Working together to implement domestic violence legislation across the Pacific

A regional working group with members from 11 Pacific Island countries is sharing strategies for the implementation of domestic violence legislation.[1] This work is promoting joined-up, informed action to provide better outcomes for survivors of domestic violence.

The past decade has seen a significant change in the legal landscape surrounding family and sexual violence in the Pacific. 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 now putting in place the people, resources and infrastructure needed to effectively implement their domestic legislation.

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

Neomai Maravuakula, RRRT Senior Human Rights Adviser, explained: ‘There has been significant movement in the region with the passage of legislation. There have been a number of activities and strategies by government and civil society organisations in the implementation of these pieces of legislation. It has been a continuous learning experience for the countries. 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. This ensures that implementation of the legislation is strengthened.’

In October 2018, RRRT convened a regional consultation to identify ways to ensure more effective implementation of domestic violence legislation in the region. The key outcome was to establish a Regional Working Group on Domestic Violence Legislation Implementation.

In each country, the legislation mandates a ministry to coordinate and lead on the implementation of the legislation. In Vanuatu, it is the Ministry of Justice; in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, it is the Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs; and in Solomon Islands, it is the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs. The Regional Working Group comprises high-level government representatives (CEO or equivalent) from these ministries.

The aims of the Regional Working Group are to:

  • share information and good practices related to the implementation of domestic violence legislation
  • agree on regional priorities with respect to the implementation domestic violence legislation
  • implement action plans to address these priorities.
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.

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

RRRT acts as secretariat for the group. Its role includes collecting data from members to track countries’ progress toward implementing their legislation and supporting the Chair and Deputy Chair with logistics.

As the secretariat, RRRT also works to connect 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.

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

Edward Brown, the Cook Islands Ministry of Internal Affairs, reading material at the regional consultation in October 2018. Photo credit: RRRT.

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: Member countries prioritised the need to have the full range of counselling services necessary to effectively implement domestic violence legislation. This includes setting clear roles and responsibilities and having appropriate accreditation systems and processes in place.
  • Advisory Committees/Councils: The Regional Working Group identified the need to strengthen mechanisms to guide, inform, coordinate and improve the implementation of domestic violence legislation.
  • Data Collection and Monitoring and Evaluation: To ensure effective monitoring and implementation of domestic violence legislation and appropriate measurement of its outcomes and impacts, the Regional Working Group agreed to prioritise data collection and monitoring and evaluation frameworks.

‘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.’

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Pacific Women supports RRRT’s work on ending violence against women, human rights and good governance. RRRT is working with Pacific Island governments and civil society organisations to provide technical assistance, training and advocacy for women and girls to have increased access to justice for domestic violence and promote and protect human rights commitments.

[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.