‘For many years we’ve pondered the idea of establishing such a service. When we talk to women, survivors or not, a place to go to for assistance is what they ask for.’
Ms Kathryn Relang, Executive Director of Women United Together Marshall Islands.

CASE STUDIES

Project name: Violence Against Women and Girls Support Service Project
Outcome area: Ending violence against women
Project partner: Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI)
Total funding: $430,000
Funding timeframe: 2014–2016

Pacific Women supported WUTMI to conduct far reaching consultations to ensure that the first support service for women and girls experiencing violence in the RMI will rightly respond to their clients’ needs.

L-R: Police Commissioner George Lanwi with Ms Kathryn Relang, the Executive Director of Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI). WUTMI and the Marshall Islands Police Department have agreed on a joint working protocol, formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding between WUTMI and the police Domestic Violence Prevention Unit. Photo: Wean Elmer.

‘For many years we’ve pondered the idea of establishing such a service. When we talk to women, survivors or not, a place to go to for assistance is what they ask for.’

Those are the words of Ms Kathryn Relang, the Executive Director of WUTMI. She is proud that the organisation consulted widely in order to develop a model that will fit the needs of women in RMI.

Through Pacific Women funding, WUTMI was able to conduct community consultations with 222 people from six atolls, including through discussions with over 180 local women. Sixty percent of these women identified that they had experienced some form of gender-based violence.

The consultations enabled WUTMI to understand the type of service that women want. Women expressed a need for alternative, safe accommodation for survivors of violence; a focus on prevention of violence against women through community education and awareness raising regarding women’s rights as well as the laws surrounding violence against women; and intervention programs with men who choose to commit violence against women.

The challenge of accessing police support was a particular theme that emerged. To respond to this problem, WUTMI and the Marshall Islands Police Department have agreed to a joint working protocol to strengthen collaboration between the two organisations and improve survivors’ experience of reporting incidents of violence to the police. The program is also in the final stages of negotiating a similar agreement with the Majuro Local Government Police.

Significantly, the consultations also helped WUTMI identify the critical issues the service will need to address.

The facilitators of the consultations observed that, before participating in the workshops, the majority of women were unaware of what constitutes violence against women. Many saw it as normal or a natural way of life. For example, many women expressed shock and disbelief when they learned that wives are not obliged to have sex with their husbands and that men who coerce or force their partners to have sex are perpetrating sexual violence.

‘I didn’t know before that we have right to say no to our husband when we don’t [want] to have sex with them,’ explained one participant.

WUTMI will continue to use the information gathered through the consultations to design and deliver a service that fits the specific needs of women in RMI.

Island Pride Supermarket staff receive advocacy posters from WUTMI. Photo: Anatha Elias.

Project name: Support to the Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team
Outcome area: Ending violence against women
Project partner: Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team (SPC RRRT)
Total funding: $3,000,000*
Funding timeframe: 2015–2017

Members of the Nitijela (Parliament) of RMI put strong recommendations to the President on ending violence against women following the 2016 Human Rights Dialogue facilitated by SPC RRRT, supported by the European Union and Pacific Women.

The MPs heard from speakers who have been at the centre of Pacific responses to violence against women. Justice Stephen Pallaras, QC and former justice of the High Court of Solomon Islands encouraged the MPs to influence the nation’s policy to eliminate violence against women: ‘During my time in court and the 40 years of practice in criminal law, I have heard all the excuses. Some will say it’s traditional, cultural; we’ve always done it this way. Some men have told me I have the right to beat my wife, have sex with her, I have paid the bride price and therefore she is mine. Other men have told me that they are entitled to have sex with my daughter because I am the man. The scale and dimensions of this problem are not simply personal, they are financial, they are social, they are national, they are international and more, they are human. It will take people with leadership, vision and courage. Are you one of them?’

During the consultation, the MPs developed a set of recommendations for the President, including taking steps to progress and monitor the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act 2011; to promote awareness of national leaders on issues of violence against women; to strengthen preventative measures in legislation and policy; and to support organisations that are acting to address violence against women.

Mr Mark Atterton, SPC RRRT Director (at the time) observed that ‘it was clear that the members of the Nitijela, old and new, were outraged by the statistics we presented and committed to support local NGO, Women United Together Marshall Island, in their service for a women’s counselling centre and shelter accommodation. This was a great outcome of the induction programme.’

As part of its commitment to RMI, Pacific Women has also been working closely with WUTMI the leading voice against violence against women and girls in the nation.

Justice Pallaras underscored the role that leaders of RMI need to play: ‘Don’t tell me it’s not your problem. Don’t tell me it’s a women’s problem. It is a national problem about which the citizens are entitled to look to and expect their leaders to be working their absolute hardest to resolve.’

*This activity is part of a larger program.

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