A young girl in Vanuatu reads a booklet on domestic violence. Photo by: DFAT / CC BY

CANBERRA — Two new reports released on July 30 highlight the gravity of domestic violence in the Pacific and Timor-Leste, with the aim to draw attention to the social norms that are impacting social and economic development in the region.

“The Business Case for Workplace Responses to Domestic and Sexual Violence in Fiji,” produced by the International Finance Corporation in partnership with the Australian aid program, identifies the impact domestic violence in the region has on businesses and their productivity — building the case for businesses to deliver programs that educate and support staff who are victims.

“Our intention is to bring the private sector into this discussion and involve them in … community response,” Shabnam Hameed, operations officer for gender at IFC East Asia Pacific, told Devex.

Unseen, unsafe,” a report released by ChildFund Australia, Plan International, Save the Children, and World Vision, brings to light the scale of violence against children in the Pacific and Timor-Leste — bringing information to light that Plan Australia CEO Susanne Legena says until now has been limited.

“Violence against children has been effectively invisible,” Legena said. “Hence the report title. This is the first comprehensive report on this issue in the region.”

With the new insights, both reports aim both to create a conversation about development needs in the Pacific region and to encourage donors and new partners to help address intergenerational domestic violence.

Domestic violence and the economic impact in Fiji

The IFC report for Fiji follows similar research conducted in Solomon Islands — with both studies conducted based on needs identified by the private sector.

Fiji takes first steps to build an accessible child care system

A lack of child care is causing Fijian families stress and costing businesses $1,000 Fiji dollars ($465) per employee per year, a new IFC report has found.

When  IFC started work in the Pacific, businesses in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands said violence was one of the key issues they wanted to address, Hameed explained. This concern was also echoed in other countries, subsequently. “When we came to Fiji, what businesses said to us was that there were two things they wanted that were barriers to women’s employment — one was child care and the other domestic and sexual violence.”

The research showed that 1 in 3 employees had experienced domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime: 44% of women and 22% of men. Violence included emotional abuse, harassment, intimidation, and physical violence.

Three-quarters of those who had directly experienced domestic or sexual violence said it impacted their work, and more than half of survey participants said domestic or sexual violence experienced by family or friends impacted work in some way.

“Our data clearly shows that both women and men are affected and how they are affected,” Hameed said.

For businesses, the prevalence of violence meant just under 10 workdays were being lost per employee per year due to employees “feeling distracted, tired or unwell, being late for work, being absent, or helping others respond to domestic and sexual violence.”

The workplace processes to address domestic and sexual violence for the surveyed business, Hameed explained, was “ad-hoc” with no formal procedures. But the report identified the potential change businesses could make.

More than half of women and 28% of men surveyed impacted by violence had spoken to someone at work about it. 42% of women and 8% of men addressed it formally, with a supervisor or manager, and the acceptance of violence in “some circumstances” was significantly lower within the workplace than national averages.

“The workplace is a fantastic place to support people with cultural norm changes,” Hameed said.

In the workplace, she explained, if a certain behavior is considered unacceptable there can be role modelling and support over an extended time.

“What I will say, however, is that we cannot take any credit and attribute this lower acceptance in this instance of a workplace response as this is a baseline study — the interventions haven’t happened yet.”

The launch of the report coincides with the announcement of an IFC program in Fiji to support companies in responding to domestic and sexual violence through a workshop series and training.

“Our plan is to work with ... as many companies as possible,” she said. “In that process, we will be monitoring both uptake and action as well as impact.”

Work will soon begin in PNG to build further business cases for private sector engagement in tackling the issue of violence.

Violence against children

“Unseen, unsafe” focuses on a number of regions to highlight the known challenges and gaps in programming to address violence against children — including Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu. It collates disturbing findings on violence against children being a social norm.

In PNG, data from a Save the Children study shows nearly 70% of children reporting feeling scared in their community. Almost two-thirds of parents yelled or screamed at their children, with more than half calling their children lazy, stupid, or something similar. And 27% of parents or caregivers sometimes used physical punishment “over and over as hard as they could.”

Reporting on sexual violence from Médecins Sans Frontières showed the prevalence of sexual violence against children in PNG — with more than 50% of 3,056 sexual violence cases referred to their clinics against children .

In Vanuatu, research shows that 83% of children aged between 1 and 14 have experienced violent discipline, with it a “nearly universally accepted practice in child-rearing” for many communities.

And in Timor-Leste a 2016 study on violence against children found that at least 37% of female survey respondents had been coerced into their first sexual experience by the age of 14.

But despite the prevalence and commonality of violence — both domestic and sexual — the Unseen, Unsafe report finds that donor funding to support programs addressing it is severely lacking.

“The findings of our report are unequivocal,” Legena said. “The levels of violence against children across the region are shocking and are having a deeply detrimental impact on children and society more broadly. What’s more, successive donors and governments have so far failed to properly address the child protection crisis in the Pacific and Timor-Leste.”

The limited funding to date, Legena said, has been driven by the complexity of intergenerational drivers of violence against children.

“There is no simple explanation for the issue, and whilst there are effective solutions, these are multilayered and require commitment across a range of sectors and stakeholders,” she said.

With the release of the report, Plan and its partners are urging donors in the region to increase investment in programs specifically addressing violence against children to 1.5% of official development assistance.

“For Australia, that means investing $55 million [Australian dollars, or $38 million] over the next three years,” Legena said. “If we want future generations of children in the Pacific to grow and prosper, a determined and meaningful investment in their well-being and safety is critical.”

Despite the challenges, there is action occurring through community-based programs. Parenting programs are being rolled out to reduce violence in the home. And awareness and advocacy efforts have increased the visibility of children’s rights and empowered children to know where to go for help and to understand what the law says.

“Targeted programs and grassroots organizations are making a difference by changing cultural norms, and providing families and communities with the tools to actively protect their children from violence,” Legena said.

But more partners are needed to ensure that domestic violence is addressed and to support the advancement of the Pacific region, Legena said.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.