It’s Against God’s and the Nation’s Laws - Sister Doreen Calls for a Stop to Gender-Based Violence

Date: Thursday, September 16, 2021

UN Women/Jacqui Berrell

Sister Doreen Calls for a Stop to Gender-Based Violence
Sister Doreen Awaiasi, Coordinator of the Malaita Christian Care Centre in Solomon Islands. Photo: UN Women/Jacqui Berrell 

“If you love God, how can you abuse your wife, your children?

“God’s love is about respect and all being equal in God’s eyes,” the gently spoken Sister Doreen Awaiasi said.

Sister Doreen, as she is simply known, has supported thousands of women and children survivors of domestic violence, raised funds to build two safe homes, and is at the forefront of the nation’s SAFENET1 approach of improving support services for survivors.

As a young village girl growing up in the Makira-Ulawa Province of Solomon Islands she knew something was “not right”.

“I grew up in the rural area where inequality between women and men is an issue,” Sister Doreen said, explaining the role of women being limited to cooking, cleaning, and caring for the family.

“All leadership roles are taken by men in every aspect of the village life - in the church, village and nation – women and girls keep quiet, and their voices are not heard. “[As a girl] I knew something was not right and it was on my mind…how I could one day be able to speak out and to help women.”

With this in mind, at 18-years of age she joined the Community of the Sisters of the Church.

“I thought perhaps by joining the Community of the Sisters of the Church, people will respect me as a person. I was right. I was empowered to become who I am now!”

At the Community she learnt how to speak and read English, and to communicate with people locally and internationally, spending time in Australia, Canada, and England.

“This is where I was able to get my confidence to speak out about what the Bible says about violence against women and children.”

It was also where she met her greatest mentor, Sister Lilian Maeva, who encouraged her vision and passion to create the first safe home in Honiara to give women and children survivors of violence and abuse a place of safety and protection.

Sister Doreen opened the Malaita Christian Care Centre in devotion to the late Sister Maeva in 2005. A second home opened in late 2019.

“I am well known by the work I do; I don’t turn women and children away,” Sister Doreen said.

“I have seen very vulnerable women and children. I have seen children who have been raped and sexually abused. We cannot turn a blind eye. We need to respond to the issues women are facing and we have to provide them with a safe place to come away from where the violence is actually happening.”

“I have seen very vulnerable women and children. I have seen children who have been raped and sexually abused. We cannot turn a blind eye. We need to respond to the issues women are facing and we have to provide them with a safe place to come away from where the violence is actually happening.”

“I would challenge the idea!”

“[With] our cultural norms, there is something in the mind of men - and some women too - that inequality and violence is acceptable in our communities, but it’s not.”

“So, you have to explain to them that violence against women is against God’s law of love.”

Challenging social norms and encouraging positive attitudes and behaviours to improve gender equality – proven globally to reduce levels of violence against women and girls – will take time.

“Violence is something that some women have been living with for a long, long time maybe twenty to thirty years of marriage, so being able to change takes time.

“But domestic violence is against God’s law.”

“We need to let perpetrators and people in the village know that violence is a crime,” she said, adding it is both against God’s law and a crime under the national Family Protection Act 2014.

As an extension of her lead role in developing safe homes and speaking out against violence in communities, Sister Doreen is also a pioneer of the SAFENET network of government and non-government organisations who support survivors.

The SAFENET network is led by the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs in partnership with UN Women, supported by the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls (Pacific Partnership), funded primarily by the European Union, and the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, and UN Women, and led by SPC, UN Women and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

“Service providers also need to know the laws and need to be sensitised to the needs of the survivor, and to be survivor-centred in how they treat women and children,” she said, adding that SAFENET is improving the quality and coordination of survivor services.

There is progress but still overwhelming challenges in a nation with 64 percent prevalence of physical or sexual intimate partner violence – twice the global average.

“The rich and poor are equal in God’s eyes,” Sister Doreen said, citing her favourite quote from Reverend Mother Emily, who founded the Community of the Sisters of the Church in 1870.

“If Solomon Islands is a Christian country, then why is violence against women and girls so high?”

“Where have we gone wrong as a nation and how can we work together to make it right?”

About SAFENET

SAFENET is a network of government and non-government organisations aiming to strengthen referral and coordination of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) services in the Solomon Islands. It aims to streamline the assistance being provided to survivors and help them access more timely and necessary services. Central to the SAFENET approach is ensuring all frontline services providers – from police to hospital and crisis centre staff – are better coordinated to provide the best possible survivor-centred response and ongoing support for gender-based violence victims.

The network is led by the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs (MWYCFA) supported by UN Women, through the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls (Pacific Partnership), funded primarily by the European Union, and the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, and UN Women, and led by SPC, UN Women and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

SAFENET has four inter-connected components: SGBV direct services and support; referral to other service providers through an agreed and coordinated formal referral process; prevention and advocacy programmes, and a governance and accountability framework.

Members of the Honiara SAFENET network: Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs (MWYCFA); Ministry of Health and Medical Services; Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF); Public Solicitors Office (PSO); Family Support Center (FSC), Christian Care Center (CCC) and Solomon Islands Planned Parenthood Association. As SAFENET is rolled out to the provinces, its membership is increasing to include local civil society and women’s groups who play a key role in referring support services to survivors of gender-based violence who live in remote villages.

1Findings from the Solomon Islands Family Health and Safety Studies (FHSS): A study on violence against women and children. Read more: https://asiapacific.unfpa.org/en/publications/solomon-islands-family-health-and-safety-study-0