The Regional Working Group on the Implementation of Family Protection and Domestic Violence Legislation (RWG) was established as a key outcome of the “Regional Consultation on the Implementation of Domestic Violence Legislation: from Law to Practice” conducted in 2018 by the SPC Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT) now the SPC Human Rights and Social Development (HRSD) division. It currently has 13 country/state members from across the Pacific region. It is a platform for countries/states with domestic violence legislation to meet regularly to share information and good practices in relation to the implementation of DV legislation; and discuss common regional strategies and initiatives to improve the implementation of DV legislation.
The 2021 RWG annual meeting, scheduled for 24 to 26 August virtually, will share experiences, reflect on good practices, challenges, and learnings to date on the implementation of DV legislation, particularly in the RWG’s key priority areas (advisory committees, counselling, and data collection) and within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, environment and natural disasters. The meeting also seeks to establish best practices, make recommendations to strengthen domestic violence legislation implementation, and explore ways in which RWG members can strengthen services to support survivors of DV during times of crises
The RWG annual meeting also seeks to build on key agreements and recommendations arising from the 14th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women in April 2021, regarding Gender Based Violence, by continuing the conversation amongst lead government ministries that coordinate the implementation of the Family Protection/Domestic Violence Legislation.
Impacts of COVID-19 and other national crises on the implementation of DV legislation in the Pacific
Implementing legislation to address domestic violence (DV) in fourteen Pacific Island countries continues to be impacted by practical social, cultural, religious, political, environmental, and economic challenges.
The impacts of the pandemic and cyclones on domestic violence will be a key focus of the upcoming RWG. The event is facilitated by the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Human Rights and Social Development (HRSD) division.
On 30 January 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga, and Vanuatu had to also prepare for Tropical Cyclone Harold in April 2020 and more recently, Tropical Cyclones Yasa and Ana which hit Fiji in December 2020 and January 2021.
The global pandemic, coupled with tropical cyclones, further impacted the already high rates of domestic violence in the region. This has added more pressure on the existing challenges for implementation of DV legislation. In Fiji, the national domestic violence helpline saw an almost 200 per cent jump in April from March 2020. Samoa also saw a 150 per cent increase in helpline calls compared to April 2019.
COVID-19 restrictions which included the restriction on movement, lockdown periods and ‘stay at home orders’ were enforced in various Pacific Island Countries. These restrictions also left women unable to access important DV information as well as physically access essential services.
These will be some of the major points of discussion during the three-day regional meeting which will be conducted virtually in the week of the 23rd of August 2021, with the start date of Monday 23rd August for Cook Islands and Tuesday 24th August for the rest of the RWG member countries.