Churches across Fiji will observe Break the Silence Sunday this weekend, in what is described as “their most visible effort to halt the epidemic of violence against women in Pacific Island nations.”
Research conducted by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre suggests that 64 per cent of Fijian women aged between 15 and 49 have experienced physical or sexual abuse meted out by their husbands or partners. Church leaders say they want to break “the culture of silence and shame” on gender-based violence.
The proposal for Break the Silence Sunday came from the Christian network Talanoa, an alliance of Fijian women’s groups and churches convened by the House of Sarah – an organisation hosted by the Diocese of Polynesia that delivers a range of services designed to end violence against women and children. It has called on Churches in Fiji to observe this day on the Sunday before 25 November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is 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.
Break the Silence Sunday is being observed across Fiji’s Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, Salvation Army, Orthodox and Anglican churches, as well as in some independent evangelical fellowships.
During the Six O’ Clock News on Sunday evening, Fijian television will carry a video message, first shown last year, in which Fijian church leaders unite to say strongly that violence against women and children “is a sin.” The video will be re-broadcast during primetime news every night for the three weeks leading up to and through the 16-Days of Activism.
The video will also be shown before every film shown in the 16 cinemas in Suva, Lautoka, and Nadi.
The Bishop of Polynesia, Archbishop Winston Halapua, one of the co-primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, proposed the video to the Fijian Council of Churches and received 100 per cent backing, including support from the Methodist Church of Fiji’s communication department, which produced the video and booked the tv and cinema spots.
The House of Sarah has produced and distributed liturgical resources appropriate to Break the Silence Sunday.
In 2013, the Diocese of Polynesia passed a resolution declaring zero tolerance for violence against women and children in Anglican churches, schools, communities and homes. While Break the Silence Sunday is a Fijian initiative, it will be observed by the Diocese of Polynesian churches in Samoa, Tonga and American Samoa.