On November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, World Vision Solomon Islands demonstrated its solidarity and commitment to ending gender-based violence. The 16Days of Activism is a global campaign focused on ending violence against women and girls, beginning on November 25 and running until Human Rights Day on December 10.
With the theme “Herem vois bilong mi tu (translation: “Hear my voice too”), stop violence against women and girls”, World Vision, alongside representatives from partner agencies and volunteers joined a public demonstration of their commitment to ending violence against women and girls on November 26 in Honiara. World Vision’s float was filled with passionate advocates in orange t-shirts, who travelled from Henderson to White River to raise awareness of this issue. The significance of uniting with others in orange was to show unified support for this year’s UN theme for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence: “Orange The World”, #HearMeToo.
Speaking during the parade, World Vision’s Gender Coordinator, Nancy Maetoloa Waegao said, “It is a big issue that two out of three women have been subject to physical and/or sexual violence by [an] intimate partner and that 38% of women stated that their first sexual experience was forced, therefore I call on authorities, all partners and men and women to work together to fight against this alarming issue in our beloved Solomon Islands.”
Violence against women and children is a widespread and pervasive issue in Solomon Islands. With 64% of ever-partnered women reportedly experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, tackling such a dominant behavior that is so prevalent in the Solomon Islands is no easy feat. Further, only 18% of women who had experienced violence reported that they sought help from health services, shelters or legal advice.
The evidence suggests that the Solomon Islands has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. Currently, (as of 2017) the Solomon Islands ranks 156th out of 188 countries on the UN Human Development Index.
Some five years ago, World Vision began addressing violence against women and gender inequality through a project funded by the Australian Government’s Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) in Solomon Islands. As well as the Channels of Hope for Gender project funded by Australian Department Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which started in 2013 and is now in its third phase, works with communities, faith leaders and other influential leaders to address negative gender norms in their respective communities and increase community connections to services.
According to a COH baseline survey conducted at the start of the project in 30 communities across the Weather Coast, Guadalcanal and Temotu province in 2013, community members surveyed were aware of gender-based violence and its occurrence within their communities, but they were unaware of the existence of government laws aimed at protecting survivors from further exploitation.
Some 96% of respondents highlighted the value of Christianity on life decisions, with 90% stating they would change their behavior if advised to do so by a pastor or a chief. Both church and community leaders have great potential to speak powerfully and effectively against gender-based violence in their communities and congregations with great potential to positively impact the lives of the most vulnerable women and children in their communities.
Through Channels of Hope for Gender, World Vision employs a faith-based, community-driven approach to promoting gender equality and non-violence. The methodology has been used by World Vision with different faiths around in the world, and challenges individuals to examine their personal understanding of religious texts, teachings and cultural norms. In the Solomon Islands, faith and community leaders trained to deliver teachings, stories and messages from the Bible that speak to improving gender relations.
These leaders then engage communities they serve and lead in a faith-based dialogue, where they examine the mentalities, norms and behaviors prevalent in their own communities and within themselves, and work toward cultivating the attitudes and behaviors which reduce both the acceptability and the expectation of violence toward women and children. Communities are then empowered to uphold, rather than undermine, human rights, non-violence and gender equality, with the aim that each participant becomes an agent of change.
Through the messages delivered in faith communities about gender-based violence, World Vision Channels of Hope has been able to observe positive shifts in the attitudes and behaviors surveyed in both Temotu and the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal. Over 64% of female respondents in a survey conducted in Temotu and Weather Coast of Guadalcanal (where World Vision has been active) have said that family violence has decreased. There has also been evidence of improved methods of addressing substance abuse and conflict, rather than reverting to gender-based violence. While such gains have been observed, the evidence also reveals that there is still work to be done in addressing violence against women and children across the Solomon Islands, and that it will take a concerted effort by the local and global community for its end to come to fruition.
World Vision will continue its work in engaging faith and community leaders to become powerful agents of change for ending violence against women and children.