Domestic and Sexual Violence in Fiji – How Businesses Can Make a Difference

“It does affect a number of people [at work] – especially friends who may be aware of it and are supporting them,” said one male staff member interviewed as part of the IFC’s new report into domestic and sexual violence in the workplace in Fiji.


“It also affects the person sitting next to them because of the negative effect they have on that other person… on the productivity and delivery… If the team is not reaching its target, it affects the whole team,” he said.


Widespread domestic and sexual violence in Fiji has a huge impact on the workplace, a new IFC report: The Business Case for Workplace Responses to Domestic and Sexual Violence in Fiji has found. It demonstrates that domestic and sexual violence is costing Fijian employers almost ten days of work per employee each year.


When domestic and sexual violence occurs, people suffer and their work suffers. Our report found that three quarters of those surveyed who had directly experienced domestic or sexual violence acknowledged some impact on work.


“If I am a victim of domestic violence at home, I may miss work, or even if I come to work I will still be missing. I may be in the bathroom crying my eyes out,” a female staff member said.


“Everybody will be saying: don’t worry about it, we are here for you, but it still affects the general flow of work, and when that happens too often it has consequences… [team] productivity gets low because whatever [I am] supposed to do, [I] cannot because they are trying to cover for me. So it has an impact on the workplace, not only on the person who is suffering but also those who come to know,” she said.


The many Injuries


“Maybe 20 years ago, back in school, we would have said domestic violence is just physical. Now we are seeing the psychological impacts, not just physical injury. It is broader than that,” said a male staff member interviewed for the report.


Domestic violence includes emotional, sexual and financial abuse, as well as physical violence. Non-physical forms of abuse can be just as damaging as physical violence: participants in our group interviews recognized how belittling, shaming and threats can erode a person’s self-worth and self-confidence. Those affected can experience mental and physical health impacts, including anxiety, depression and shame.


The report is based on IFC survey of three companies in the Fijian private sector with a total of 1,701 employees. Thirty-three percent of employees at these companies completed the survey and of those surveyed, 21 percent of women and nine percent of men had experienced violence in the last 12 months. For women and men, the most common form of violence was emotional abuse, harassment or intimidation by a family or household member, followed by physical violence.


Abusers often seek to damage peoples’ employment and get them fired; to make them financially dependent on the abuser. They may be constrained from going to work. An abuser might destroy work issued uniforms or ID cards. Employees can also be harassed at work by phone calls, emails or social media messages. Their abuser might turn up at their work.


Abuse also impacts others in the workplace. Colleagues, supervisors and clients may also be targeted, and company property may be damaged. Impacts of domestic and sexual violence on individuals have ripple effects across teams. Colleagues may initially be understanding, but resentment can grow, affecting morale and further impacting the affected person. This can discourage people from seeking help.


“Shame stops people from coming forward, there is also a fear of being picked on or stigmatized. This happens generally in our culture. Everyone is talking about everyone else. People might stay in violent relationships because it is in the best interest of their children. There is also a lack of understanding on what will be provided if they do ask for help,” said one interviewee.


Employers have the Power to Drive Change


But while domestic and sexual violence is a big problem, there are many things employers can do to help, leading to better outcomes for their staff and better outcomes for their businesses.


Our report found that with a formal and structured workplace response to domestic and sexual violence, Fijian companies can support affected employees, remove barriers to help employees achieve their full potential, mitigate productivity losses, reduce turnover costs, position themselves as an employer of choice, and contribute to their social corporate responsibility. All of which makes great business sense.


“Leaders of any organization play a big role in this. Gone are the days when managers told staff to leave their problems at the door. We need to have understanding and willingness to care, to put the workers first. Every leader, every manager in the modern day needs to be caring to identify what staff are facing because if they don’t, it will affect the performance,” said a male staff member.


The report urges companies to show compassion and humanity to those who are affected, avoid blaming them, and to respond to founded allegations of violence being perpetrated by employees. This approach would help Fijian companies align themselves with the global drive to eliminate domestic and sexual violence from people’s lives.


There are many things companies can do to make a difference. One company has brought in an anti-gossiping campaign, with staff taught skills to recognize and avoid engaging in workplace gossip. This is important because employees are unlikely to seek support for domestic and sexual violence from the company if they believe they will be gossiped about.


Companies can also introduce a workplace policy and program, so that employees know how the company can support them and who to ask for help. The staff that respond to those impacted by domestic and sexual violence need help too: If key staff are not adequately prepared, this work can be stressful.


“We have had no training except for on-the-job training. I had never dealt in these situations, but the HR department took us through some workshops about what to do in certain situations… We were just doing counselling how we thought it was [done] right. Sometimes counselling turned into advising, but with counselling you should coach people into finding a solution,” a female staff member said.


A key recommendation of the report is that companies put together small teams of men and women, from across the business, and train and support them, to help employees affected by domestic and sexual violence.


Thanks to the findings of the report, IFC has begun a ground-breaking program to train trainers to help businesses across the Pacific better support staff affected by domestic and sexual violence.