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Source: MIL-OSI Submissions
Source: ICAAD

Human rights advocacy organisations in the Pacific now have access to a rich, virtual dashboard that visualises 3,500+ court cases from across the Pacific region, spotlighting gender bias within judicial sentencing decisions made in Pacific courts.

The new dashboard launched yesterday, is part of ICAAD’s Track Gender-Based Violence (TrackGBV) program which promotes data-driven advocacy and reform within leading governmental and civil society organizations throughout the Pacific Island region. It tracks gender bias and discrimination in domestic and sexual violence cases to help countries shape their own internal policies and legislations to create fair and just systems.

Speaking during the event, Laisa Bulatale from Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) said FWRM’s long-standing partnership with ICAAD and the access to the GBV data has led to significant improvements in the judicial system in Fiji.

“All credit to our judiciary system and the court system, for being very open-minded in terms of when we do present data to them from the methodologies that we’ve worked with ICAAD, that they’re able to take on board some of the recommendations in terms of addressing gender stereotypes and gender discrimination when women access the formal justice system,” shared Bulatale.

“I love data so when we were doing the initial stages looking at reviewing the dashboard, one of the things that I was very proud of was that, for future work in terms of strengthening our own advocacy, there is data available – not only is it available but it’s presented in a way that it’s easy, not only for us in the work that we do, but, as well as for other people who are accessing the dashboard.”

FWRM’s justice work initially pointed ICAAD to sentencing as a site of gender discrimination. Since then, ICAAD has collaborated to build the TrackGBV methodology which was used in FWRM’s groundbreaking ‘Balancing the Scales Report’.

“Our access to justice work started much earlier in the 90s, but it was really solidified when we did the ‘balance the scale’ research in 2017, and from the findings of that research, there was a real push to look at sentencing cases that are decided in the courts.”

“With our partnership with ICAAD, we gained access to ICAAD methodologies on how to analyze cases because we knew in the Fiji courts that discrimination, gender stereotyping was happening, but we did not know how to go about doing it [analyze], so with partnership via ICAAD, we were able to actually do that.”

While FWRM has a long-standing access to a justice program, in many other jurisdictions, the pathway to holding judiciaries accountable can be daunting. While the data, in many ways, speaks for itself, it takes local advocates both in government and in civil society to make changes. The ICAAD team has developed an intensive Train-the-Trainers program to prepare local advocates with the tools they need to navigate the data and use it in their everyday work.

1st December, 2021

Last week, ICAAD concluded its first training cohort in Samoa who is now prepared to train others. The highly interactive training included a framework that included training on navigating the TrackGBV data specific to Samoa.

Director of Human Rights at Samoa’s Office of the Ombudsman and the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), Loukinikini Vili shared her experiences being part of the training, and how the institution envisions using the knowledge to drive change locally.

“We knew that we were going to review GBV sentencing decisions in the training, but we didn’t know that it was going to be this comprehensive and the type of information that was going to be presented to us – the training not only showed us information of the trend in the sentencing decisions, but it definitely got us thinking about a lot of things…it got us asking – what was the judge thinking?”

“What was surprising were the contentious factors in mitigation by the judges in the decisions which clearly discriminate against the victim or the survivor on the basis of gender … and how much of a cut or decrease in the sentences were, based on these contentious factors.”

However, Vili stressed that while the data presented a daunting reality, there was a real hope to now use the data and the built capacity from the training to drive meaningful change to advocate for improved policies and programs.

“It is clear to us, there was clearly a lack of victim-survivor sensitive approach when determining sentencing decisions, and I know that this shouldn’t be an excuse, and this is also not surprising, but we feel that some of our judiciaries are not experts in GBV, let alone on human rights, they may not have that human rights or GBV knowledge or information to make a more informed sentencing decision,” she expressed.

“We managed to identify a few opportunities that we can engage in using this training and dashboard, and we have looked in our already existing work that this can best fit – for example, because we function as an NHRI, we can provide the necessary information to the judges through our submissions and that may include using the data and information from the TrackGBV or even the possibility of engaging them in a joint capacity building workshop.”

“We also feel that this work requires not just focusing on the judiciary, but a collective effort of everyone that may impact judges’ decisions.”

ICAAD’s Data Analyst, Jyoti Diwan, says data plays a huge role in human rights advocacy and data analysis provides the allowance to make informed decisions.

“The TrackGBV data dashboard highlights how the perpetuation of gender bias and discrimination that leads to violence is not confined to the domestic sphere or specific communities but pervades each and every institution, including those charged with upholding justice – however, by using the evidence we can help shift mindset necessary to foster greater equity and accountability,” she said.

“With this data and the launch of the new dashboard, the goal of the TrackGBV program is to monitor accountability to support judicial policy reform through legal advocacy and training with the goal of removing gender discrimination from judicial decision making.”

The new dashboard launched on 30th November 2021 contains analysed cases from Fiji, Samoa, and Papua New Guinea from the year 2000-2020, while case review data from Tonga, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands are in the process of being uploaded.