This report on Domestic Violence and the importance of shelters by Immediate Past President of the South West Pacific – Theresa Lyford.
Theresa is the Project Liaison for the Federation Project – Sanctuary: Shelter for Women, Fiji.

“Fiji has one of the highest statistics in the world on domestic violence” according to the Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation – Mereseini Vuniwaqa – who warned the island nation’s General Practitioners at their annual Conference in June 2018.

The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre reports that 64% of women who have been in intimate relationships have faced some form of violence in their lifetime. It is statistics like this that prompted the Fijian Clubs to propose to Soroptimist International of the South West Pacific at the Biennial Conference of Clubs in 2016 to have as the Federation Project for 2016-2018 a project to address these alarming statistics as well as advocating for change in this country.

In 2017 the Fijian Government established a national helpline on domestic violence to combat the high rate of violence against women which still remains one of the biggest human rights issues in Fiji.

Recent reports also state that sadly, most Domestic Violence and Sexual violence cases happen within the family unit where the victim and perpetrator are related,. In Fijian society in the past, such cases were kept under wraps as it was settled through traditional means of seeking forgiveness either with a tabua (whale’s tooth) or yagona roots. The matter was settled and the victims were left to carry that nightmare throughout their lives because the request for forgiveness was accepted by the parents.

New laws have now been put in place where such traditional means of settling these incidents does not carry any weight in the courtroom.
The critical data and circumstances outlined brings into sharp perspective the need for the Government, Non-governmental organizations and all other stakeholders to work together to combat this worrying trend.

Sanctuary Shelter

Project Sanctuary: Shelter for Women aims to provide shelter to the most vulnerable, to the victims of violence and natural disasters who have no place to go and no one to turn to.
It will be an emergency shelter where women and children can find peace, security and refuge while facing a difficult situation in their lives, away from the perpetrators. The shelters will provide professional help of counsellors, psychologists, medical personnel, caregivers, skills trainers and other necessary services as the need arises.

The project has been a long time in coming to fruition and on Friday, 24th August 2018, saw the official Opening Ceremony and Ground-Breaking held at the proposed site for the building. The Prime Minister, The Hon. Josaia Vorege Bainmarama, along with Fijian Government officials, joined Anusha Santhirasthipam, President of SISWP, to officially recognise the collaboration of the Social Public-Private Partnership (SPPP) and the Joint-Venture to build our first Soroptimist Sanctuary: Shelter for Women in Lautoka, Fiji.

The project meets one of the important objectives of Soroptimist International where our Clubs and Countries are linked in their efforts to improve the lives for women and girls through education, empowerment and enabling opportunities. The project also meets the United Nations blueprint on the Sustainable Development Goals that are designed to address the global challenges we face and in particular Goal 5: Gender Equality – to enable progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment as not only a fundamental human right but the necessary foundation for peace, prosperity and sustainability around the world. Where our project, Sanctuary: Shelter for Women sits in these priorities is around working towards the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including that of sexual and other types of violence.

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  It is hoped that our project will not only be seen as an enabler in the community towards providing a safe place for women to go to in times of need, but also reflecting the voice of Soroptimist International and its goals and objectives towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and in particular Goal 5.

Theresa Lyford – Immediate Past President Soroptimist International South West Pacific
Zareena Ba – South West Pacific Assistant Programme Director 2