KIRIBATI — Formerly known as the Gilbert Islands, Kiribati is a remote island in the Pacific Ocean and prior to gaining independence in 1979, the nation was colonized by British rulers. The post-occupation period was a rough transition for the society, and in the process the nation underwent many human rights violations for women in Kiribati. Notions that females are inferior to males have been cultivated by the primarily indigenous cultures.
Violence Against Women
Violence against women in the shape of rape or spousal abuse are common, especially in the case of husbands drinking alcohol on a frequent basis. Approximately 68 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 49 that have been with a partner have experienced some form of abuse.
In the eyes of the law, rape is a crime, regardless if it is spousal or not. However, the culture and police authorities urge the women to take the route of reconciliation over that of reporting. Fear is another blockade that prevents women from obtaining justice — financially they are dependent on the male members of society. Moreover, working is not an option because there are limited economic opportunities for women — a fact that stems from the domestic view of women.
Although considered a criminal offense, sex trafficking amongst young girls occurs often. Fisherman visiting the island are the primary partakers of this illegal activity. It is known fact that family members of the girls help organize these “visits” in exchange for financial support, food, alcohol and goods. The United States government has placed Kiribati on the tier two watch list as a result of not complying with human trafficking standards.
Eradicating sexual- and gender-based violence has risen to the top of Kiribati’s list of problems; it has become a priority action item for the government to tackle. In fact, 2011 marked the launch of a 10-year national plan to allay human rights violations for women in Kiribati.
Support Systems for Victims
Victims have access to support systems such as 24-hour hotlines, Domestic Violence and Sexual Offenses units in the police force and Catholic churches that provide shelter. Kiribati’s progress shines through in the 2016 Human Rights Report conducted by the U.S. Department of State. The report details the establishment of a human rights task force in the Ministry of Women and Youth — a division of the government that has professional training in human rights.
Kiribati’s positive trajectory fosters hope for its constituents. Nevertheless, work on this issue is far from complete. Women traditionally are underrepresented in politics due to a lack of cultural progression. This backward thinking can be attributed in part to low levels of infrastructural advancement. Merely 12 percent of the population has access to the internet, closing the nation off to global communication and development.
September 2016 marks a victory for Kiribati with the election of the first female attorney general — slowly but surely, the patriarchy is beginning to show fractures in its long standing institution.
– Tanvi Wattal