Peer education of boys and men key to ending violence against women

A UN Women-sponsored project, running over the past two years in Fiji is educating men and boys to stand up against violence against women. Many homeless people and people who work in public spaces (such as markets) in Fiji are men. As they are often in public spaces, they witness a lot of violence, including against women and girls. A national survey of women in Fiji by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre found that 64 per cent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

“We saw a great potential in developing the group [men and boys] as agents for change in the protection of women and girls and the promotion of gender equality,” explains Juita Korovulavula, the coordinator of the UN Women-sponsored Streetwize Project.

So-called street dwellers in Suva include “shoeshine boys” and “wheelbarrow boys”, who can be seen daily shining the shoes of passers-by or carting goods to and from markets and shops. Partnering with FSPI, Suva City’s Community Police Unit trained them to carry out citizen’s arrests of men who abuse women and girls on the streets. Recently, one “wheelbarrow boy” arrested a man for punching his wife on the streets. Police have since received several other citizens’ arrests of men who harass women market vendors, shoppers and passers-by.

Sakiusa Cama, who participated in the workshops, said he has changed how he speaks to women and he has witnessed a transformation in fellow street dwellers, being much more courteous and respectful.

Peer Education

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education’s National Substance Abuse Advisory Council (NSAAC) is educating students and teachers alike to change negative social norms and attitudes about gender and violence. With the support of UN Women, NSAAC has trained 417 Peer Educators and 302 Support Teachers, who have collectively reached close to 8,000 students throughout Fiji.

Early results are evident. Students have been sharing information with their peers on violence against women and girls, its impacts upon survivors and their families and ways to recognize healthy and unhealthy relationships. The Peer Educators with more awareness on the issue are referring students in need to counsellors and support teachers.

“A student who was a survivor of an attempted rape informed me of what had happened. I was shocked and thought maybe it was her fault,” said a 19-year-old male student who attended the programme. “After attending the Peer Education Training programme, I learned that it is never a girl’s fault if she is raped or sexually assaulted. I learned to consult those who can offer appropriate services and through the programme I was able to help my friend in her hardship.”