Twenty-six representatives from six Pacific Island countries are in Suva this week for a five-day regional workshop to develop concrete action plans to address high rates of violence against women in the region.

The workshop organised by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team (SPC RRRT) in partnership with the UN Women Fiji Multi-country Office is part of the support provided to Pacific organisations that are recipients of grants from the UN Women Pacific Regional Facility Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women.

Speaking at the opening of the consultation, guest speaker Maha Muna, Gender Adviser with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Suva called on participants to remember youth in their campaigns and to ensure that interventions also focus on empowering young people as a vital way forward in ending the intergenerational cycle of violence in homes and communities in the region.

‘Today, in the spirit of International Youth Day, let us recommit to removing the scourge of violence from the lives of Pacific women and young people,’ she said.

In highlighting examples of the high prevalence of violence amongst young people in the region, Ms Muna spoke of the findings of a 2010 United Nations Children’s Fund study, Understanding HIV and AIDS. The study reported that 38% of sexually active youth in Solomon Islands had experienced forced sex, with 20% reporting their first sexual encounter as forced. In Vanuatu, the study reported that 45% had experienced forced sex, with 36% reporting that their first sexual encounter had been forced, and in Kiribati, it reported that 43% of sexually active youth had experienced forced sex, with ongoing vulnerability for 79%, and that for 21% their first sexual encounter was forced.

Muna also reaffirmed the findings of Family Health and Safety Studies in the region, supported by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and UNFPA in collaboration with SPC and national bureaus of statistics, which demonstrated high prevalence of violence against women in the Pacific, particularly in the context of intimate relationships. The recent research shows that 68% of ever-partnered women between the ages of 15 and 49 in Kiribati have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. The rates are 64% in Solomon Islands and 46% in Samoa.

‘Breaking the cycle of violence in the region is a big challenge. Your country advocacy and action plans must focus on how you can engage in changing hearts and minds, behaviours and attitudes, along with services, policies and laws,’ Muna said.

Activities on the agenda for this week’s consultation include reviewing national country strategies and advocacy initiatives in addressing violence against women, enhancing capacities of the participants to effectively challenge discriminatory laws and practices in countries using a human rights based approach and developing two-year advocacy and action plans to address gender based violence in the countries.

Participants are government and civil society stakeholders from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. This consultation and work to support legislative change in addressing violence against women is supported by UN Women and AusAID.