SUVA, Fiji - “We face the challenge that patriarchal attitudes and structural violence has been ingrained and reinforced in our culture and religious practice,” said General Secretary of the Pacific Council of Churches Reverend James Bhagwan at the launch of Spotlight Initiative’s Pacific Regional Programme.

“There is also a confrontational approach in engaging the church, in a region where over 90 per cent of the population identify as Christian and hold a worldview shaped by their faith, as agents of social transformation.

“As Churches, we have confessed our negative contribution to the structural violence enacted upon women of all ages and social status in the Pacific. Patriarchal structures of leadership and decision-making, biblical interpretation and attitudes towards women in faith communities have underpinned the psychological, emotional, physical, sexual and economic violence that Pacific women have had to endure.”

Reverend Bhagwan was one of several guest speakers who spoke about the prevalance of gender-based violence at the launch. Studies have shown the Pacific region has some of the world’s highest recorded rates of violence against women and girls, with almost 2 out of every 3 women impacted by physical or sexual violence in their lifetime - double the global average.

In order to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG), including harmful practices, a global partnership known as the Spotlight Initiative was launched by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) in 2017.

The Spotlight Initiative’s Pacific Regional Programme launched on 13 October, 2020 in Suva, Fiji.

In the Pacific, the Initiative will focus on addressing domestic violence and intimate partner violence, which takes many forms including violence against women during pregnancy, reproductive coercion, violence against women with disabilities, violence against adolescent girls, sexual harassment and early marriage.

“The Spotlight Initiative is an unprecedented effort, through its level of funding and coordinated efforts of multiple stakeholders, in the global fight to eliminate violence against women and girls,” said Ambassador of the European Union for the Pacific H.E Sujiro Seam at the launch. “It reflects the commitment of the EU to multilateralism and partnership. It reaffirms gender equality and women’s rights as a key strand of European Union foreign policy, in line with its upcoming Gender Action Plan 2021-2025.”

The Spotlight Pacific Regional Initiative builds on existing commitments across 16 Pacific Island countries (Fiji, Samoa, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Nauru, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tokelau, Niue and Cook Islands), as well as country specific commitments in Fiji, Republic of Marshal Islands and Solomon Islands to end domestic and intimate partner violence.

It is estimated that over 100,000 women, girls, men and boys will directly benefit from programme activities and 1.6 million women, girls, men and boys will indirectly benefit from the programme activities.

The Initiative is coordinated by the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Fiji and involves the United Nations Development Programme, UN Children’s Fund, UN Women, UN Populations Fund and the International Organization for Migration.

Civil society representatives from the disability, women and youth sectors present at the launch  spoke about being inclusive and involving them in any planning processes, as well as raising awareness on gender-based violence.

While closing the launch, the UN Resident Coordinator, Sanaka Samarasinha said, “The Spotlight Initiative is testament to what we can do together when we combine our efforts to address a common goal and that is to end violence against women and girls in the Pacific.”

“To end violence against women and girls we need political will, partnership and public commitment. We have all of these, but we need to do it together.”

Reverend Bhagwan spoke about the churches working together with the Initiative and partners to end violence against women and girls.  “It is important to note that there have been co-creative or co-design processes,” he said. “As part of our advocacy work the Sunday, before the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence [we will hold] Break the Silence Sunday, where churches will speak about this [issue of gender-based violence] from the pulpits. We look forward to engaging with Spotlight for lasting change.”

Background

Launched with a seed funding commitment of €500 million from the EU, the Spotlight Initiative brings together the collective strength of all UN agencies working in partnership with key regional institutions and diverse partners to address legislative and policy gaps; strengthen institutions; promote gender-equitable attitudes; strengthen systems of collecting data on violence against women and girls; and support civil society and coalitions in advocacy. The Spotlight Initative operates in more than 25 countries around the world.

For more information, please contact:

Sanya Ruggiero
UN Resident Coordinator's Office, Fiji
sanya.ruggiero@un.org
Ph: (+679) 8666 445

Nazeem KASIM
Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, Fiji
Mohammed-Nazeem.KASIM@eeas.europa.eu
Ph: (+679) 331 3633