It is the school holidays and our children are enjoying the sun, leisure time and most have a lot of free time on their hands. This time could be used productively by helping out in chores or advancing one's own knowledge by learning a new skill or doing community work to gain more experience as well as awareness on socio-economic issues.
Many of our youths are members of a church youth group, a sports team or just hang out with their friends. Sometimes this could be a time utilised by doing good or mischief. It is hoped youth groups will organise events to build youths' character.
In recent months we have heard in the media that the perpetrators of violence are getting younger and the acts of violence more aggressive. Schoolaged children as well as school leavers are involved in acts of violence and the questions we need to ask ourselves is why is this happening and what are the solutions.
These acts are not just happening in Fiji but according to a WHO commissioned research done in 2005 & 2011, the Asia Pacific Region has some of the highest levels of gender-based violence in the world. More than a third of women aged 15-49 in Bangladesh, Thailand, Samoa have faced some form of violence in their lives.
In Fiji the figure of 80 per cent of crimes recorded as crimes committed against women is too high. Recently a meeting was organised by the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre to look at the issue of domestic violence and how faith-based organisations viewed the issue.This was due to the notion that churches and religious organisations were the first point of contact when issues of violence happened in a community and as they are the beacons of morality and social justice in our society, they could be requested to engage in helping eliminate violence against women and children.
There is hope we can prevent gender-based violence or GBV.
We have a lot of action in response to the violence in our communities but we also need to further our efforts and focus a lot of our efforts on prevention.
This is to try and stop the violence before it starts to minimise the immense human, economic and public health costs and move towards a more peaceful and prosperous and equitable Fiji in which people can realise their right to security, equality and freedom and achieve their potential.
We have just completed our constitution submission exercise and as the nation awaits the next stage which is on the deliberations of the Constitution Assembly regarding or nations constitution we can start rebuilding our nation through focusing on preventions of GBV. It is not a matter of having a constitution but it is about collaborating so that we stop the violence in our homes, in our communities, in our society and our nation as a whole. We have often asked the question what have we had so many upheavels in our nation? Why is there so much violence, why are our males getting more violent? Will a new constitution solve all these problems and answer all our questions?
Stopping the violence before it starts requires a co-ordinated sets of projects, programs and policies operating across all levels to minimise conditions that support violence, promote conditions that inhibit violence and build more peaceful societies.
We need programs that work with children, with young people in schools, community based programs to empower people and help change social norms and attitudes, campaigns to raise awareness and programs to make public spaces safe for women. This can be done by targeting the Ministry of Education to adapt the curriculum to include an elimination of violence against women or a prevention to GBV component. Faith based organisations could probably include EVAW as part of their Marriage Ministries and Family Life studies. Youth programs could be geared towards the ending of GBV by tying it to the different tenets of faith that each ascribe to and having a more concerted approach in trying to involve different faith groups to identify the elements of their faiths that promote prevention of violence and how each faith already has rights of individuals within their beliefs.
Our collective approach to prevent violence could focus on research and policy advocacy, capacity development and training to enhance existing projects to eliminate or prevent violence and communicate or advocacy. In laymen's terms this would be our training of communities to identify the sources or causes of violence, to eliminate them and find solutions. We could also share stories and make other people aware of the solutions and help that could be given or is available. Government could then make policies that make it difficult to commit violence by ensuring that penalties are harsher .The government could also ensure that support mechanisms for enforcement like the police have their capacity enhanced.
Often we try to ensure that the support services such as medical facilities as well as counselling services are provided more readily but would it be more beneficial if we encouraged more people to speak out against violence and know that it is wrong, it is immoral and it is not normal.
If we all collectively scream out that violence is not accepted than we could save cost on health, social and criminal justice services, and indirect costs such as loss of work and income. There would also be less people suffering from anxiety, stress and mental breakdowns and there would be less children bullying and involved in criminal activities.
Fiji needs to have a peaceful, prosperous and equitable society and in order to do this we need to work collaboratively. We need to Promote research to see what has been done already, Respond to support and protect those who experience violence, Empower women and girls, Value community engagement, Educate youth and adolescents, Nurture healthy family relationships and Target alcohol and abuse control. In other words P.R.E.V.E.N.T
Will you help?
* Fay Volatabu is the general secretary for the National Council of Women Fiji. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The views expressed are hers and not that of this newspaper.