By Tait Brimacombe
In recent years the Government of Kiribati, with support from the international donor community, has made impressive gains in the research and policy space towards the elimination of sexual and gender-based violence. However, the challenge remains of how to implement such policies and legislation within a sector that is notoriously under resourced.
The Kiribati Family Health and Support Study (KFHSS), published in 2010, highlighted the profound and complex impact of sexual and physical violence against women and girls. This study represented Kiribati’s first attempt to quantify violence against women and child abuse at a national level. The KFHSS noted that 68% of women in Kiribati have experienced physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner. In addition, the study noted that women in Kiribati were more likely to experience severe forms of violence (including the use of a weapon) than moderate violence.
These confronting findings represented a call to action for key stakeholders in Kiribati’s gender and development space, and prompted a raft of legislative and policy reform. The Government of Kiribati’s response came in the form of the National Action Plan to Eliminating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (2011-2021) (The National Action Plan). This plan focuses on strengthening of legislative and judicial frameworks, building institutional and community capacity, strengthening social support services, civic engagement and advocacy. In addition, The Family Peace Act was passed in 2014, criminalising all forms of violence against women.
In line with this legislative reform, donors have made the resourcing of these policies – and their implementation – a key component of their work in Kiribati. Support to the implementation of the National Action Plan is one of the three major activities funded as part of the Australian Government and Government of Kiribati UN Women Preparatory Assistance Project (PAP). Part of this support sees funding directed to the Women’s Development Division within the Ministry of Women, Youth and Social Affairs (MWYSA), tasked with overseeing the implementation of the National Action Plan. Part of this assistance includes international funding for staff salaries (indeed three out of five staff in the Women’s Division have DFAT-funded positions) and contributions towards general Ministry operating costs.
Some promising steps have been made towards the implementation of the National Action Plan, including:
- Partnership with the Police including the recently completed construction of a comfort lounge for those reporting GBV;
- Training with the judiciary system on both Tarawa and the Outer Islands to ensure the appropriate enforcement of new legislation; and
- Dialogue with key stakeholders at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the Kiribati Family Health Association (KFHA) regarding the establishment of a women and children’s support centre (with a design expected in 2016).
However, what is clear from the activities to date, is a tendency to focus on systematic, formal processes (such as policies and legislative reform); with little consideration of the more personal and informal elements necessary to achieve positive social change (such as the challenging of harmful attitudes and practices, and gender norms). It is necessary to acknowledge the complex and intersecting nature of these factors in order for transformation change to occur, and to see a meaningful translation of policy into practice.