I have been shocked at the attitude to women that I have witnessed here in Vanuatu.
Women have exactly the same rights as men according to law. But in day to day life, women are treated very differently. This is manifested in all sorts of different ways.
Statistics show that there are high rates of domestic violence and teenage pregnancy. Rape and incest are more common than they ought to be, although there are no accurate statistics.
I can give personal testimony to the following sorts of behaviour which together testify that women are considered to have a lower status: If there are chairs available, men sit on the chairs and women sit on the floor. Any problem in the home is considered the woman’s fault (and therefore she deserves what she gets). In public meeting there is more likely to be chatter if a woman is speaking than a man. If there is a crowd waiting for a transport to go somewhere and when one arrives in which there is not enough room for everyone, the men get on and leave the women behind. In any sort of queue, the men go first. Even young boys treat their mothers and sisters harshly with little correction. If a family does not yet have any sons, baby girls are not welcomed. Wives walk an appropriate distance behind their husbands.
In my seven years here, five friends have been seriously beaten by their husbands. Of them, one was knocked out and one was hospitalised.
There are moves to tighten legislation about domestic violence. There is resistance to this... how else will we control our wives?
It is an issue I have not said much about. I haven't wanted to offend my friends or to cause them shame. I know many good ni-Vanuatu men who care deeply for their wives and who are gentle and respectful in their treatment of them. But, I have come to the conclusion that this issue is serious enough that I need to speak out about it.
These attitudes to women in Vanuatu need to change.
Are you a women in Vanuatu? What do you think? What is your experience? Have I been fair?