Kiribati

Population size:

117,606 [1]

Number of people experiencing domestic abuse each year:

UN Violence against women reports Women who have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime:68 % Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence in the last 12 months: 36 % Lifetime Non-Partner Sexual Violence against women: 10% [2]

More than 68 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 years who had been in a partnership had experienced physical or sexual violence. [3]

No research on male victims or other gender identities.

Cost of domestic abuse to the economy each year:

No research.

Estimated % change due to COVID-19:

No research on male victims or other gender identities.


Current law and policy:

Kiribati did not join the COMMIT Initiative. Nevertheless, it has shown some commitment to  engaging with the issue of domestic violence. However, Kiribati faces numbers other issues that limit the government’s ability to address domestic violence issues effectively. 

In 2004, Kiribati ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Since then Kiribati has introduced a number of measures to eliminate discrimination and violence against women.

Since this, Kiribati has introduced the Family Peace Act 2014 with criminalised Domestic Violence and provided protection orders to family members. It also enacted the Children, Young People and Family Welfare Act in 2013 to provide protection services to girls facing exploitation and abuse. In 2017, the Penal Code was amended to expand the definition of sexual offences and The Gender Equality and Women’s Development Policy 2019-22 is prioritising the elimination of sexual and gender-based violence among other related issues.

The primary focus of efforts in Kiribati is on primary prevention, and this is being affected through projects such as the Strengthening Peaceful Villages Project which aims to mobilise citizens to work together to eliminate violence in their communities.

However, Kiribati is also struggling with issues such as climate change, overpopulation and cultural resistance, as well as having a lack of capacity and resources to effect change at the rate it would like to.

The government is now working to raise awareness of gender equality and women’s rights through programmes such as the Kiribati Male Behavioural Change Programme, in its predominately patriarchal society. Additionally, Kiribati has to address challenges from climate change and natural disasters, before it can fully meet the goals of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Finally, Kiribati is lacking the capacity and resources to achieve its goals and has continued to welcome donor support. Its geography also makes providing centralised services difficult, and outreach projects produce additional costs.  All these issues limit the governments abilities to act, in spite of its best intentions and efforts.


Gender-based violence centres have faced an increase due to COVID-19 and the impact of a tropical cyclone which limited their ability to deliver services.[4]


Front line stories:

Rotee Walsh

Rotee was born in 1952. Her family grew their own food, fished, and lived in a very traditional manner. A visiting ship, four or five times a year, was the only contact between their island and the world outside. Rotee’s mother was full of traditional knowledge and renowned as a healer and mid-wife: but never went to school; could neither read nor write; and had no prospect of employment (no woman did at that time).

In 1965 Rotee won a place at the (selective) Government Secondary school. She was in the very first year when girls studied the same curriculum as boys; but girls were still not then considered for university education. Peggy Mowat was one of her teachers. After secondary school, Rotee joined the civil service as a secretary, but in 1975 she married an Irishman and left Kiribati for South Wales. Their children have been brought up in both cultures.

Of the topics covered in the oral and pictorial records of the Mowats, Rotee has reflected especially on Peggy Mowat’s closing observation: that girls were motivated to go to the Government secondary school because they ‘did not wish to live as their mothers lived’.

In fact, Rotee considers that women had a higher status in traditional society than they did under the Christian churches, and in a British Colony – two of the most patriarchal institutions ever devised.

In pre-contact society, women were economically active in agro-forestry, as landowners; learnt specialist skills, such as navigating long ocean voyages; could be Ueas (Chiefs); and participated as leaders in warfare. In colonial times, by contrast, women were excluded, right up to the late 1960s, from both employment and government. The Mowats came at a critical moment.

Since Independence in 1979, girls in Kiribati have rapidly caught up in educational terms and they now hold a much higher proportion of senior positions than do women in the UK. Although there is still room for improvement, I Kiribati women have come a long way towards regaining the status that their great-grandmothers had lost when they joined the British Empire in 1892.


Grace James

An I-Kiribati woman seeking Asylum in the United States as a result of domestic violence in Kiribati.

Foreword from Michael Roman Ph.D. MPH MA - Visiting Professor/UCBA Sustainability Advisor/Academic Advisor from University of Cincinnati.

Domestic violence has been generationally commonplace for many women and families in Kiribati. According to a United Nations Women’s prevalence of violence against women study, 68% of Kiribati women aged 15-49 have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, while 36% have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence within the past 12 months. 10% have experienced sexual abuse by someone other than an intimate partner since age 15. In 2018, 20% of women aged 20 to 24 were first married or in union before age 18.

1 Secretariat of the Pacific Community, 2010. Kiribati Family Health and Support Study: A study on violence against women and children. Noumea, New Caledonia.

2 UNICEF global databases, 2018, based on Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and other nationally representative surveys.

Grace’s story is of a young Pacific Island woman’s true coming of age story takes the reader from a vanishing small island state to rural Philippine villages and ends in an American jail. She and other detainees share a life inside walls few have ever entered. Narratives of survival, rooted faiths stronger than the concrete that incarcerates them will shock, awe, and inspire the reader as they wait for their cases to be heard. Icons for all domestic violence survivors, faith followers, and humanitarians working towards a more globally just society; these women are the faces of today’s American asylees.


Grace’s story

Growing up, I witnessed my father beat my mother. My siblings and I would run away when he got into one of his moods. At night, we would wait outside and keep watch, waiting for the lights turn off. That was our signal to return. When the lights went out, we knew our father had fallen asleep. We would tiptoe back inside to fall asleep again. Like me, my mother would cry for mercy when no longer able to bear the pain. She wore sunglasses to work the following day to cover the bruises. The more I thought about my mother, the more I realized I would end up just like her if I did nothing.

She worked so hard, and still, she suffered. She didn’t want us to grow up without a father. Her love for us was stronger than my father’s fist. And now, I too had this strength. The loss of my child gave me courage. It flowed through my veins and pushed me to take a stand. Filled with regret, my child gave me the courage to leave.

We were not ready to become parents. I wondered if we ever would. In the hospital, my mother reminded me of the countless other women who experience the same thing. Think about those women; she would say, who’ve been abused and have remained with their husband’s. They think there’s no way out! Maybe if you leave, you could show them that there’s a way. She saw me as hope for all women in Kiribati.

It’s not about breaking a relationship, she said, it’s about showing our men what is right. They won’t know until we stand up. No woman deserves abuse. Fear. Death. No woman.


Frontline Services:

 

Sources


[1] The World Bank, (1)

[2] UN Women, “Global Database on Violence Against Women – Kiribati”, (evaw-global-database.unwomen.org)

[3] http://www.savekiribati.com/domestic-violence.php

[4] https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/stories/2020/06/feature-pacific-crisis-centres-respond-to-covid-19-amid-natural-disasters


Further Reading


[1] https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25592&LangID=E

[2] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/opinion/2012/11/25/the-human-and-economic-cost-the-pacific-cannot-afford