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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective

The Centre and “Development”

The Centre and “Development”

Though the Centre might not be contributing to “development” in the sense of economic growth or being involved in any redistribution of wealth, the Centre is page 40 providing a valuable support service for women and, with the Collective, is making decisions and running the Centre on a shoe-string budget. The project is working well in the face of opposition from men and women also.

The Centre has also made inroads in the medical, legal and police areas. Officials who would not previously come near the WCC or its workers, are now offering to assist the Women's Crisis Centre.

One problem is finance - finding finance to continue existing is a consistent constraint on the Centre. Much valuable time is spent on writing funding proposals and doing public relations work to get money. A proposal has been submitted to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), for two years funding. The UNFPA proposal, which needs government support, has been in Government hands for 14 months in 1987. [The funds have still not been forwarded at the time of publication, 1989]. The UNFPA has agreed to fund the Centre and has budgetted for two years, but the Government has rejected the proposal twice, forcing the Centre to re-submit it again. At this time, no definite answer or reason for refusing the proposal has been given. The Centre has heard from the former President of the National Council of Women that the Government did not like the word “crisis” as “crisis” gave Fiji a bad name. Fiji's image as a paradise is contradicted by the existence of a “crisis” centre.

Black and white cartoon about domestic violence.

The Collective refuses, however, to page 41 compromise on this point and to change its name. They are angry because it had taken the Centre a long time to establish itself.

Within the organisation, personality clashes and different perspectives exist, including on feminism. The Collective tries to iron out these difficulties. There are some women who were opposed to feminism. The Centre has gone to great lengths to explain that it is not a feminist organisation consisting of men-haters. Sometimes, this appears to be a false image because in dealing with battered women daily, it is difficult not to form a certain dislike of men; the WCC work also affects our relationships with men. Women in the Centre have had their views changed by their work: for instance, no longer thinking that if they as individuals are okay, everyone is okay.

The WCC is seen as a threat in Fiji. The WCC is not a group of women who had got together because they had nothing else to do. The Centre is “hitting at the very heart of the oppression of women”.

Shamima added a comment on her experiences in the project:

Meeting a woman smiling, talking and in good health after seeing her walk through the doors a complete wreck - physically and emotionally abused three months before - that to us means improving her living conditions and raising her status. It means we have come a long way and it justifies our existence.

Questions and Answers

Q: Was it part of the WCC's continuing education programme to educate men?

A: Yes. The WCC goes out and talks to service organisations. The Centre does not talk to the husbands or men directly involved in page 42 cases, except through use of the media and by writing on violence, hoping that these men will read the articles. The WCC does go to men's organisations, such as the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, the Medical School, and the Police. When the Police are training new recruits, they call on the WCC to talk to them. The Centre also carries out workshops on the treatment of rape victims.

One idea was to go to the Raiwaqa Housing Authority (a high density urban housing complex) to carry out workshops but the women feared the danger they might put themselves in if the males present got together and harassed them. The WCC members have received phone threats and threats from people who come to the Centre. These threats continue.

Q: How do you treat women who go back to their husbands?

A: The women at the Centre have no powers to control that - unless the legal system were to change. We had a case of a woman whose husband had been beating her for the last six years, ever since she got married. She was brought in by her niece who wanted the Crisis Centre to tell the woman to leave her husband but the Centre could not/did not do that. The woman concerned wanted to give the man a second chance, so the Crisis Centre went to the public legal advisor (now a woman - a plus point for the Centre) and she wrote a letter to the man suggesting possible legal action. The letter helped the woman considerably, even though it was not legally binding. If powers were legal, these could help more women.

Q: The reason I asked is that in some places, the man beats his wife and one can do nothing about it.

A: That is one of the things the Women's Rights Movement is pushing for. At the moment, when a domestic matter is reported, for page 43 example, wife bashing, the woman has to press charges and it is up to her. Then the case is classed in the general category of domestic disputes. If the woman drops the charges, that ends the case. The WCC and WRM is pushing for the matter (a man beating a woman) to become a police case, whether the woman reconciles or not.

Q: Is a large percentage of cases dealt with at the Centre rape cases and wife abuse?

A: The Centre was actually set up as a rape crisis centre, but the women involved right at the beginning realised that many women were being bashed up, and a lot of children also, and that is how the Women's Crisis Centre came into being. Rape is still an under-reported crime in Fiji and still a very taboo subject which many people refuse to talk about. In two years, the WCC has had about 12 cases of rape, of which only 4 had been reported; it has dealt with about 200 cases of violence, with 100 cases being wife bashing.

Q: What about incest and child abuse?

A: In two years, only about four cases were referred to the WCC by teachers.

Q: Does the WCC have a close relationship with the school system as well?

A: Yes. A few teachers have joined the WCC and through them, contact has been made with schools.

Q: Why did the WCC decide to have workshops in Raiwaqa - a high density urban housing area?

A: Most of the rape cases are from Raiwaqa. The Centre has also had women from the Raiwaqa community privately reporting rape cases. page 44 The Centre has been told of two women who were in hospital, who had been gang raped five times. The attitude of the police has been “Oh, it happens all the time” and so they have not bothered to pursue the cases. A traditional practice is also being used to smooth over the matter: a tabua (whale's tooth - a traditional offering of high value) is taken by the people who committed the offence to the injured party and the rape becomes “a family matter” and is settled that way. The victim however, has no say in the matter, as the tabua is presented to her family.