Policing Gender Violence in Vanuatu
Gender violence is one of the greatest challenges to peace and security in Pacific Island Countries. The persistence of this problem is often linked to the limits of state-based policing authority. It is argued that this approach fails to grapple adequately with hybrid systems of regulatory authority in Pacific Island Countries that include customary and faith-based forms of authority. Feminist inquiry into the difficulties Pacific women face in securing justice when they are the victims of gendered crimes frequently highlights the gendered failings of state and customary systems of justice, finding that both systems reflect and further entrench the subordinated status of women. This paper addresses the tension between the apparent limits of state-centred models of policing and the shortfalls of hybridised structures of regulatory authority. It reports a theoretically informed empirical study that investigated how ni-Vanuatu women understand gender violence and the role that police can play in its prevention. Using participant research and photo elicitation surveys, we asked 1) how does the authority of policing agencies operate when addressing violence against women in relation to other sites of international and local sociocultural authority in the Vanuatu context, and 2) how do women understand and value policing authority relative to other sites of regulatory authority? We found that, while police in Vanuatu operate in the context of constructive complementarity with other forms of authority, women valued police, identifying them as the key source of regulatory authority that could provide help if their partner became violent or if they were threatened.
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