Young Fijian Women’s Lives Matter!
May 20, 2016

Young Fijian women under 25 are currently more at risk from experiencing intimate partner violence, and young men under 35 are more likely to perpetrate violence against their wives/partners. Young women aged below 24 are significantly more likely to be living with partner violence now, compared with older women. These were among the findings of a national research on women’s health and life experiences in Fiji published in 2013 by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre in collaboration with the Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics entitled Somebody’s Life, Everybody’s Business!

It has been challenging two weeks for women and young women in Fiji. Despite the rising level of domestic violence being an issue of national concern, it seems the nuances of factors contributing to violence is still lost upon, or even unaccepted, by many.

If you’re part of the women’s rights and gender equality movement, you’d know that this is not something new but what has emerged as a concern are public figures, who have been involved in discussions on the causes and solutions to end violence against women and girls, perpetuating victim blaming.

Just a week after hosting the Speakers Debate, based on the question: Is Fiji making progress in tackling violence against women and girls? Dr Jiko Luveni, Speaker to Parliament blamed women for “aggravating domestic violence situations”. She said among other things: “…sometimes we know exactly what our husbands don’t like and then we do it; what do you expect?” adding that “we women we really need to also be aware that our husbands also have a temper.”

As reported by the national newspaper Fiji Sun, she made these comments at the Rishkul Sanatan College Professional Development Programme on Wednesday 18 May. Rishkul Sanatan is a high school in Suva.

Condemnation to her comments were swift. Leading women’s rights NGOs, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, along with Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality Fiji made it clear that the perpetrator is always responsible for the crime, never the victim/survivor. They cited her comments as “dangerous”, “damaging” and “bizarre” – as it’s in complete contradiction to the Government’s position on the issue. A fact that was reiterated by Rosy Akbar, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, who said such comments were “inappropriate” and“saddened” her and that a victim blaming attitude “ will only allow the abuser to perpetrate relationship abuse while avoiding accountability for his or her actions.”

When asked to retract her comments and apologize Dr Luveni refused, saying she stands by her comments but has been misquoted saying she was “not blaming the victims but just asking people to look at the reality of the situation”.  But in the same interview with Fiji Village said, “women and girls should look at how to avoid violence, especially sexual violence” saying there have been cases where women have raped after having alcohol with boys in the bushes.

According to the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, Dr Luveni’s attitude on this issue has not progressed in the last two years: “This is not the first time Dr Luveni has victim-blamed women. As Minister for Women in May 2014, only four months before she became Speaker, Dr Luveni was also quoted in the Fiji Sun as saying women should dress modestly to avoid being raped. That comment made two years ago attracted criticism and protests and it seems that Dr Luveni has not had a mindset change about the issue although she is constantly commenting on violence against women.”

Among the concerned and outraged, are the Fiji Young Women’s Forum* who brought the lived realities of young women experiencing violence, to the forefront. Co-convener of the Forum, Frances Tawake, FemLINKPACIFIC Young Women’s Leadership Team Leader said: “There is no excuse for violence”. Quoting the statistics of violence against women, especially young women, she added: “We cannot afford these kinds of public comments to set us back any further.”

Maryann Lockington, Deputy Coordinator of the Emerging Leaders Forum Alumni said Dr Luveni’s comments marginalized young women and girls, who are also victims of violence and abuse.

“We need to make sure that young women are not only talked about when it comes to addressing these issues, but actively involved in the public debate – to stem the tide of intergenerational issues like the cycle of violence. It’s important to acknowledge and utilise young women’s expertise and their experiences in the fight against violence against women and for gender equality, as was set out in our 2014 Fiji Young Women’s Forum Declaration.”

DIVA for Equality Fiji, also a co-convener of the Forum said brought it home when they said: normalised violence and perpetuated harmful beliefs.

“Given her public position as well as following the Speaker’s Debate held on the 9th of May, it was clear that more progressive dialogue needs to be happening – whether it be the need for marital counselling, anger management or balancing power relations in relationships,” they said.

Since her comments three days ago, the Twittersphere has been rife with Fijians expressing their disappointment with the Speaker, using hashtags such as #RapeCulture #VictimBlaming #IamNotAsking4It and #FijiPol.

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Picture shared by Shazia Usman, FRIDA Advisory Committee Member from Fiji

Dr Luveni’s comments come straight after those made by Reverend Iliesa Naivalu of the Methodist Church of Fiji. At the much talked about Speaker’s debate, while other panelists engaged in critical discussion on the progress and way forward to end violence against women and girls, Reverend Naivalu stunned the audience by saying “male sexual urge is different from that of the female”, and that men were easily aroused and as such women and teenage girls should “wear something descent when in an isolated place or among men.” According to those that attended he was loudly heckled and booed by the audience.

And just before FRIDA was about to post this situational analysis, our allies informed us of another case of rape reported in the Northern part of Fiji where a 69-year-old woman was raped in her own home. Again the language of protection and prevention was used which squarely puts the responsibility on the survivor and her family rather than the perpetrator. As quoted in the Fiji Times: The plea from Divisional Police Commander North Senior Superintendent Shiri Singh follows an alleged rape report of a 69-year-old woman in the North. “The woman was alone at home and we are pleading with family members not to leave their elderly loved ones at home alone,” he said. “It is important that we take care of them and have them supervised at all times.”
Such immature comments from  public figures like Dr. Luveni and IIiesa is a double threat to the feminist movement. On one hand, we are fighting hard against patriarchy and systematic inequalities to put women on key public position whereas on the other hand, women on influencing role with lack of gender sensitivity are rather aiding the victim blaming culture.

* The Fiji Women’s Young Women’s Forum (FYWF) is co-convened by Diverse Voices and Action for Equality), Emerging Leaders Forum Alumni, and FemLINKPACIFIC Young Women’s Leadership Team. The Forum is led by young women for young women and has brought together approximately 28 young women in 2013 from 8-10 November, 24 young women from 14-16 March 2014 and 50 young women from 27-29 November 2014. Approximately 102 young women leaders and activists aged 18 – 35 years from Fiji discussed barriers and strategies to young women’s meaningful participation and representation in Fiji’s democratization process in 2014 elections and beyond in the three forums.

As observed and penned by our Fiji friends, supporters and allies within the young feminist movement