Since the border closure in March due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the number of domestic violence cases in Vanuatu has surged and almost tripled compared to the average reports for previous years, Vanuatu Women’s Centre (VWC) Research Officer Sharon Frank revealed.

Due to the large unemployment numbers, the VWC Research Officer reported that women have not only had to cope with job loss but the abuse that followed from losing their job straight after.

“Most of the women have been unemployed since the lockdown and they have to provide for their family,” she said.

“They are pressured by their partners or by their families.

“We had to do phone counselling and there was a significant increase of girls and women who are victims of domestic violence this year, around 200-250.”

The VWC Officer added the pandemic hasn’t only ushered a large number of violent cases between partners and families but also with landlords for those unable to pay rent.

“In some cases, even by their landlords for not paying their rent, so we have some different cases of domestic violence because we have the lockdown.”

Currently, all VWC branches in all six provinces including the 39 Communities Against Violence Against Women (CAVAWs) and male advocates have been working to assist women who are being abused during the lockdown.

“We do phone counselling, provide free legal services, face to face counselling, women can come to our HQ or visit our branches if they are on one of the islands.”

Psychologist of Wamogo Counselling and Psychology Services, Laurina Liwuslili said the depression that arose from being unemployed and not being able to provide for the family could easily lead to violence.

“The pandemic crisis has affected many homes, you could see partners becoming much angrier and there’s a spread to find avenues for making money,” she said.

“It’s quite hard within a home where one partner or spouse is facing that current issue like loss of job thus no means of income. It is affecting emotionally the homes, the couples themselves, depression I would say is an increasing element.”

The psychologist, based at Port Vila Medical Centre mentioned that the solution may be mundane but it is effective.

“My only advice would be once you see that issue in the family, try to talk rather than keeping it to yourself and it becomes a bigger issue.”

Ms. Liwuslili stressed that an open communication pathway in a calm environment is key to overcoming cabin fever during the lockdown, which may be an unfamiliar concept for ni-Vanuatu couples and families.

“Sometimes they won’t talk directly like sharing with their friends or relatives that they are facing that problem it is quite hard.

“Here (in Vanuatu) they tend to be a bit shy, they would say I can handle this, I can face that but in reality, it is a silent killer as well if it is affecting emotionally and mentally, resulting in break-ups and broken homes.”

The professional counsellor noted if the borders do open, it would relieve some of the pressure currently being faced in some households.

“Once the border opens that would help a lot, you would see mothers and fathers going back to work, and the family will start to get back to the normal routine slowly.”

She mentioned that in rural areas they wouldn’t have the same type of issues compared with those living within the metropolitan vicinity, which is why money is a contributing factor to the high frequency in domestic disputes.

“In the rural, one can plant veggies and still survive, in the urban area it’s quite hard, the couple or the family needs to discuss calmly with an understanding that there is a solution to any problem.

“Money is a tool of surviving, we are living in an urban area, whenever you go to the shop you have to use money wisely.”

Ms. Liwuslili further advised women going through a difficult time if in need of help to combat depression or relationship troubles to visit her office at Port Vila Medical Centre for her assistance.

Similar services are also available with the Vanuatu Police Force’s Family Protection Unit and VWC.