Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective
The Women's Crisis Centre (WCC) became operational in August 1984. The founding group met in 1983, when women of various races, nationalities, religions and ideologies, got together and voiced a concern about the number of sexual attacks on women in and around the city of Suva.
The group was concerned about the total lack of support for women. There was no official body to provide help, so the women decided to work towards providing such a service themselves. The result was the Women's Crisis Centre.
The Centre is funded by donations and by small grants, occasionally from the government. It is a charitable trust affiliated to the National Council of Women. However, the National Council of Women has not provided much help to the Centre; the WCC however still wished to be affiliated to the NCW.
Presently, the centre is made up of about 30 women, mostly locals and some expatriates. Its aim is to continue to increase the number of local women members, and the Centre constantly works to this end.
The Centre operates as a collective body, and found it operated best in this way. Each member has an equal voice and major decisions are arrived at in a democratic way. All members of the Centre are volunteers, except for the Co-ordinator and the Secretary. The Co-ordinator makes most of the day-to-day decisions and is the primary spokesperson for the Centre, arranging publicity, etc. The two paid members - the Secretary and the Co-ordinator -are also members of the Collective. The Collective assessed itself constantly and if, at any point, it is felt that the page 38 Collective idea was not working, the Centre would change its structure. So far, the Collective has worked very well.
The main function of the Centre is to provide a support service to women and children who had been or were victims of violence, rape, wife bashing, child abuse, and incest. It is open from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, and provides a 24-hour telephone service made possible through a diverted call system which ensures that a counsellor is at the other end of the line, 24 hours a day.
The service is completely confidential, free and available to all women and children. It provides psychological and emotional support through counselling. Women on the counselling roster undergo a basic training programme in counselling, conducted by a trained counselling psychologist. The trainer is leaving but three of the Collective have been trained to take over from her.
Counsellors accompany a victim, if she wishes, through police and court procedures. The Centre provides her with information on other services available to her and on her rights. A victim could also be referred to a place of refuge, which is a short-term arrangement. Individuals in the community provide safe-houses for women. The Centre also assists in finding alternative long-term accommodation, which is difficult. The Centre offers full support for whatever course of action the woman decides to take. The woman is encouraged to make a decision for herself.
The Centre also has conducted self-defense classes, which it is trying to continue. The Centre does not offer religious counselling, because it is not prepared to do this. If a woman wants religious help, however, she is referred to an appropriate agency. The WCC also felt it was important not to undertake religious counselling because the Centre wanted women from all religious backgrounds to feel free to come to the Centre. Also women who were desperate enough to come to the Centre did not need religious counselling at that moment of crisis. In its two years of counselling and seeing over 200 cases, the Centre has not had any case of women asking for religious page 39 counselling.
Other aims of the Centre are to develop an extensive community education programme and increase community awareness of the problem of violence against women. This has been done through information dissemination using posters and pamphlets and through media contacts, public teaching, conducting of seminars in schools, colleges, and in women's groups and other community groups.
Research into the circumstances, dynamics, and magnitude of sexual and domestic violence, is another priority. The Centre hopes to house a valuable library of information on the subject which could operate as a community resource centre. A fair amount of literature has been collected and is being used by government organisations. The Centre hopes to eventually have some influence on the judicial procedures because women have very little legal protection in Fiji. [Following the coups in Fiji in May and September 1987, the judiciary has been particularly unstable. The Fiji Women's Rights Movement, which works closely with the Women's Crisis Centre, is looking at this area.]