The European Union's rights-based approach: helping Pacific communities to overcome gender-based violence?

Type of content
Theses / Dissertations
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Thesis discipline
European Studies
Degree name
Master of Arts
University of Canterbury
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Volume Title
Brown, Eva

Gender equality is a fundamental human right and consequently the foundation to achieving sustainable development. As human beings, women and girls, men and boys, are all entitled to living a life of dignity, free of want or fear. Unfortunately, many societies around the world continue to be organised in ways that discriminate individuals on the basis of their gender. Gender-­‐based violence is a perverse manifestation of gender inequality that directly affects many women and girls in societies around the world and is a detrimental factor to achieving sustainable development.

The European Union (EU) is a leading advocate for human rights and gender equality on the global stage. In an effort to strengthen and integrate human rights into development, the EU followed other development actors in underlining its commitment to applying a rights-­‐based approach (RBA) to all development cooperation. Meaning that human rights are both incorporated as a means and as a goal of development policies and projects.

As a donor in the Pacific, the EU has identified gender equality and the particular issue of gender-­‐based violence as focal areas. This study focuses on the impact of the EU’s RBA on the capacity of civil society to promote gender equality and counter gender-­‐based violence in Melanesian societies. Dominant patriarchal societies tend to tolerate gender-­‐based violence, creating a challenging environment to promote gender equality and women empowerment. Furthermore in these particular societies, human rights and culture are perceived as conflicting concepts. Local civil society is therefore a vital partner for the EU in order to reach local communities and influence policy outcomes.

This study undertakes a type of impact assessment in order to identify how an EU RBA is filtering down to the community-­‐level in Melanesia. Semi-­‐structured interviews with leaders of local civil society and policy-­‐makers in Suva, Fiji provided the study with an insight into what the EU is actually doing on the ground. A desk-­‐based analysis of EU policy documents including regional and national indicative programmes for Melanesia were mapped and cross-­referenced with interview data to identify potential gaps between policy rhetoric and action at a community and civil society levels.

As an enabler of development, the EU and their newfound approach, have the potential to strengthen civil society capacity to overcome barriers in advocacy for women’s rights. However despite positive intentions in policy, impact on the ground is very much determined by community engagement and is potentially personality-­‐driven. This study investigates the role of the EU both in rhetoric and action in an effort to draw attention to the possible gaps between theory and practise in EU development in the Pacific.

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