The chief council of Blacksands, headed by chairman Chief Edward Kalbilelu, has drafted a ‘deportation’ bylaw that is still awaiting a signature from the State Law office. The paramount chief of Ifira, Chief Mantoi Kalsakau, has agreed to the bylaw and already signed the draft.
Speaking to the Independent newspaper, Chief Kalbilelu says the chief council in Blacksands drafted the bylaw after numerous reports of anti-social behaviour. The bylaw apparently only gives three chances to offenders before they are deported out of Blacksands.
According to the Independent newspaper (1/10/16), the council of chiefs first concern is people drinking alcohol irresponsibly. Chief Kalbilelu said that many people are drinking on the weekends and making too much noise and causing problems.
The second major concern was girls who wear short trousers and tops that reveal their body. Samuel Kai, the secretary of the council, admits that many Blacksands residents disagree with the bylaw as it goes against the Constitution, but he stressed that women and girls are supposed to show respect to their uncles and brothers by wearing conservative clothing.
Chief Kalibelu further added that they are not banning women and girls from wearing trousers completely but if they are in a public space, they must wear a sarong to cover their shorts or wear shorts that finish on the knee.
‘We are born in custom, live in custom, we get married in custom and someday die in custom, so why do we waste our time coming to town and forgetting about our custom which promotes respect?’ said Chief Kalibelu. ‘We have also identified that most rape cases in the community are due to girls wearing short trousers and showing parts of their body. ‘
Firstly, Chief Kalibelu is perpetuating the culture of victim blaming by suggesting there is a correlation between rape and the clothing of the victim. IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT A WOMAN WEARS – it does not give a man any right to violate a woman because of how she chooses to dress herself. As stated in Vanuatu’s constitution, individuals have a fundamental right to liberty and freedom of expression. Therefore the women of Vanuatu are entitled to wear what they want, whether it’s a short dress, trousers or an island dress.
In fact if a man wants to dictate what a woman should wear, he is the one who is actually breaching his fundamental duties by not respecting ‘the rights and freedoms of others and to cooperate fully with others in the interests of interdependence and solidarity,’ as affirmed in Vanuatu’s constitution.
Secondly – what custom is Chief Kalibelu talking about?
Does he mean the traditional attire of Ni-Vanuatu before the white man came to Vanuatu? Where women wore grass skirts and no tops?
Or did he mean in the times of the Bible? Where NO ONE wore trousers, not even the men – everyone wore tunics, even Jesus himself!
Or perhaps he meant the Mother Hubbard – the ‘island dress’ that was introduced to Ni-Vanuatu when the missionaries came to Vanuatu?
If Chief Kalibelu is referring to clothing that reflects the custom of Vanuatu, then I would argue that the authentic attire of traditional Ni-Vanuatu culture must be the grass skirt and no top.
If that is the case, then wouldn’t it be fair to suggest that it’s a bit more revealing than shorts and skirts?
Regardless, it is not fair to use ‘custom’ as an excuse to dictate what a woman should wear. It is against constitutional rights and is blatant sexist discrimination against women.
I would even go so far as to argue that trousers have never been part of Vanuatu’s custom – it was only introduced when white people, namely missionaries, introduced foreign clothing as Vanuatu was colonized.
If the bylaw is passed in Blacksands, then it’s not fair that just women have to ‘respect’ custom – I think the men should too!
Then we can all dress like this.
The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article is by Yasmine Bjornum.
Photo credits unknown. Publishing these images suited the context of the article, no disrespect is intended for the individuals in the photos.