We live in a society that refuses to hold men accountable for their actions. It’s widely accepted to blame women on the violence and humiliation inflicted upon them, as was the case of Alice Karis, a staff member of Warhorse Saloon Bar.
In the early hours of Friday 16th July 2017, Alice was brutally beaten to death. It didn’t take long before the victim blaming and shaming began.
Social media forums were fraught with supporters defending her partner, Jimmy Reuben—she didn’t listen to him/she was cheating on him/she was drunk/she provoked him/she works at place that’s not respectable/she has kids that aren’t his, etc, etc.
Of course, the usual voices demanded justice and calls for prevention and awareness of violence, but the majority said ‘Oh Sorry’, shrugged their shoulders and moved on.
Then a week later, two staff members from the Warhorse Saloon Bar were charged with Intentional Assault causing the death of a young man, Robson Maraki. This time the online mob didn’t shrug their shoulders.
Instead they became so angry and threatening warnings were issued, reminding people not to incite violence through online forums. Yumi TokTok Stret even lost the support of their sponsors.
It’s telling how much value is given to a man’s life when the public is more outraged over Robson’s death than Alice. All of a sudden people are concerned about his family’s wellbeing over the tragic loss of their son and are declaring that violence is unacceptable no matter what the circumstances are. But why weren’t they demanding justice for Alice at this magnitude last week?
Rather than address the underlying issue in both incidents—violence against women—the angry mob decided to assign blame on the Warhorse Saloon Bar. Personally, I think it’s time to stop derailing the issue with misdirected caveman thinking and instead put the responsibility where it belongs: on the leaders of our country and on us, the citizens.
Let’s start by having a discussion about male entitlement. Male entitlement is the belief that women are there to serve them. In Vanuatu, this ideology exists in all fabric of society from the private household to the parliament house. We have been conditioned to expect that men are the ones who make the decisions and women are to follow. Male entitlement is what breeds the belief that disciplining women through violence is acceptable. The subordination of women is further reinforced through misinterpreted kastom and religion.
The statistics tell us that 44% of Ni-Vanuatu women will experience violence by their partner in the past year. The facts also tell us that the majority of offenders in jail are due to sexual violence. Even more frightening, 90% of their victims know their perpetrator and 60% of them actually lived with them in the same household. What does that say about our society? Do some men really feel that entitled that they think it’s acceptable to violate another human being for their own gratification?
It seems that it doesn’t matter what a woman wears or says or acts – she will always be a target of violence, even in her own home—ESPECIALLY in her own home. The statistics and facts don’t lie.
Is it male entitlement that triggered a young man to allegedly assault his girlfriend at her workplace? The very same workplace where his girlfriend and fellow staff members were still mourning the loss of their beloved colleague, Alice, just a week before from domestic violence?
Is it male entitlement that the police don’t hold perpetrators of violence to the full extent of the law by unwittingly partaking in the culture of victim blaming? It is not uncommon to hear of police telling rape victims to ‘not go on a bus at night’ or for beaten wives to be told to ‘listen to their husband’. Violence is so inadequately addressed, that police only laid charges in 2% of cases of women who experienced physical and/or sexual violence based on a 2009 survey.
If the people believed that the police would do their job properly, and that justice was served appropriately to deter further crimes, then maybe the staff members of the Saloon Bar wouldn’t have taken matters into their own hands.
Even the late President Lonsdale acknowledged that people have little confidence in the police and asked the new Police Commissioner, Albert Napini, to restore it when he officially appointed him. To be fair, the police would be in a much better position to perform their job if the government prioritized funding and resources.
For every government vehicle that is misused – and we’ve already had three incidents of alcohol-related car accidents in the month of June alone, including one during the ten days of mourning for late President Lonsdale – there are a dozen things we could do to prevent and raise awareness about violence.
Prioritizing a budget would be the first step and not just one allocated for police operations. At the moment, the Vanuatu Women’s Centre (VWC) is the only network that works to eliminate violence against women and it is solely funded by Australian aid. VWC needs more support but Vanuatu also needs to strengthen our existing services and develop new ones – shelters, counseling, child friendly spaces, female friendly health services, social services, campaign strategies, a family court – to effectively provide long-term meaningful change.
When will we realize that violence isn’t a private matter that shouldn’t be dealt with behind closed doors and that male entitlement hurts men too? Will it take the death of a young man to comprehend that? As we have witnessed the past few weeks, violence only begets more violence and can tear the fabric of a community apart with its devastating social and economic impacts.
We can no longer wait for the government to take responsibility to end the impunity on violence – we must also accept that it is our responsibility as citizens to contribute as well. By simply having a discussion about violence, you are already making a difference.
To the youth of Vanuatu, please participate in discussions about violence. Let us use our collective voice to make ourselves heard. Let us be the generation that understands that raising our VOICES is more powerful than raising our HANDS to effect change. And if we are going to use our hands, let it be to CREATE a better life rather than to END one.
LOVE AND LIGHT TO ALICE.
By Yasmine Bjornum
This article was originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post.