Searching for Solutions: Violence Against Women in the South Pacific

  • 20 October 2011

Domestic violence is known to be a serious problem in the South Pacific. But, partly because it has traditionally been considered a private matter, the prevalence, causes and consequences of domestic violence in the region were not well understood.

As a way to bring the issue into sharper focus, UNFPA partnered with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and three governments to initiate studies in their respective countries using research methodology and protocols of the WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women. The studies were conducted in partnership with national governments and implemented by the regional agency SPC with the support of NZAid and AusAID.

They aim to clarify the cultural dynamics underlying violence against women in the hopes that better understanding of the problem and its prevalence will generate solutions.

The Samoa Family Health and Safety Study comprised a qualitative study based on which two survey questionnaires were developed, one each for men and women. The report discusses the Samoan context, presents the findings of the qualitative study and surveys, and provides recommendations to address the problem.

Key findings show that 46.4 per cent of respondents to the women’s survey have experienced some form of partner abuse. The last chapter examines the factors contributing to domestic violence, the health impacts, the responses, and cultural acceptability of violence and abuse in the Samoan context.

 The Solomon Islands Family Health and Safety Study shows a high prevalence of violence against women in the Solomon Islands, with 64 per cent of ever-partnered women reporting physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. The majority of women (73 per cent) surveyed believe that a man is justified in beating his wife under some circumstances.

The study examines the risk factors associated with the occurrence of intimate partner violence in the Solomon Islands. The recommendations include strengthening the health sector’s response to women who are victims of violence and the development of a stronger legal framework to address all forms of violence against women.

The data from The Kiribati Family Health and Safety Study indicates that more than 2 in 3 (68 per cent) of women surveyed aged 15-49 who had ever been in a relationship have experienced some form of violence. Women in Kiribati are more likely to experience severe, rather than moderate, forms of physical partner violence.

The study also revealed a statistically significant association between exposure to violence as a child and the respondent’s experience of intimate partner violence, thus pointing to the intergenerational nature of the problem.

Some of the qualitative research conducted during the research add another dimension to the issue. One in-depth interview for example, is a Melanesian woman whose husband doesn’t allow her to talk to other people, not even her own family. “When they come to visit me and he sees us talking and laughing, he just comes directly to me and hits and me or drags me away from my relatives.”

Swimming Against the Tide: Lessons Learned from Field Research on VAW in the Solomon Islands and Kiribati is the result of an independent assessment to evaluate the process and quality of the research implementation, the challenges faced and lessons learned from the studies. It provides practical and context-specific information for governments, donors and implementing agencies who are conducting research in the Pacific.

Researching violence against women is a sensitive and often distressing undertaking, with the potential to create significant risks for women participants, their families and the research field workers involved. But it is the only way to generate certain types of information, such as population-based data on prevalence, incidence, severity, risk factors and consequences, and information that is needed to generate specific recommendations for a multitude of actors on ways to improve efforts to address domestic violence.

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