Monday, December 1, 2014

Breaking the Silence

Greetings again from Sydney!

A week ago, the arrival of four large vaka into Darling Harbour in Sydney, not only created history but also ensured that the denial and culture of silence surrounding the issue of climate change was broken – by the beating of drums, the trumpeting of conch shells, the Mua haka combining elements of Cook Islands, Maori, Samoan, Tongan and Fijian culture and the roar of the crowd.

While we of the Pacific may have celebrated the dramatic way in which the Pacific voice was brought to the world, Australia included, there are a number of issues that continue to exist in a culture of silence in our communities. One of these issues is gender-based violence.

A 2010 report by UNIFEM (a part of UN WOMEN) titled, “Ending Violence Against Women and Girls” highlighted the following for Fiji:

·         The main forms of violence reported by Fijian women are: physical, sexual and emotional abuse by an intimate partner; sexual assault; and sexual harassment.

·         Violence against women imposes a large cost: the Reserve Bank has calculated the direct and indirect costs of violence in Fiji to be FJ$210.69-million per year, or 7% of GDP.

·         Domestic violence appears widespread in Fiji. Figures from the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre show that 80% of women have witnessed some form of violence in the home; 66% of women have been physically abused by partners and nearly half repeatedly abused; 26% of women have been beaten while pregnant; 48% of married women have been forced into sex by their husbands; and 13% of women have been raped. Police statistics show that domestic violence made up around 13% of all crimes against the person between 2003 and 2007. Workplace sexual harassment is also prevalent: a 2002 study found that one in three women had been sexually harassed in the workplace.

·         In many cases, the offender is known to the victim. According to Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre statistics, the victim knew the perpetrator in 70% of reported rape cases and 94% of child sexual abuse cases.

·         Many incidents of sexual violence involve young girls: one study found that 30% of female rape victims were 11-15 years. Children who are billeted with their extended family are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse e.g. children from outer islands sent to live in urban centres to complete secondary education.

·         Sexual exploitation of children exists in Fiji, including prostitution, sex tourism and pornography.

·         There is evidence that violence against women is increasing in Fiji: reports of sexual violence increased by 155% from 2003-2007 and there have been an increasing number of violent deaths of women.

·         Fiji’s four political coups have been cited as a cause of increased violence. Research shows that violence against women, both from intimate partners and strangers, increases during and after coups. At the same time, police have diminished capacity and willingness to respond to violence against women.

Last year, the late President of  head of the Methodist Church in Fiji, Rev. Dr.  Tuikilakila Waqairatu, spoke out against gender-based violence, acknowledging that was, "legitimised by many cultures, institutions and some Christian groups in society and its effects are extensive in nature".

He was quoted as saying that the church "must create a climate of openness and develop policies and procedures which keep children and the vulnerable safe from harm".

Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, has called for churches to take "an aggressive approach on the elimination of this social evil from our midst".

According to the UNFPA, a unique strength of faith leaders and faith-based organizations is that they are perceived as credible structures by their constituencies. Existing networks can thus be used for outreach within faith communities, to provide information and to mobilize congregations. Linked to this is the specific advantage faith leaders have as providers of spiritual guidance.

In an attempt to change the culture of silence surrounding gender-based violence, the world’s attention is drawn to this issue from the 25th of November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, through to December 10th, which is International Human Rights Day. It is known as the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence,” a global campaign to focus our efforts towards working to eliminate violence against women in our families, our communities and our world.

A project to involve the churches in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence has been developed by the Christian Network (Talanoa) – working together to end violence and abuse against women and children in our families, our churches and our communities.

This year the Network is inviting the Christian community  to support this campaign and to use Sunday November 23rd to introduce and focus the efforts of Christians towards the goal of these 16 days. (If this Sunday is not appropriate you might consider either November 30th or December 7th).

In addition to this Sermon Suggestion we also have made available Liturgical Resources, Daily Readings and Prayers for each of the 16 Days and have sourced some Bible Studies which could be used.

 Also there will be a Seminar and Ecumenical Service at Holy Trinity Cathedral on Thursday December 4th - Dr Holger Szesnet  of the Pacific Theological College will facilitate an interactive Bible study on Ephesians 5 -  the seminar starting at 9 am and the service at 12.30 pm with light refreshments in between and lunch at the conclusion at 1pm.  

The resources for Break the Silence Sunday have been resourced and/or prepared by Revd. Ann Drummond – Australian Volunteer for International Development in conjunction with members of the above Network. Ann is based at the House of Sarah – a ministry of the Diocese of Polynesia and the Association of Anglican Women. These resources in both English and i-Taukei are on line in the Resources page of House of Sarah website – or from the Methodist Church in Fiji website –

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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