The Pacific’s poor record on gender issues is being highlighted by NGOs and academics.
Meredith Burgmann, president of the Australian NGO umbrella group ACFID has pointed out that the Pacific has the lowest number of female politicians in the world; fewer than three percent of elected representatives are women.
“Women’s representation is especially important given that 60 per cent of the countries in the Pacific do not have laws on domestic violence. Women in the Pacific face similar challenges when it comes to accessing health services, education and family planning,” she said.
A report from Amnesty International highlights sexual violence against women living in informal settlements in the Solomon Islands, where women’s vulnerability is increased by poor water and sanitation, making it necessary for women to walk long distances to collect water or use toilets.
But women in the Solomon Islands are at risk at home as well. A 2009 survey revealed that 64 per cent of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 had experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their partners and other family members.
Which suggests RAMSI, the international intervention force in the Solomon Islands, hasn’t been very effective given its mandate includes the aims ‘Ensure the safety and security of Solomon Islands’ and ‘Build strong and peaceful communities’.
Edwina Kotosuv of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement said a high rate of violence against women demonstrated the need for women’s issues to be addressed by women themselves.
“A lot of issues discussed about the violence on women did not actually come to the fore until women rights organisations in the Pacific started talking about the issue, and advocating bringing it to life,”
At the same time, UN head honcho Ban Ki-moon has justified the continued use of Fijian soldiers on peacekeeping missions – despite peacekeeping providing a source of income for the military that has enabled it to exist as one of the largest militaries in the Pacific, and given it the clout to maintain military rule. Ki-moon says there is no alternative to use Fijian soldiers as the UN needs security.
So, if violence in the Solomon Islands justified international military intervention in the form of RAMSI and the UN’s need for security justifies the use of members of an armed criminal group, what response is justified by the lack of security, and on-going violence against, Pacific women?
Sending in troops? Arming women?
Will politicians demand immediate action to deal with this wide-spread breakdown of law and order? Or will politicians continue to take a hands-off, ‘not our problem’ approach to this particular type of violence, while playing hardball over ethnic and political violence?