Addressing Violence Against Women Essential to Economic Empowerment

Report
from UN Women
Published on 04 Oct 2017

Wednesday 4 October 2017 (Fiji and Pacific Islands)–“Violence against women (VAW) is a significant economic issue which carries high costs to individuals, households, the public sector, businesses and society,” said Abby Erikson, Programme Manager of UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office’s (MCO) Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW) programme.

“However, we cannot lose sight of VAW as a violation of human rights - women have a right to live a life free from violence, beyond any economic justification for it,” added Ms Erikson.

Panelists - including UN Women, the Pacific Community’s(SPC) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), Pacific Women Support Unit, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) and International Finance Corporation (IFC) – highlighted the connection between VAW and Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) at the Triennial Conference of Pacific Women being held in Suva, Fiji, from 2-6 October 2017.

The Pacific region has some of the highest rates of VAW in the world, where two out of three women reported experiencing physical or sexual violence by a partner – double the global average.

Tara Chetty, Senior Programme Officer (Gender) for the Pacific Women Support Unit presentedresearch findings from the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG) led by the Australian National University in partnership with the International Women’s Development Agency(IWDA) entitled “Do No Harm – Understanding the Relationship between Women’s Economic Empowerment and Violence against Women in Melanesia.”

“Some of the WEE initiatives added to the tensions and conflicts that already existed around men’s financial control of the household, with men using the money for purposes such as alcohol that didn’t benefit the household,” said Ms Chetty.

“The design of WEE must address gender norms and power relationships in the household, otherwise we add to women’s workloads while putting women more at risk of violence,” added Ms Chetty.

There is a direct relationship between women’s access to income and an increase in violence and control – which hinders WEE and significantly impedes women’s ability to fulfil their potential – including education and employment opportunities, income earning capability and advancement in the workplace.

“According to the Asian Development Bank Country Gender Assessment for Fiji (2015), the estimated annual cost of intimate partner violence is 7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is due to higher turnover in the workplace, lower individual work performance, increased health expenses and absenteeism or human resources costs”, said Shabina Khan, UN Women EVAW Project Coordinator for Fiji and Kiribati.

However, earning an income or owning an asset can also reduce economic stress for women, increase their bargaining power in the household and give them the means to prevent or escape abusive relationships.

More needs to be done to advance government legislation, policies and national action plans on EVAWas well as remove legislative and policy barriers that prevent or impede women from having access to and control over savings and assets.

Neomai Maravuakula,Senior Human Rights Advisor with RRRT said “while legislation that criminalises domestic violence have been adopted in most Pacific Island Countries (PICs) in recent years, the current family law legislation in many countries still limits women’s control over property and resources."

Ms Maravuakula said “women can also have difficulty accessing services and protections under Family Protection legislation, partly due to not having the money to be able to travel to access the services or pay the application fees for legal protections.”

“Various aspects of Family Law includingmaintenance and custody legislation may make it difficult for women to keep the custody of their children. In addition, financial support that is provided through maintenance may provide women with additional assistance that they need to take care of their children,” added Ms Maravuakula.

Employment legislation is outdated in many PICs and often does not include sexual harassment - or if the employment legislation exists, there are no procedures or mechanisms to address issues such as sexual harassment or employees are unaware of the protection provided for under the legislation.

According to the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) sexual harassment research project in Fiji,20 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and most had not reported the sexual harassment, either due to fear, lack of awareness of policies or absence of policies in the workplace.

“Of those harassed, 81 percent of the women said it happened during normal working hours, with food service having the highest rates of employees experiencing sexual harassment at 36 percent,” said Menka Goundan, Team Leader Gender and Transitional Justice with FWRM.

Key recommendations from the session,includingimproved workplace policies around sexual harassment, removing legislative barriers to WEE in outdated family law and ensuring WEE programmes also address gender and social norms, were submitted in a collective outcomes document for consideration during the 6th Meeting of Ministers for Women.

Women’s economic empowerment is the theme of the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and the 6th Meeting of Ministers for Women, primarily coordinated by ‘conference secretariat’ the Pacific Community (SPC), in collaboration with the multi-partner ‘steering committee’, and principally supported by the Australian Government.

UN Women’s Ending Violence against Women and Girls (EVAWG) Programme aims to help women and girls live a life free from violence. It is designed around international and Pacific evidence that promotes a holistic approach; empowering women and men to break the cycle of violence, while also strengthening capacity among duty bearers to manage the associated social and economic costs.

Media enquiries should be directed to: Terri O’Quinn, Humanitarian Communications Officer, UN Women MCO Fiji, Ph: +679 330 1178 ext. 108 or Email: terri-ann.oquinn@unwomen.org