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PIFS secretary general shares on PNG's Jenelyn Kennedy tragedy
04:15 am GMT+12, 26/11/2020, Fiji

In a heartfelt testimonial at an ecumenical 'Break the Silence’ service ahead of the launch of the 2020 16 Days of activism campaign, the secretary general, known to many as Dame Meg Taylor, shared her thoughts on the epidemic of violence against women in a region where our statistics - two out of every three women have been through or will experience violence, are double the global average.
She began her statement on ways to seek solutions with the reality of what is happening in her homeland, Papua New Guinea, where the abuse and deaths of women and girls are happening on a higher and more distubing scale than the rest of the Pacific. Most recently, the case of a young mother who died in horrific circumstances brought the spotlight back on the safety and rights of Papua New Guinea's women and girls. The outrage at the circumstances leading up to the June death of 19 year old wife and mother of two Jenelyn Kennedy, allegedly at the hands of her partner, has renewed calls for something to be done to stem pervasive domestic violence.   
“The violent death of Jenelyn Kennedy in Papua New Guinea was a very poignant reminder of the very real threat that we, as Pacific women, continue to face in our society – that is, that 2 out of 3 women in our region continue to face intimate partner violence," Dame Meg told the congregation, “Jenelyn’s death was one so violent, that it forced me to again face the reality of a power dominance that is alive in our traditional and modern cultures – I had to acknowledge the ingrained cultural drivers of gender inequality that exist in our cultures in the Pacific. Indeed, it is our very own traditional social structures and hierarchies that privilege men over women. It is our own social and cultural norms that reinforce discrimination against women and girls in our society.”
The scale of Jenelyns injuries were so horrific an attending Doctor at the hospital where her body was took images and posted them to social media in protest at the injuries which he said showed she had been beaten and abused for days, and that her arrival at the emergency ward showed there were many who saw what was happening and remained silent.
“Jenelyn’s death, for me, reinforced the very simple yet integral question of our societal values – moreso, how we as a society value women and girls. With gender based violence statistics as horrendously high as they are in the Pacific, will we, as people of the Pacific, continue to stand by and tolerate these acts or will we take a stand and make a commitment towards real societal and behavioural change? To address real societal and behavioural change will not be easy but it is not impossible – it will warrant concerted efforts at all levels of society to transform attitudes, behaviour and practice that condone unequal relations between men, women, girls, boys and communities based on their identities,” said Dame Meg.
She said, “Our ability to effect real change in transforming attitudes depends on us as individual – you and me.”
Speaking to the regional reality where there is in fact lots of action “and many programmes that have been run on the issue of gender based violence, however, this will continue to be a problem if we do not address the root cause of the issue. To this end, I am very proud of the work that we continue to progress through regional initiatives such as the Pacific Partnership on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls which sees the development and implementation of a comprehensive programme under the leadership of UN Women and regional organisations such as the Pacific Community and the Forum Secretariat, supported by development partners, to really drive transformative change at the societal level through existing community mechanisms and groups such as faith-based organisations, community groups, sporting bodies and a primary education focused initiatives.”
She shared how staff PIFS Rugby Team at the secretariat have integrated advocacy around Ending Violence Against Women in their weekly rugby competition, “carving out time on the margins of rugby matches to talk about this issue and share the critical role of men transforming the norms around gender discrimination and violence. Indeed, it is simple conversations such as these that ignite a thirst to understand this issue better – and thereby beginning the journey to crystallising our understanding and transforming the related societal norms accordingly,” she says.  
Dame Meg acknowledged the Christian Network – Talanoa for initiating the Break the Silence Sunday in 2013, and the Anglican Diocese of Polynesia for supporting the initiative in this region.  

“In our society, the church has substantive influence and can therefore, play an important role in breaking the barriers to gender equality and re-shaping mindsets to respect and uplift the status of women and girls in the Blue Pacific.”
Since 2013, the Sunday before the 25th November has become ‘Break the Silence’ Sunday for the Christian network Talanoa, an alliance of Fijian women’s groups and churches who observe a special service ahead of the 25 November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, as the springboard for an annual 16 days of church and community activism against gender based violence, culminating on international Human Rights Day on 10 December.


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