Women’s Human Rights Groups: Risk Of Rise In Domestic Violence Cases During COVID 19 Pandemic
Women’s human rights groups in Fiji are deeply concerned with the heightened risk of gender based violence and abuse as families practice social distancing and isolate themselves in response to the Corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Fiji has high prevalence rates of violence against women and girls and is amongst the very highest in the world. According to research, 64 percent of women in Fiji have experienced intimate partner violence. (FWCC, 2013) The research shows that 71 percent have been physically and/or sexually abused by either a partner or non-partner since they turned 15 years old. A recent research report from 2017 provides that in 9 out of 10 instances of sexual violence reported to the Police the victim/survivors are women and girls. (FWRM, 2017) A research report by DIVA for Equality, titled ‘Unjust, Unequal, Unstoppable: Fiji LBT women and people tipping the scales toward justice for all’ (2019) examines the human rights situation of lesbians, bisexual women, trans-masculine and gender non-conforming people in Fiji. The report revealed that 83.64 percent of women and gender non-conforming people experienced physical violence by their intimate partner. Of those, 43 percent only shared their experience of physical violence with close friends and 12 percent did not tell anyone.
Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and Fiji Women’s Rights Movement are urging the government and authorities to prioritise women and girls’ safety as it deals with COVID-19.
Around the country, people are taking precautionary measures to prevent COVID-19, with multiple school closures and parents working from home, and there is likely to be a rise in domestic and family violence.
“Women and girls are often the most affected in these situations because enforced isolation could mean they must remain with their abusers, and access to help and support is cut off,” said FWCC Coordinator Shamima Ali.
“As we’ve seen on our news daily and as we’ve continuously reiterated, violence against women and girls is prevalent in Fiji. There has been multiple cases and loss of lives last year. As this pandemic crisis escalates, it creates a fertile environment for gender based violence.”
FWRM Executive Director Nalini Singh said research shows that there is an increase of violence against women and girls during times of disasters and situations like the current pandemic.
“The elderly and women and girls with disabilities face additional risks. Women and girls are not safe in their homes, as our 2017 research also indicates that 49 percent of victims and survivors of sexual violence know the perpetrator,” said Ms. Singh.
“Response measures to this pandemic must prioritise women’s access to justice to address sexual and gender based violence. According to FWRM’s research, it takes a woman an average of 868 days to report their situation of violence. The COVID-19 pandemic only makes the situation worse. Full formal justice sector services need to be provided.”
DIVA for Equality Political Adviser (Outgoing), Noelene Nabulivou said, many Fiji households are places of danger and violence for lesbian, bisexual women, trans-masculine and gender non-conforming people.
“This includes violence from intimate partners, immediate and extended family, and from the wider community. DIVA research shows that 82 percent of lesbian, bisexual women, transmaculine (LBT) and gender non-conforming people (GNCP) surveyed had left home due to household stigma, got kicked out by family members or permanently disowned. Climate crisis, disaster, and pandemics such as COVID-19 worsen this reality as household conditions shift quickly and stressors rise,” she said.
When LBT women and gender non-conforming survivors report the gender based violence they face, whether to neighbours and community, Fiji Police, Health sector or try to access formal justice systems, they generally face further stigma and judgment, disbelief and even more homophobic and transphobic violence. 76.24 percent of respondents, who have been sexually assaulted and beaten, do not feel safe going to the Fiji Police. There must be adequate intersectional and interlinked responses nationally, from all stakeholders and formal justice sectors, to address all forms of gender based violence against women, LGBTQI people and other intersectionally marginalised people such as women with disabilities, sex workers, women frontline caseworkers, domestic care workers and others in precarious work, including during the COVID19 pandemic.
The women’s rights groups are monitoring the national situation and are urging everyone to remain vigilant of potential gender based violence that occurs in their homes and communities and take the necessary actions to report them, or get help.
If you or someone you know needs urgent assistance or support please call the Domestic Violence Helpline Number: 1560, Phone: 3313300 (24 hours) or Mobile: 9209470 (24 Hours).