the hands of an intimate partner. This type of violence often starts at a very young age, with 37% of women reporting having been sexually abused before the age of 15.
“Violence is everywhere in our communities,” says Sr Rosa Catherine of IWDA partner Christian Care Centre (CCC). “Many have lost their lives – it’s important for us to remember,” she says.
Strong community attitudes that normalise violence, as a result of patriarchal systems of power, play a huge role in the numbers being this high. Sixty-three percent of men believe it is acceptable to hit a woman in certain circumstances, with a majority of women similarly believing that a man is justified in hitting his wife over matters like infidelity and disobedience. In general, physical punishment as a way of ‘disciplining’ women who act outside of accepted gender norms is frequent.
It is exactly these kinds of attitudes that CCC and FSC’s work is focused on challenging – combatting the belief that violence should ever be viewed as an acceptable response, while changing how women and men are viewed and valued in society.
A response with prevention in mind
“Violence affects everyone,” says Maylin Sese from IWDA partner Family Support Centre (FSC). “It has no boundaries. When it affects one in the family, it affects everyone,” she says.
FSC provides a lifeline to women and children experiencing violence, through counselling and legal support services. The Centre also plays a pivotal role in running campaigns to shift public attitudes about violence.
Last year FSC launched a short film about a young girl with a disability who experienced violence at the hands of a family member. The film showed the support that is available to people experiencing violence. It also showed the community gathering around the young girl to support her and stand up against the violence. By using the power of storytelling, the video reached close to 5000 people online with its important message.
“People need to change their mindsets into a good behaviour to live peacefully,” Sr Rose Catherine of CCC says.
Based on the outskirts of Honiara, CCC is one of only two safe houses of its kind in the country, offering medium-term shelter to women and children affected by violence. Through the safe house, they offer women escaping violence pastoral care and referrals to relevant support services.
In addition to being an essential lifeline to women when they need it the most, the Sisters who run CCC also spend time with the men perpetrating the violence. Accompanied by police to ensure their own safety, they often visit the homes of perpetrators to deliver Police Safety Notices and explain that violence against women is a crime that will not be tolerated in Solomon Islands.
16 Days of Activism in Solomon Islands
For this year’s 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, CCC and FSC will once again be making their message clear: the violence must stop.
For Sr Rose Catherine, events like this are essential to making their message impossible to ignore.
“When I see the parades, I want people’s attitude and behavior to change. We all need to help each other, because each of our lives are in each other’s hands,” she says.
With every conversation, FSC and CCC are reaching more and more people in their communities with a message that will save lives and turn the tide of violence.
This #16Days, you can be part of helping campaigners in Solomon Islands drive nationwide change to build a safer future for women and girls
You can support IWDA partners who are on the frontline in their communities saying ‘enough’ to violence against women.
IWDA partners with CCC and FSC to implement the Responding to Violence Against Women and Girls project in Solomon Islands, supported by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.