It is an exciting time for the Government of Nauru and the Nauruan community as they embark on the journey towards addressing violence against women and children.
Under the first two-year Nauru Country Plan (2014-2016) supported by Pacific Women, the three activities will improve the health sector response and services to reduce domestic violence; increase access to justice and improved legislation and policy environment for reducing domestic violence; and increase leadership and decision-making opportunities for women.
Marja Elizabeth, Gender Based Violence Counsellor/Specialist, has arrived to work within the Government of Nauru to support the implementation of the first two activities. Marja comes to Nauru with an extensive knowledge and experience working to support women survivors of violence, and is ready to share this to benefit Nauru. Marja has been engaged under the Pacific Technical Assistance Mechanism (PACTAM), supported by Australian Aid.
In 2011 Nauru became a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and is also a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to Nauru’s Secretary of Health, Rykers Solomon: “The safety of victims of domestic violence and child abuse is extremely important to the government of Nauru and addressing violence is an integral part of our strategic planning for the future”.
“The employment of a domestic violence counsellor is an important step in building awareness about domestic violence and available services; as well as assisting in developing the capacity of staff across government to work together to address the issues. A strong response to violence in Nauru will assist not only this generation, but generations to come,” he added.
Marja reflects on her appointment.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your past professional experience?
I have experience working internationally and in Australia as a practitioner and in managerial positions and system development roles, working with both survivors and perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault. Positions I have held include Director, Community Corrections, as Senior Psychologist of the Sex Offender Treatment Program and Manager, Offender Rehabilitation Programs and in child protection services as Manager of Child Protection Advice and Referral Service. These positions were based in Tasmania.
I have worked regionally and remotely, including in Indigenous communities in Australia, as the Queensland Manager, Mental Health for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I have held management, program coordination and service delivery roles in Sexual Assault Support Services, Family Planning Queensland and the Queensland Cancer Fund and as Director of the Tokyo English Lifeline counselling service when living in Japan.
Prior to coming to Nauru I was the Chief Executive Officer of the Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service, which provided legal and social welfare support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims of family violence across over 50 Indigenous communities in Queensland, Australia.
I am a registered psychologist, secondary school teacher and have been admitted as a practising solicitor in Queensland, Australia. This combination is very useful for the areas of domestic violence and child protection, as it enables me to see the issues from a broad range of perspectives and to understand the needs of a range of professionals working in the area.
How are you feeling about your new position? What are you expectations?
I’m very much looking forward to the next two years living and working in Nauru. My position is new and came about as a result of the identification by the Nauruan government under the Nauru Country Plan 2014-2016 that responding to domestic violence requires inter-sectoral and coordinated action to ensure prevention, early intervention, adequate treatment of victims and rehabilitation of perpetrators back into the community.
I have found that Nauru is keen to develop integrated and collaborative domestic violence and child protection systems, which will build existing capacity and strengths. There are a number of services which exist including a Safe House staffed by counsellors, a new Family and Community Services Division established in 2013 which includes a child protection function, family support and community development and a Police Domestic Violence Unit. There is cross government support for the role and a strong commitment to address issues of gender based violence in Nauru.
Will you be based with an organisation in Nauru?
I am based in the Ministry of Health, but given that domestic violence and child protection issues are not the responsibility of one government area alone, but instead intersect with many government and non-government organisations it is imperative to have good communication and an integrated response to coordinate the management of risk and safety across any of these professional or agency boundaries. As such I am fortunate enough to be able to work across a range of government departments Education, Police, Justice and Home Affairs as well as community-based organisations.
What will your work there entail?
My work will include improving the service sector response to domestic violence in Nauru to ensure the effective treatment of survivors of violence including:
- Inter-sectoral and coordinated action to address domestic violence, including strengthening the coordination between the health, justice, education and other social systems to ensure an adequate and timely response to violence.
- Provision of counselling services for domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and teen pregnancy.
- The roll out of training programmes for health workers, teachers and counsellors in referral pathways and identifying victims of domestic violence and handling cases.
- Use of outreach nurses to reach out to domestic violence victims and link them to services and information.
- Developing protocols for screening and minimum service standards.
- Development of a referral system between police, hospital, schools and the Safe House.
- Investigating the establishment of a telephone counselling service.
- Development of an information campaign on domestic violence and available services; and
- Introduction of violence prevention programmes.
What is the situation like for women in Nauru as far as domestic violence is concerned?
As with most countries around the world, domestic violence is a significant issue in Nauru. In 2014 the Ministry of Home Affairs undertook a study with support from the United Nations Population Fund and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to obtain information about the characteristics and consequences of violence against women. The Nauru Family Health and Safety Study 2014 estimated that 48.1 percent of women who ever had an intimate relationship experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner at least once in their lifetime, and 22.1 percent in the 12 months preceding the interview. Of these, 50.8 percent reported having ever been injured and 18 percent were hurt enough to need health care. Nearly 29 percent of women never disclosed the violence to anyone and those who did tell, mostly confided in family and friends. About 68 percent of women never went to formal services or authorities such as police or health centres for help.
As this was the first study of its kind in Nauru, it is likely that the estimates of domestic violence cited are an underreporting of what is occurring. Nevertheless, the study provides good baseline data and provides several recommendations for implementation to strengthen the existing domestic violence system.
Awareness of the need to address violence against women and children in Nauru is high. In 2014 the United Nations coordinated the 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence with activities including the best orange themed decorated workplace, home and community area; a mock parliament debating gender issues held by senior school students; a parade and drama skits against domestic violence. The 16 Days was held from 25 November, the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, International Human Rights Day and therefore ran back to back with the White Ribbon activities – leading to almost a month of campaigning and activities regarding gender based violence. Nauru also acknowledges International Women’s Day on 8 March 2015 and events mark the day, led by Women’s Affairs.
Article prepared with assistance from Marja Elizabeth, Gender Based Violence Counsellor/Specialist. The GBV Counsellor/Specialist role is funded by DFAT, through the PACTAM mechanism.