Press Release: New research shows Fiji’s women face significant barriers in accessing the formal justice system in Fiji
Balancing the Scales: Improving Fijian Women’s Access to Justice research report was launched today in Suva by the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement.
Twelve years after the commencement of the Family Law Court in 2005, FWRM has undertaken a research to better understand the barriers that still prevent women from accessing the formal justice system. The research also looks at ways to improve the quality of services delivered to women when they interact with formal justice sector agencies for their family law matters and those cases involving violence against women and children.
The Balancing the Scales: Improving Fijian Women’s Access to Justice research project implemented by the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement is primarily funded by the European Union and supported by UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office (MCO).
European Union Ambassador to Fiji Julian Wilson said at the Launch, "I would like to lend our congratulations to the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM), in researching and writing this report. It is serious work with a strong research methodology that has been well carried out."
UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office (MCO) Representative, Aleta Miller, said, “it is our firm belief in UN Women that laws can change society.”
“Robust justice systems can provide the means for women to demand accountability: to put a stop to violence in their relationships, to claim citizenship rights, to get married and divorced on equal terms, or to claim the land, inheritance or pay to which they are entitled.
“We sincerely hope that this report, its findings, and recommendations will help the government of Fiji and actors of the formal justice systems to work alongside Fiji’s CSOs and development partners in laying a clear and actionable path to ensure that the women and children of Fiji have the same access to the justice system as the men in this country.”
Makereta Waqavonovono, Chair of FWRM, stated that Fiji had been a pioneer in the Pacific in the area of Family Law reform and was instrumental in the drafting of the Family Law Act in 2003. However, 12 years post the introduction of the Family Law Act there were areas that needed improvement:
“This report presents case studies of areas where the formal justice sector agencies in Fiji are supporting women and children in dealing with their family law cases and the violence they experience. The case studies show a number of examples where the courts, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Legal Aid Commission have shown a real commitment to women, including those women living with a disability, to ensure a proper resolution of their family law or violence case.
A very concerning finding from the research is that women wait on average nearly two and a half years before bringing their case to the police or courts. Moreover, while more than 6000 women initiated family law or domestic violence restraining order applications in the Fiji courts in 2016, only 1 in 3 of these women were represented by the Legal Aid Commission leaving at least 4000 to navigate the system without proper legal representation. The research also found that there is a lack of a transparent and accessible court fee waiver process in family law and civil matters. Overcoming these issues is critical as many women lack the financial resources or knowledge to bring their family law cases to the courts in order to protect themselves and their children.”
In her Keynote speech, Ministery for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Acting Director Selai Korovusere said;
“The FWRM Report highlights data from Fiji Bureau of Statistics that shows that up to 5 out of 10 women in rural areas live on or below the Fiji basic needs poverty line. A woman living on the basic needs poverty line has an income of around FJD 50 a week, therefore the FJD 50 court fee in the Family Court or the FJD 100 court fee in the High Court of Fiji is beyond her financial means. It is therefore critical that the Fiji Courts have a transparent and accessible court fee waiver process to enable women to access the courts when they face financial difficulties or receive benefits under the Poverty Benefit Scheme, the Food Voucher Programme or the Disability Allowance.”
The Chief Justice of Fiji, the Hon Anthony Gates, in his Keynote Address, congratulated FWRM for their continued advocacy and work in ensuring that Fiji women’s rights were met. His lordship stated:
“The court data presented in this report shows that women are the majority of applicants in 9 out of 10 maintenance cases and 7 out of 10 restraining order cases filed in the Family Court. The report shows the Fiji Courts’ commitment to transparency and accountability with the publication of more than 1000 court judgments on PacLII. While the Report highlights the fact the Fiji judiciary currently does not publish any family law cases on PacLII as these cases are not yet redacted or anonymised to remove the parties’ names it is hoped that protocols can be developed to overcome this and to enable future family law judgments to be published.”
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Christopher Pryde, who also attended and spoke at the launch stated:
“The ODPP is pleased to see the FWRM Research refer to case studies highlighting those matters where the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have provided support to women victim/ survivors to adequately prepare them for court hearings that are often stressful and difficult to understand. In discussing the research findings with FWRM we are happy to support the recommendation of presenting sex-disaggregated data on indictments on an annual basis and will be able to present this for 2017 data.”
FWRM Executive Director, Nalini Singh said, while the Fiji Government has adopted progressive laws and policies over the last 15 years, there was still much to be accomplished to ensure women and girls are protected from violence.
“With over 3 decades of policy-reform work and advocacy, FWRM has a well-established reputation in improving women’s access to justice. This research is another step forward to determine the barriers that still exist for women in Fiji. FWRM has analysed data from formal justice sector institutions and hopes that findings and recommendations from this research report will lobby policymakers in improving women’s access to the formal justice system. It’s not just important for our work but our partners, allies, and stakeholders working around the justice system,” she said.
“The FWRM Research Team has analysed and presented sex-disaggregated data from the Fiji Police Force, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Fiji Judiciary and the Legal Aid Commission showing trends over the last 5-10 years. The data shows that in all categories of Sexual Offences cases (rape and attempted rape cases, indecent assault, child sexual abuse cases) reported by women and girls to the Fiji Police, the number of cases increased from 2009 then decreased from 2012.”
Ms Singh further pointed out that in 9 out of 10 sexual offence cases reported to the Fiji Police Force, women and girls are the victims/ survivors and that men are the perpetrators in 9 out of 10 violence and sexual violence cases in Fiji.
The FWRM research team was supported by research advisers Cate Sumner and Leisha Lister of Law & Development Partners. The report builds on the important research undertaken by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (2013), which found that 64% of women in Fiji experience physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
The FWRM Research Team analysed data gathered through eight complementary research methodologies ranging from discussions with formal justice sector agencies and CSOs working with women and children on family law and violence matters in the Northern, Western and Central Divisions of Fiji to analysing data supplied by formal justice sector agencies as well as reviewing almost 500 decisions of the Fiji Courts. Separate surveys of legal practitioners and women who sought to address their violence or family law issues through the formal justice system have also been undertaken. Finally, the FWRM Research Team has observed court proceedings and registries in several locations across Fiji.
Link to the report: http://www.fwrm.org.fj/images/A2J/A2JReport.pdf