Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gender Issues: Solomon Islands must act to end violence against women

Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

19 March 2012
The Solomon Islands must do more to protect women from violence and provide victims of gender inequality and discrimination access to justice, an independent United Nations human rights expert stressed after visiting the country.

Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, wrapped up a five-day visit to the Pacific Ocean nation during which she focused on instances of violence against women amid the country’s ongoing efforts to overcome poverty and underdevelopment.

“Violence against women starts at a young age, with the girl child being at risk of violence, both in the family and in the community,” Ms. Manjoo warned, referring to official figures which indicate that 64 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 who have ever been in a relationship have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence.

The Special Rapporteur cited “alarming” reports of young girls being abused by employees of fishing and logging companies in remote areas of the country and instances in which young girls face sexual and commercial exploitation or are sometimes given away by their families in exchange for compensation such as money or material goods.

Pointing to the “limited avenues of justice” available to women, Ms. Manjoo noted the lack of any specific legislation on the issue of violence against women as the country’s penal code does not criminalize some forms of domestic violence such as marital rape.

In addition, she said the nation, composed of nearly 1,000 islands, faces structural obstacles – such as lack of infrastructure, human and financial resources, insufficient qualified judges, magistrates and lawyers – which severely limit women’s access to the formal justice system.

Ms. Manjoo argued that the five years of ethnic tensions, which afflicted the Solomon Islands from 1998 to 2003, also have left a legacy of violence against women, including rape, torture, loss of property and displacement as well as an exacerbation of the domestic violence which they were already experiencing in the home prior to the conflict.

“The transition from a process of peacebuilding to one of state-building should not deny women victims of their right to both accountability and other redress measures for these past crimes,” Ms. Manjoo stressed.

She further noted that the UN-backed Truth and Reconciliation Commission which examined the violence committed in the Solomon Islands during the tensions will soon submit its findings to the Government, including a specific chapter on women.

“I encourage the Government to thoroughly and publicly discuss the Commission’s findings and recommendations especially with women’s groups and organizations,” she said.