I stepped into the airport transfer vehicle in the Solomon Islands to head to the airport and catch a plane to Papua New Guinea.
I was the only passenger in the vehicle and the driver asked, conversationally, “who do you work for?” “The Global Fund for Women,” I said.
“And what does your organization do?” he asked. “We support women’s organizations in developing countries to deal with issues in their community such as women’s and girls’ access to education, training and jobs. Also their access to sexual and reproductive health services as well as addressing violence against women and ensuring their safety and security. We support women to advocate for their rights.”
“Well, women here have themselves to blame. They dress like they are asking to be raped, with the short skirts and dresses many of them wear and all of that bare skin. It’s natural for a man to grab them if they dress like that.”
“No, it’s not. Men don’t own women and women have the right to be safe from violence and abuse regardless of what they’re wearing. Your country is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is designed to protect women’s freedom of expression and movement and to safeguard them from violence of any kind.”
“You can’t change men’s desire and our way of being. It’s natural. It all started with Adam and Eve and original sin. Eve seduced Adam. Women are the seductresses and causes of sin in the world.”
“Do you really think that God or Jesus or Allah or Buddha would agree that it’s okay for a man to have sex with his daughter or niece or a granddaughter. Or for a man to grab a woman on the road and feel he has the right to violate, rape her or kill her because of what she’s wearing?”
“The women ask for this. They have to change. They have to respect men’s natural desire and not entice us. You can’t come here as a white woman from another country and just tell us this is wrong.”
“I’m not. I’m reflecting what I’ve heard from women in the Solomon Islands. I’m reflecting what I’ve heard from many men and women since I’ve lived in the Pacific and traveled across the Pacific. Violence against women is not acceptable. It’s a crime and it will be punished.”
“This isn’t the Pacific, it’s the Solomon Islands. Things are different here. You can’t change the culture of our country. You can try but you will fail. RAMSI is going and violence will return at even greater levels. It’s the nature of this country. You don’t even believe in the story of Adam and Eve. You say that it’s just a story, that it’s not literal. Well for us it’s the truth. It’s what we live by.”
“The attitude of those men who sexually abuse, rape, maim and kill women is not natural. It’s not the law of God or of any ethical life. It’s wicked. It’s inhuman.”
“No, women are like animals. They provoke us, they make us grab them. If they don’t restrain themselves in how they dress and how they act then it is not a man’s fault. God understands this. The scriptures say this.”
“Please read your Bible again. This is not what it says. Clearly we have to work more closely with religious and faith based leaders to ensure the messages they are giving are ones that condemn violence against women and state that their religion doesn’t in any way condone this.”
“It is because you are not married that you are saying this. When you get married then things will be different. You will learn obedience and you will understand men’s desire and men’s response to being provoked.”
“You’re wrong. My partner would be arguing with you now. He believes as I do, and many men I know believe as I do, both in the Pacific and in other parts of the world.”
“Well, here men are different. Today women are wearing sexy clothes and making themselves available to men by their behavior. And we will take them. We cannot help ourselves.”
“I will work with my sisters, my brothers, with my community, with the weight of the whole world to change these attitudes and end violence against women.”
“You will not succeed but I wish you luck anyway, my friend. Here are your bags. We have arrived. Have a good journey. God Bless.”
NOTE I felt it important to record what’s happening here. Next, and on a much brighter note, I’ll write about the amazing Pacific Women’s Bank that Janet Sape and other women are establishing in Papua New Guinea.
Jane Sloane – Solomon Islands