Counselling an essential service for women and girls in the North Pacific

21 December 2023
Image Source    Pacific Community

Advocacy and awareness sessions by the Chuuk Women’s Council’s (CWC) Tongen Inepwineu Counselling  Center (TICC)  has resulted in changed mindsets, with men now referring women relatives to the centre.

There are the only two crisis centres in the North Pacific that provide counselling services for survivors of violence against women: TICC in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI) Weto In Mour Counselling Centres in Majuro and Ebeye, Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Wilma Eileen, Gender-based Violence (GBV) Adviser for the Pacific Women Lead at SPC programme, provides technical support to these crisis centres in the North Pacific. This includes support to the referral system in Chuuk, known as APIMAR Safenet, which includes of a range of ending violence against women (EVAW) stakeholders, from government ministries to the police and CWC.

“This referral system is working really well in Chuuk,” explained Wilma, adding that through the referral system “stakeholders such as the police and the Attorney General’s office have called on TICC to provide counselling service to clients.”  

“Women have accessed the TICC services since 2020 till now. They continue to receive cases for domestic violence and women who are survivors of domestic violence as well as child sexual abuse cases. Over the past two years, around 100 clients have visited TICC,” she added.

Wilma stated that in her line of work, it is important to continuously find ways of collaboration with partners in-country because they are the experts on the ground.

“With the support I provide to the CWC team, they are able to facilitate awareness sessions and start to change mindsets – there’s a need for respectful relationships where women have equal access to resources and opportunities,” she said.

Wilma’s ongoing technical support to North Pacific crisis centres includes training on gender and basic counselling as well as counselling supervision. Her support also includes skills training on telephone counselling for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), which has extended to regional partners this year and more recently to Papua New Guinea. 

“We continue to provide technical support as requested with regard to counselling, but we also support them in terms of their work creating awareness on the issues of domestic violence, sexual harassment and sexual abuse of children,” she said.

In the recent past, COVID-19 has shifted counselling modalities towards telephone counselling due to restrictions in movement.

“During the height of COVID-19, the development of the ‘Telephone Counselling for GBV Survivors: a Pacific Toolkit’ was done by technical advisers and with the counsellors in TICC and WUTMI,” she said, adding that the technical advisers were supported through Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development which has now transitioned to the new Pacific Women Lead at SPC programme.

While COVID-19 community transmissions only happened this year in Chuuk, FSM, and RMI after their international borders re-opened, remote training for counsellors in 2020 and 2021 on GBV telephone counselling gave them time to prepare.

“It was good practice to have these counsellors co-develop a toolkit, undergo the training and also have the supervision support that prepared them for the response to community transmissions,” she said. 

According to Wilma, their active participation in the co-design of the toolkit embeds skills that are not only useful during times of limited movement but provides the skills to connect with clients who seek their services via phone outside of Weno as well as Chuuk State.

Reflecting on the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, Wilma highlighted a need to speak the same language and say ‘no to all forms of violence against women’.

“We must strive to have respectful relationships, we must to have equal access to opportunities and resources – no matter where we are – for the benefit of our women and girls in the region,” she added.

SPC is committed to improving gender equality, women’s empowerment and ending violence against women and girls. Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality.

About Pacific Women Lead:
One of the largest global commitments to gender equality, Pacific Women Lead (PWL) aims to promote women’s leadership, realise women’s rights, and increase the effectiveness of regional gender equality efforts. Among the four PWL delivery partners, SPC is the key implementing partner with its ‘PWL at SPC programme’ receiving more than AUD 55 million from the Australian Government’s AUD 170 million ‘PWL portfolio’. Other central partners include the AIR (Amplify – Invest – Reach) partnership of women’s funds, civil society organisations and coalitions. There is also PWL Enabling Services (PWLES) delivering monitoring, evaluation and other services, along with the Australian Government’s direct relationships with development partners for regional programmes, such as the United Nations (UN) and International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF).