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NZ Judge Urges Pacific for Legislative Change

Violence against women 'should not be viewed in isolation; a fact that is critical in considering the most effective ways to achieve legislative reform,' says New Zealand Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann. In opening the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Regional Rights Resource Team conference on advancing legislative change on violence against women, Judge Winkelmann further stated that violence against women demands attention because it is the most tangible breach of the human rights of women.

In a conference room packed with lawyers from 10 Pacific countries Judge Winkelmann quoted statistics from recent surveys on domestic violence in the Pacific. She emphasised that in Solomon Islands, a 2008 family health and safety study found that two in three women between the ages of 15 and 49 had been abused in their lifetime through physical partner violence and/or sexual partner violence. And 55 per cent of women had been forced into sex against their will. In Papua New Guinea, 67 per cent of wives had been beaten by their husbands and 60 per cent of men interviewed reported having participated in 'lainap' or gang rape at least once. In Samoa, according to a 2005 World Health Organisation Multi-Country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence Against Women, 67 per cent of all respondents reported being subjected to violence by someone other than a partner since the age of 15 years. Eighty-five per cent of women physically abused by their partner had never asked any formal agency for help, and of these, 86 per cent stated that they had not sought help because they thought such abuse was 'normal' or 'not serious enough.'

The lawyers and magistrates looked at human rights issues related to not only violence against women but HIV, the Universal Periodic Review, national human rights commissions and a regional human rights mechanism.

Russell Kun, Chief Public Defender of Marshall Islands, said that there is starting to be a realisation in the Pacific now, especially in light of the surveys quoted by Judge Winkelmann, that there is a need to change legislation to modernise the outdated laws on violence against women.

Judge Winkelmann noted that the lawyers and magistrates should take full advantage of the vital opportunity to exchange experiences and ideas on the important issues. She was optimistic about the benefits for the countries of the Pacific. She further recognised that the magistrates and lawyers present were leaders in their communities, with roles extending beyond the scope of private practice or work within government departments. She mentioned that the advice and views expressed by the magistrates and lawyers present, and the actions they undertake, will influence the views and actions of others.

The Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) is a programme under the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Social Resources Division.


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