Consisting of one main island and 32 coral atolls, Kiribati is home to over 110,000 people. It ranks 137 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index 2015.XXII
The Government of Kiribati has taken steps to support gender equality with the creation of the Ministry of Women, Youth and Social Affairs in 2012. This ministry is responsible for progressing women’s empowerment and implementing the Strategic Action Plan (2011–2021) to support the elimination of sexual and gender based violence.
Women make up three of Kiribati’s 46-member national parliament (6.5 per centXXIII). At the local government level, 10 of the 332 councillors are women. Whilst rates of women in political leadership remain low, women hold more senior leadership positions within the public sector, with 73 high-level women government officials compared to 66 men.XXIV
Economically, Kiribati has the lowest Gross Domestic Product per capita in the Pacific region at US$2047.XXV The 2009 Kiribati Demographic and Health Survey noted that only two in 10 married women who had cash earnings decided for themselves how it was spent. Around one quarter of women reported that they had no say in decisions relating to household purchases.XXVI
Kiribati has a high prevalence of intimate partner violence, with 68 per cent of women and girls aged 15–49 years who have ever been in a relationship experiencing violence. In 2014, the Government passed the Te Rau N Te Mwenga (Family Peace) Act. It contains actions to prevent and respond to domestic violence, gives direction on how survivors can be supported and includes measures to hold offenders accountable.
Project name: Establishment of the Kiribati Women and Children Support Centre
Outcome: Ending violence against women
Project Partner: Kiribati Family Health Association
Total Funding: $209,895
Funding timeframe: 2016–2018
With support from the Kiribati Family Health Association, the Kiribati Women and Children Support Centre is scheduled to open in early 2018. Its inaugural coordinator brings a wealth of experience to the job and ‘a goal to support women and children who are affected by violence.’
Ms Teretia Tokam was recruited in June 2017 as the support centre’s first coordinator. She is working to ensure everything is in place to welcome clients in the new year.
With a Bachelor of Laws from the University of the South Pacific, Ms Tokam started her professional life at the Attorney-General’s office in Tarawa.
‘I moved away from being a lawyer to becoming an advocate for ending violence against women. My turning point … is when I did a domestic violence case in the Court of Appeal, appearing for the state. It was a brutal case: the woman was badly bashed up by her husband, who bit her upper lip right off. A number of women would come to see us, me and my lawyer friends, for help and it gave me the idea that perhaps I can do more for the women.’
In 2008, Ms Tokam became the Kiribati country focal point for the Regional Rights Resource Team of the Pacific Community where she was involved in advocacy and support for the drafting of the Te Rau N Te Mwenga (Family Peace) Act 2014.
‘I see myself as very fortunate with the capacity building on human rights I received during that time; to be able to link all the pieces together,’ she says.
Later, Ms Tokam joined the then Ministry of Internal and Social Affairs, as the National Coordinator on Ending Sexual and Gender-based Violence.
‘One of our success stories was the coordination … Before, the NGOs, government departments and courts, did things on their own, separately. So we created [a] taskforce to ensure that everyone from different sectors came to the table to share and coordinate.’
Most recently, Ms Tokam completed a Master of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development at the Australian National University on an Australia Awards Scholarship. She returned to Tarawa to take up the role at the Support Centre with a clear vision:
‘To be a successful centre that provides quality services to women and that women are confident to access / use the support from the centre. And, hopefully, to reduce the rate of violence and empower women at the same time.’
Project name: Healthy Family Clinic
Outcome: Ending violence against women
Project Partner: Ministry of Health and Medical Services
Total Funding: $150,000
Funding timeframe: 2014–2016
The Ending Sexual and Gender Based Violence (ESGBV) Policy and 10-year National Action Plan outline the Kiribati Government’s approach to ending violence against women. The ESGBV Taskforce has been established to bring service providers and stakeholders together to coordinate programs and activities. By working together, stakeholders are upscaling violence prevention and service delivery programs and activities to ensure that policy objectives and outcomes are achieved.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services is part of the ESGBV Taskforce. With support from Pacific Women, the Ministry has established the Healthy Family Clinic to increase access to quality support services for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and to integrate reproductive health services within one facility. This responds to outcomes of the ESGBV Policy and National Action Plan and also Kiribati’s National Health Strategic Plan.
The clinic was completed in December 2016 and officially opened by the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. It is staffed by a gynaecologist, a nurse, and a social welfare officer / counsellor.
Between January and June 2017, the clinic provided services to 127 survivors of violence. The clinic’s nurse, Ms Tatiri Biira and counsellor, Ms Christina Reiher note:
‘The Healthy Family Clinic provides a private and effective environment to carry out the work needed to traumatised victims. Victims and accompanying families do not have to suffer curious glances from others and feel at ease within the closure of the facility… We have found that most of the cases of violence occur during the night and with approval from the Director of Public Health, Ms Eretii Timeon, our working hours have now been adjusted to include night shifts.’
The staff are continuing to use the experiences from the first period of operation to develop ways to improve the clinic’s services.
‘The victims, once they have undergone examination, treatment, and counselling, are gone and we never seem to hear from them again,’ says Ms Reiher.
‘We would like to see if there has been a good or negative outcome from the counselling we have provided to them.’
The Clinic is therefore looking at expanding services to include home monitoring visits. These visits could also be used to provide information on the impact of domestic violence on health, including reproductive health.