Updated: Jun 7, 2021
In 2012, Solomon Islands pledged with Pacific Leaders during the Pacific Islands Forum to accelerate efforts towards closing the region’s gender gap. Eight years on, progress still lags.
Statistically, nearly two in three Solomon Island women (aged 15-49 years), experience violence.
Women are also chronically under-represented at decision-making levels (5% in senior public servant positions, 22% at mid-level positions).
These are dire stats, and the backdrop to the situation I alluded to in Part I of this series.
Research indicates addressing gender-biased social norms is crucial.
Removing such discriminatory practices and addressing social norms amplifies the positive effects of gender-responsive measures, and changing perceptions is key to me - because you know what?
I’m tired of looking at this, left (at the men) and right (at the women), and not knowing where and how to start.
Do I start with the men, who have grown up feeling entitled to being fed and waited on since - what - birth? (Please tell me who is called to organise the food for our gatherings? Or to serve for their brothers or fathers?)
Or do I start with the women, who think it is our place to submit to men, because of their culture and/or their religion - to the point that they get beaten senseless - sometimes in front of (or even more heartbreakingly, with) their children? Who despite going through this trauma themselves, they still think it is their lot in their life, and say “Hem wok blo ol man naya” (translated: That’s what men do). It’s absolutely, unequivocally NOT!
I think we have gone beyond the point of segregating DV and GBV issues singularly to men because, let’s be realistic, there are also some very angry women out there inflicting violence on their men too.
But our collective silence will be our undoing.
I want us to move beyond watching - or ignoring an issue you see.
Is your friend unnecessarily afraid when startled? Does she have weird marks she covers? Does she speak quickly into her phone, overly explaining a seemingly innocuous situation?
Please reach out. Please intervene. Please speak up.
Jenelyn is our sister in PNG, but (and I write this with tears in my eyes) she is the epitome of our beautiful, diverse Melanesia not embracing its diversity and failing her - and every other young woman and girl who went before her, and come after her - as a collective.
THAT IS NOT MELANESIA.
And this is certainly not reflective of the cultural frameworks we were brought up in.
If we cannot change them, let us hold them accountable to their actions; and we cannot change them still, let us raise them.
Here in Solomon Islands, there is a mechanism called SafeNet, a collective of organisations with the singular goal of helping women trying to remove themselves from an abusive situation.
It is an important mechanism, I won’t discount that - but let’s also not preach from a pedestal either and recognise that poverty is OUR COLLECTIVE reality. Some women legitimately have NO OPTION for the after.
What is the after, you may ask…
The After is the future where you walk away from your abuser, maybe with your kids in tow - and rebuild your collective future without that abuser.
That can be a reality for those that may have supportive families that would take us back, but do others? Some women already come from unsupported backgrounds and without the means or financial knowledge (or education) to help themselves and their children - they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place; when faced with leaving their husbands for good.
Some go back because there is no option for them without their primary source of income. Some go back because they are not financially capable of managing their children alone.
I am a mother - and I know the heart wrenching despair of looking into the reality that is our future, if we do not address these issues in our home.
I certainly would not want to know our future women and girls will be triply discriminated and undermined because of their gender, lack of independence and docility, in our societies; and that they grew up fearing the environments they lived in.
What an absolute shame that would be, counter-intuitive to what our culture teaches us about community, family and close knit friendship!
So as a mother, I will raise my son to know that he does NOT own the woman he will be with.
I will teach my son to respect a woman’s “No”.
I will teach him to manage his anger, and if he cannot, I will teach him to walk away.
I will teach him integrity and right from wrong.
And if I had a daughter, I would raise her to rely on herself.
To find happiness with herself, before looking for a man.
I would teach her to be financially savvy and focused on not only saving for her future, but spending her money on herself.
I would teach her to put her education before all else.
I would teach her to find a partner that treated her as his equal in their relationship.
I would teach her to never accept a half-shod excuse of attempting to be any of that, and walk away if they could not be that person.
I want our children to know and realise their own worth, set healthy boundaries, and never settle for mediocre - before setting them loose on a world that has seemed to lose sight of all these things.
What will you do?
In the furor of the #BLM movement, let us take a moment to appreciate that we are well placed to join this movement on our own grounds, and in our own context. #BLM began on the premise that it did not say Other Lives Did Not Matter - far from it. It began because at this point in time in America, Black Lives are under attack, and because at this point in time, Black Lives are in the most danger. Reframe that to our context. This is our Melanesia. And at this point in time, our #BlackWomensLivesMatter too. Remember the ‘ripple-wave-torrent-ocean’? Let us be the ripple - because if we do not start the ripple, our children will not enjoy the ocean.