Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dr Filimon Manoni
23 July 2020
I welcome you all to the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. We are delighted to host this signing ceremony which marks a new partnership to end violence against women and girls in our Blue Pacific region
As the old adage goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”; where I come from, this is certainly true. It requires a whole community, working together, to realise transformative change. This is the kind of change which will deliver equitable benefits for all, in particular those who are most disadvantaged! Equity and protection of our most vulnerable people in the ‘Pacific’ village is more important, more relevant than ever. Situations such as the current COVID-19 crisis are driving home that truth. Every one of us in this room today know how this pandemic has made the mandate of the Pacific Partnership more urgent. This pandemic has ensured the most serious and contested issues affecting our communities are exacerbated and exposed.
And as we continue to see, Violence against women and girls continues the silent epidemic within the pandemic. Violence in Pacific homes is the open wound challenging the ability of our Forum nations to provide safe, secure futures for all Pacific peoples. Since March this year, we have witnessed a surge of domestic violence globally and in our region. In Fiji the National Domestic Helpline recorded a significant increase by 606 percent between February and April, 2020 . In Samoa, there has been a 150 per cent increase in helpline calls compared to the same period last year.
Pacific leaders have acted decisively and boldly to prevent COVID infections in our region. This serious issue of violence against women and girls necessitates decisive and bold actions by our leaders and key groups such as the faith-based community.
Our experiences during this COVID-19 crisis reminds us of the work ahead of us- and that new, innovative and bold partnerships are needed to stop the problem of violence against women and girls. Preventing violence against women and girls may need to lean into lessons from the Pacific fight against Covid19. Decisive, regional action on the issues that matter – even before they become issues that matter. Bold and innovative approaches allowing convergence between faith and gender equality to effect transformational changes in social attitudes and norms
Forum leaders have recognized that partnerships are key to progressing the 2012 Pacific Leader Gender Equality Declaration and other calls to end violence against women and girls. The Forum has promoted partnerships with civil society; such as the Sexual Gender Based Violence Reference Group tasked to monitor how well policies and domestic violence laws are doing. The Forum Secretariat and other regional agencies, governments and civil society groups will continue the support for this vital group.
Through the Pacific Partnership and today’s signing between UN Women and the Pacific Conference of Churches, churches from around the region will leverage their substantial influence and unique entry points within their congregations and communities. They are a key partner in prevention work planned under their Strategic Plan 2020-2024.
I want to acknowledge each of you here today and the faith families you represent, as you commit to establishing monitoring and performance-based systems within all churches, implementation of the safe church policy on zero tolerance of violence against women and children in church communities, and development of church codes of conduct. All this will bring positive impacts and benefits for the wider Blue Pacific.
Faith based organizations play a key role in fostering harmony and peace in communities. During the conflicts in Solomon Islands, the Melanesian Brotherhood was instrumental in safeguarding affected communities and restoring peace. The Pacific Conference of Churches has remained consistently engaged around the issue of human rights violations in West Papua. This engagement by this important constituent group ensures the issues affecting our people remain central in our regional dialogues with our Leaders.
Furthermore, faith leaders play a uniquely influential role in determining values in the Pacific and can be a powerful transformational force to re-shape attitudes, beliefs and behaviors around gender equality. As we all know, these social norms shape and foster the context within which acts of violence against women and girls take place at a personal, family, community and societal level.
We invite the Pacific Conference of Churches, through this new partnership, to interact and consult as needed towards a much awaited Regional Faith Based Strategy to eliminate violence in our Pacific homes.
PIFS, as an implementing partner and chair of the Pacific Partnerships to End Violence Against Women and Girls Programme wishes the Pacific Conference of Churches all the best as an important partner in advancing the Gender Equality Declaration of the Pacific Leaders.
With your support, we will be able to take more action to save more lives for a better, stronger Blue Pacific.