As festivities continue, the Vanuatu Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW) and Girls Civil Society Reference Group (CSRG) is calling on members of the community to support women and girls experiencing gender-based violence in their homes.
In Vanuatu, 60 percent of women aged 15 — 49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence and 68 percent have experienced emotional violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
During the festive season women and girls are more prone to domestic violence as the gender inequality is further exacerbated by economic pressure on the households and alcohol consumption and this year can be no exception especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking on the issue, the Chair of the group, Ms Jennifer Kausei, stressed that gender-based violence is the most devastating breach of human rights, and with Vanuatu still reeling from the economic impact of COVID-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold, it puts even more pressure on families during the festive season.
“We need to work together as a community and assist women and girls experiencing gender-based violence,” Ms Kausei stressed.
“Know the signs and the help you can offer, because you might save someone’s life. Gender-based violence is everyone’s business.”
Some of the signs a person is experiencing gender-based violence are; physical injuries, isolation, chronic depression, low self-esteem and chronic fear.
“Helping sometimes may mean just listening, we need to meet violence survivors where they are.
The most important principle is doing no harm, we need to be cautious and work together with survivors,” said Georgilla Worwor, a member of the EVAW and CSRG.
“When wanting to help, we urge everyone to take into consideration that someone experiencing violence would not leave due to fear of increased risk to themselves, their children or other family members.
“In fact, on average a survivor of violence will attempt to leave a relationship 6-8 times before she is finally able to leave.”
The Civil Society Reference Group is urging members of the public to create a community where violence is called out, not tolerated and survivors suffering in silence are assured and assisted to leave violent homes.
Research has shown that 75 percent of domestic violence related homicides occur after separation and there is a 75 percent increase of violence upon separation for at least two years Some important “Do’s” when providing help to someone who may be experiencing violence at home are:
● Believe her — remember, abusers act differently in public and therefore it is important to believe the survivor.
● Listen to what she tells you — listen actively, do not make judgements, ask clarifying questions to learn directly from her what she needs.
● Help her build on her strength — based on what a survivor tells you and your observations, help identify ways she can cope, solve problems and exhibit courage and determination.
● Validate her feelings — it is common to have conflicting feelings such as love and fear, guilt and anger, hope and sadness. It is important to assure her that her feelings are reasonable.
● Avoid survivor blaming — tell her that abuse is not her fault and that abuse is her partner’s problem. However, refrain from speaking ill about her partner.
● Take her fears seriously — if you are concerned about her safety, express your concern without judgment.
● Offer help — If she asks you for help and it is safe for you to do so, offer specific forms of help or information.
● Support her decisions — remember there are risks attached to every decision a survivor takes. If you truly want to be helpful, be patient and respectful of her decision.
“Let us stand with courage against violence in our communities, where abuse is called out and there is zero tolerance.
“Let’s work together for a future free of violence and full of equality,” Ms Kausei added.
Domestic Violence is a crime under the law of Vanuatu. Under the Family Protection Act, a person who commits violence against a family member can face a penalty of up to 5 years in prison or a fine of up to 100,000 vatu or both a fine and imprisonment. If you or someone you know may be experiencing violence, Vanuatu Women’s Centre helpline number 161 is available 24/7 for support. Survivors can also reach out to the police on 111 and Pro-Medical on 115.