“Although I attended to women in all age brackets, as young as two-year-old to 75, the majority were teenagers. For majority of cases, the perpetrators are known to the survivors. I saw economic hardship, abusive extended family relationships and changing living environment experienced by survivors and their families last year, were some contributing factors fueling the obstinate gendered abuse of power among family members,” said Dr Burua.
While striving against social and economic impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, communities in Fiji pulled through disastrous cyclones and adverse weather events which struck some parts of Fiji last year. MSP, a civil society organization and as an essential frontline service provider, works closely with communities to provide sexual and reproductive health awareness and services. MSP staff were deployed to the affected sites to provide much needed services in emergency situations as part of the Government’s coordinated immediate responses.
Back in Suva, Dr. Burua kept the doors of the clinic open and attended to the increasing rape cases brought to the clinic, providing clinical examinations, nursing, moral support to survivors and ensuring good medical supplies are in stock, during those most demanding times.
“I was physically and mentally exhausted with the increasing workload as a doctor of the MSP clinic last year. I listened to survivors of SGBV, and together with them I felt pain, despair, anger which each of them that came through. I kept myself going and performed thorough medical forensic examinations to give hope to them, and hold perpetrators to account.”
MSP’s work for providing access to justice services to SGBV survivors is supported by the Fiji Access to Justice Project which is funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The project awards grants to civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide access to justice support services. MSP was one of four CSOs awarded the grants.
The Fiji Access to Justice Project supports access to justice, in particular for impoverished and vulnerable groups. It does so by empowering people to access their legal rights and services, strengthening key justice institutions to deliver improved services, and strengthening the capacity of CSOs to deliver justice accompaniment services, with a special focus on supporting persons with disabilities and survivors of SGBV.
His Excellency Sujiro Seam, Ambassador of the European Union for the Pacific said, “The focus of the EU Access to Justice project is on the most vulnerable, especially the survivors of SGBV. Having visited the MSP one-stop shop clinics in Suva, Labasa and Lautoka, I was happy to witness how the EU, through its partnership with MSP and UNDP, supporting the Justice Institutions and CSOs in Fiji, can help make a difference for the survivors of SGBV.”
The 'Basic Guidelines for responding to cases of gender-based violence and child welfare during COVID-19' was developed last year based on the existing ‘Fiji National Service Delivery Protocol for Responding to Cases of Gender-Based Violence (2018)’ which was developed in collaboration with key government agencies and CSOs, led by the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation. As part of the collaborating partners, MSP works in partnership with justice sector, government agencies and other CSOs to empower women, youth and children.
Ashna Shaleen, MSP Country Director, reflecting how busy it was at the peak time last year, shared her thoughts; “MSP carefully but urgently managed all areas of our work by deploying teams to cyclone-affected communities as part of emergency response and ensured our clinics provided constant services to increasing cases, and at the same time prioritizing our staff’s health and wellness. It is an art of balancing our capability to continue providing our services while adjusting to the changing priorities.”
According to the UN global report (April 2020), responding to the increasing numbers and complexity of violence against women under the COVID-19 pandemic, judicial, police and health services that were the first responders for women were overwhelmed, had shifted priorities, or were otherwise unable to help; and civil society groups were affected by lockdown or reallocation of resources. In Fiji, despite those challenges, MSP persistently engaged with partners and communities and provided justice support services to SGBV survivors with compassion.
Levan Bouadze, Resident Representative of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji said, “The Fiji Access to Justice Project was able to support the justice partners including CSOs in Fiji in a timely manner, who continued to provide their expert services to communities and individual survivors under often urgent and challenging situations. This was enabled thanks to the partnership developed through the project with the EU with its generous support, justice institutions, CSOs and our UNDP team.”
The Fiji Access to Justice Project partners continue to work to progress the 2030 Global Goals, through the pledge to Leave No One Behind, focusing on Goal 5: Gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls; and Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions.
Author: UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji