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Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific

by International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD)
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Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific
Healthcare Matters for Gender-Based Violence
Healthcare Matters for Gender-Based Violence

We are excited to share news around two major advancements to our initiatives in the Pacific Islands to promote access to justice for women and girls. 

In an effort to take forward our groundbreaking work on judicial bias in sentencing practices, ICAAD is partnering with the University of the South Pacific School of Law (USP-Vanuatu) and HURIDOCS, a leading information management and technology CSO that supports human rights, to create a Regional GBV Sentencing Database.

Part of the work will be to analyze over 4,000 cases from across the Pacific Island region -- to handle this massive effort, ICAAD is partnership with four new law firms to join DLA Piper and Manatt to assist in the initiative: Clifford Chance, Colin Biggers Paisley, White & Case, and Linklaters.

Furthermore, following consultations with local stakeholders, ICAAD and DLA Piper has been working for the past-year to develop a comprehensive medico-legal training program to educate medical professionals on best practices in providing care for survivors of violence, ensuring that crucial evidence is properly documented and handled, and testifying in court. Experts at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Australia are also assisting in development, and we look forward to providing our first medico-legal training program in 2017!

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A Reason to Support Access to Justice
A Reason to Support Access to Justice

We congratulate all those involved in the amendment, and encourage efforts to overcome the many barriers survivors face.

Recent changes in Solomon Islands laws reflect the government's recognition of the extreme prevalence of violence against women and girls. A Solomon Islands Family Health and Safety Study revealed that 64% of women and girls ages 15-49 reported intimate partner violence. Another study showed that 37% of women reported sexual abuse before the age of 15, primarily by male relatives or boyfriends.

Furthermore, a study showed that 73% of women and 73% of men “believe violence against women is justifiable” in certain circumstances, exhibiting how deeply embedded the norm of gender-based violence is in society. The ability of a survivor to access justice is limited by a number of barriers, from family and community members, to police, prosecutors, and judges.


A 2015 study by ICAAD and partner law firm DLA Piper identified that judges in the Solomon Islands were reducing sentences by half in sexual assault cases. The report was presented to the Attorney General and Deputy Public Prosecutor of the Solomon Islands in December of 2015. One of the primary recommendations of the widely cited report was to promote consistency in sentencing, echoing recommendations by UN Women, while also seeking sentences proportional to the gravity of the crime.


Commenting on the ICAAD's rule of law training, James Apainau, Attorney General of the Solomon Islands said, “I would like to thank the presenters for a very informative and challenging set of issues on domestic violence and sexual offenses…[As former Judge] one of the challenges we face as Judges when it comes to sentencing is the laws of the country as well as the need to be consistent in whatever sentences we pass…I feel like the only way we can press this issue is through legislation.”

In fantastic news, after more than two years of being forestalled in the legislature, the Solomon Islands amended its legislation to impose harsher penalties in sexual assault and domestic violence cases. Women's rights advocates in Solomon Islands and in the region have been working to push these important changes for years and the report added to the evidence needed to produce legislative reform.

Some of the major changes to the laws are the addition of penalties for:

  • Attempted rape of a minor under 15 years of age, allowing for sentencing up to 20 years.
  • Attempted rape above the age of 15, allowing for sentencing up to 15 years. Previously the law treated abduction or detention with intent to rape as a misdemeanor offense.
  • Harm arising from attempted rape, allowing for a sentence up to 25 years.
  • Sexual crimes involving disabled persons.
  • Procuration or attempted procuration of a child (under 15) to perform an indecent act or to have sexual intercourse. 
ICAAD's gender-bias in the judiciary report has been cited numerous times including:
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ICAAD Presents on Access to Justice at SwitchPoint
ICAAD Presents on Access to Justice at SwitchPoint

ICAAD co-founders Hansdeep and Jaspreet recently presented on the Access to Justice for Women & Girls in the Pacific Project at the Switchpoint Social Innovation Conference. In their talk, they showcased examples of how they are using multidisciplinary approaches to identify and implement solutions to address systemic discrimination, such as gender stereotypes and cultural norms and their impact on violence against women and girls.

Reflecting on access to justice for women and girls in Pacific Island countries and elsewhere in the world, they discussed systemic barriers faced at each step of the way, from communal pressures from religious leaders and family members, to the lack of documentation and evidence preservation by healthcare providers, to victim-blaming by police and judges. These barriers often have the downstream effect of a lack of trust in the police and the justice system as a whole.

Watch a video of their talk.

Barriers Justice

Analysis of these barriers with local stakeholders inspired the conclusion that legal advocacy alone would not be the driver of change. These considerations led to the development of a model that has brought together numerous public and private partnerships, from women’s rights NGOs, data scientists, design strategists, universities, and information technologists to UN agencies, government health ministries, and law firms.


Hansdeep Singh


Jaspreet Singh

Throughout their discussion, the co-founders conveyed the idea that challenging deeply embedded inequality requires the collection of good empirical data; approaching stakeholders with humility; critical analysis; and finally, supporting the excellent work of activists already being done. In concluding their discussion, they emphasized the idea that ICAAD isn’t an international NGO that is acting as a champion of change, but rather as a facilitator that shares global resources and technical expertise to build the capacity of local efforts.
Avenues Justice


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As we continue to advance our initiatives to combat violence against women and girls in the Pacific Islands, we are scaling our efforts to expose gender bias in the judiciary, improve medical testimony in SGBV cases, and institutionalize a data-driven methodology within local civil society. Rule of law efforts like these improve judicial transparency, strengthen confidence in the law enforcement system, and improve access to justice for women and girls. Significant collaboration around improving judicial accountability is happening at both the regional and local level. The following regional and local organizations have expressed support for ICAAD's data-driven interventions and reporting:

  • Bar Associations
  • UN Women
  • Save the Children
  • South Pacific Lawyer's Association
  • Pacific Island Law Officers' Network (PILON)
  • Pacific Community (SPC)
  • local women's right's organizations

ICAAD has been building stronger relationships with attorney generals offices in the Pacific and with members of the Federal Courts of Australia, sharing the findings of our report on gender bias in the judiciary, the importance of the open access to data, and offering rule of law trainings where appropriate. We are in the process of finalizing memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Regional Resource Rights Team, and the Ministry of Health in Fiji.

Presenting with DLA Piper at the PILON conference in Solomon Islands in December 2015

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ICAAD Presents to Senior Legal Officers in PICs
ICAAD Presents to Senior Legal Officers in PICs

Honiara, Solomon Islands: Gender discrimination has affected sentence outcomes in more than 50% of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases in Pacific Island Countries.

In a first-of-its-kind report on judicial sentencing practices of SGBV, including sexual assault and domestic violence cases, the International Center for Advocacy Against Discrimination (ICAAD) and DLA Piper revealed that the consideration of contentious factors, defined below, raised during the criminal case led to actual sentence reductions, undercutting the very function of the judicial system, which is to ensure accountability and justice.

A total of 908 sentencing records in SGBV cases, mainly between the years of 2000-2014 and involving seven PICs (Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, and Vanuatu) were analyzed to determine whether contentious factors were considered, and if so, how they directly impacted sentencing. There were 111 Domestic Violence (DV) cases, and 787 sexual assault (SA) cases reviewed. Contentious factors, as defined by the authors of the report, are those that when used in mitigation by the court, discriminate against the victim on the basis of gender. Such discrimination may relate to gender stereotyping, rape myths, consideration of customary practices, or other factors that unjustly privilege the interests of the male perpetrator over the interest of the victim/ survivor.

Out of 90% of domestic violence cases where contentious factors were raised, 66% led to a reduction in sentencing. For sexual assault cases, contentious factors were considered in 73% of cases and this led to a sentence reduction in 50% of the cases. Importantly, where a combination of contentious factors were considered, perpetrators were four times more likely to receive no prison sentence than in cases where no contentious factors were considered. Even more alarming was that 40% of victims were under 15 years of age, and 58% of the victims/survivors were under 18 years of age.

Hansdeep SI copy Hansdeep Singh presents to senior legal officers from across the Pacific on analysis of SGBV cases at the 34th PILON Conference

Hansdeep Singh, Co-Founder of ICAAD, points out that male supremacy has embedded gender inequality in the PICs, within the very systems that should be providing avenues for justice, redress, and protection. "If one recognizes the almost insurmountable obstacles a woman must face to obtain even a modicum of accountability in SGBV cases, it is a cruel final act when the judiciary fails to recognize the true gravity of the crime and decides to reduce or suspend sentences based on gender stereotypes and customary (both formal and informal) forms of reconciliation," he said.

"Though we have the utmost of respect for the importance of customary practices in the lives of Pacific Islanders, what we are advocating is that in a narrow subset of cases, domestic violence and sexual assault, that the court refrain from recognizing customary reconciliation as a form of sentence reduction." Singh said that by doing so, the courts would acknowledge the inherent power imbalance and societal pressure that often accompanies such customary practices. At a minimum, if courts do recognize customary reconciliation as a form of mitigation, "they should ensure that the victim/survivor clearly consented to being part of the process and that an apology and compensation is directed to the victim/survivor," he said. Singh said that sentences must be imposed that are free from gender bias, which he says can be achieved by "magistrates/ judges becoming more cognizant of arguments or justifications rooted in gender stereotypes."

Emily SI 2 copy Emily Christie, Human Rights Lawyer, DLA Piper, presents on analysis of SGBV cases at the 34th PILON Conference

Human Rights lawyer at DLA Piper, Emily Christie expressed that "DLA Piper is proud to partner with ICAAD to deliver this report, which provides crucial evidence of the effect that gender discrimination has on sentencing decisions by courts. This report highlights the extent to which gender bias continues to prevent women from accessing justice on an equal basis with men."

Solomon Island Presentation (2 of 3)

Senior Public Law Officers from numerous Pacific Island Countries, Australia, and New Zealand at the 34th PILON Conference

Commenting on the report, representatives of the Regional Rights Resource Team of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (RRRT) said, "Survivors are not well informed about the legal system and do not have resources to access the system. Gender biases means hardly any sympathy for their suffering, and conflicts between custom and formal laws result in ineffective penalties. All of these result in justice systems which indirectly fuel tolerance of gender based violence, and systematic legitimisation of the abuse of women and girls." ICAAD is committed to serving civil society and government to address the systemic nature of SGBV.

Click here to read the report: An Analysis of Judicial Sentencing Practices in Sexual & Gender-Based Violence Cases in the Pacific Region.

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Organization Information

International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD)

Location: Chappaqua, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @ICAADglobal
Project Leader:
Hansdeep Singh
Co-Founder, Director of Legal Programmes
Chappaqua, NY United States
$76,226 raised of $95,000 goal
279 donations
$18,774 to go
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