Representatives from the Solomon Islands Government, UN agencies and civil society organizations gathered in Honiara on Wednesday March 11 to celebrate the official launch of the first phase of the UN-Solomon Islands Government Joint Programme on Eliminating Violence against Women and Girls (Joint Programme).

The programme looks to leverage the combined strengths of United Nations agencies and the Solomon Islands Government to create noticeable change for the country’s women and girls, and by extension the wider community, with an overall goal of eliminating violence against women and girls once and for all.

The broader joint programme is a partnership between the Solomon Islands Government and six UN agencies – UN Women, UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, ILO and WHO. This is the first time a joint programme on ending violence against women in Solomon Islands has received a UN Trust Fund grant.

The activities launched this week are jointly implemented by the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs, Ministry of Health and Medical Services, UN Women and UNFPA in partnership with UNDP, other UN Agencies and key stakeholders. They have received a US$600,000 (SB$4,338,000) grant for three years from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women through a joint proposal.

The Joint Programme looks to help strengthen capacity within government and civil society organisations to expand survivor services and primary prevention activities as well as changing the environment in which those services are delivered, making violence less acceptable through social transformation.

Solomon Islands has one of the highest documented rates of violence against women in the world. A Family Health and Safety Study released in 2009 found that 64 percent of women aged 15 to 49 who have ever been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner. Of those women, 70 percent never sought help and only 17 percent sought help from formal services.

Despite the severity and extent of the violence, services for survivors are limited, especially in the provinces. Women often don’t have equal access to resources and opportunities, and those who look to challenge the status quo by speaking out against violence face cultural norms that encourage them to return to abusive partners, as well as formal, often legal, barriers.

The Family Protection Bill, passed by parliament in late 2014, was the first of its kind in Solomon Islands, creating a legal framework that deals with domestic violence as a criminal offence, as well as acknowledging its poisonous effect on society as a whole. The challenge now lies in implementing and enforcing that law, but also in creating an environment that encourages and enables women to have access to the formal justice system, as well as effective survivor services.

UN Women’s Deputy Representative and Officer-in-Charge at the Fiji Multi-Country Office in Suva says violence against women and girls touches on a range of areas including gender inequality, health, safety, families, labour conditions for women and justice, something that has prompted the Solomon Islands Government and the United Nations to take a different approach.

“The prevention of, service provisions around, and consequences of, violence against women and girls cross the boundaries between disciplines such as mental and physical health, policing, justice and education. Not only does it therefore make sense that we all bring our combined experience, networks and expertise together as part of a coordinated approach to eliminating it, it is critical that we do so.”

Director and Representative of the UNFPA Pacific Sub-Regional Office, Dr Laurent Zessler cautioned there was no quick fix to entrenched issues like violence against women and its impact on society as a whole.

“Eliminating violence against women and girls relies on ensuring that the positive impacts of any programmes can be sustained over time. This is why the Joint Programme’s work is so important – it focuses on helping to ensure the level of survivor services available is raised to a point that they can meet the demand.”

Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs in Solomon Islands, Mrs Ethel Sigimanu says this is a huge milestone and one that has gone down in history as the country’s joint programme on gender.

“To this effect, I am calling on all stakeholders to join together and to work towards ensuring a safe and secure space for women at home, in the work place, and all public spaces. Women and girls must be able to live free from violence in the streets, on public transport and in parks, in and around schools and workplaces, public facilities, or in their own neighborhoods. They must enjoy equal access of opportunities and resources; and exercise their voice in leadership and participation.”

Health Under Secretary Dr Chris Becha spoke at the launch and said that he is a strong believer that men play a crucial role in eliminating gender-based violence.

“Men play a key role on how their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and colleagues will be treated. We may not realise it, but as men we often shape the lives of the wonderful women in our homes, villges, work places and nation through our choices and actions. The women and girls of our country are calling for dignity, respect and opportunity. Will we support them in planning their family? Will we hear their calls to stop the violence? Or will we hide behind old bygone traditions that oppress our women and girls?”

Akiko Suzaki, UNDP’s Deputy Resident Representative in the Solomon Islands, also spoke at the event, highlighting that establishing an integrated system is not about replacing what is already happening, or about taking random remedial actions.

“This approach builds on what works, incorporating the existing networks, agencies and multi-agency processes, filling up gaps and removing overlaps and inconsistencies. The integrated system also provides the infrastructure and the process to link and support all parts of the system to work together. That is why the Joint Programme on eliminating violence against women and girl will present opportunities to deliver concrete results and a lasting change in the protection of women and children from gender based violence.”

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