Working together to implement domestic violence legislation across the Pacific

High-level government representatives from 11 Pacific Island countries are sharing strategies to further improve implementation of domestic violence legislation.[1]

The representatives comprise the recently-formed Regional Working Group on Domestic Violence Legislation Implementation, supported by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) with funding assistance from Australia’s Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development (Pacific Women) program.

A timeline of the passing of domestic violence and family protection legislation in the Pacific. Photo credit: RRRT.

By working together and taking steps to join up with other, parallel initiatives, the group promotes a more collaborative, coherent, and effective response to domestic violence across the region.

Neomai Maravuakula. Photo credit: RRRT.

‘There have been a number of activities and strategies by government and civil society organisations in the implementation of these pieces of legislation,’ said Senior Human Rights Adviser for RRRT, Neomai Maravuakula,

‘It has been a continuous learning experience for the countries,’ Ms Maravuakula said.

The past decade has seen a significant change in the legal landscape surrounding family violence in the Pacific region. While domestic and family violence was once considered a private matter, 13 Pacific Island countries now have legislation to protect women and children. These countries are putting in place the people, resources and infrastructure needed to effectively implement their domestic legislation.

While laws are country-specific, Ms Maravuakula explained how a regional response will improve the full implementation of all protection, support and services mechanisms included in the legislation:

‘It was important that the region came together to recognise the work that has been done and to support each other, looking ahead and learning from the experiences that they respectively bring and the plans they may bring in,’ she said. ‘This ensures that implementation of the legislation is strengthened.’

The Regional Working Group has a rotating Chair and Deputy Chair selected by consensus to serve two-year terms. Their role is to coordinate regional meetings and other activities, including committee work. The inaugural Chair is Fiji.

RRRT acts as secretariat for the group. Its collects data from members to track countries’ progress toward implementing their legislation. RRRT also connects with other stakeholders working in the area of domestic violence prevention and service provision, so that they can share their expertise with the Regional Working Group. The secretariat is also responsible for sharing the learning from the group with regional partners. This approach recognises that collective action will not be effective unless it coordinates with other efforts.

At the first meeting of the Regional Working Group, held in Fiji in May 2019, participants discussed priorities and challenges that countries were facing with implementing their legislation. The group agreed to focus committee work on three areas over the next year: counselling services for survivors of violence; establishing advisory and monitoring committees and councils as articulated in legislation; and data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

‘These priorities reflect the national priorities for each country around the implementation of the legislation,’ said Ms Maravuakula. ‘Countries identify which committees they would like be part of, but the work of the committees is fed back to the Regional Working Group and may be of equal benefit for all member countries of the Regional Working Group.’

Juliana Zutum (left), SAFENET Solomon Islands, and Lynffer Maltuntung (right), Solomon Islands’ Family Support Centre, discuss interventions seeking to address domestic violence in the Solomon Islands at the regional consultation in October 2018. Photo credit: RRRT.

[1] Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (national government as well as representatives from Kosrae and Pohnpei states), Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu have attended the October 2018 regional consultation and May 2019 meeting of the Working Group. Palau and Papua New Guinea were invited to these meetings but have yet to attend.