A personal reflection by humanitarian journalist Niki Taiwia on the importance of women supporting each other in the fight for equality in Vanuatu
What happened to the Vanuatu sisters for Vanuatu sisters? I have to admit that I consider myself a feminist but not to the point where I blame men for everything bad that is going on in the lives of women.
And yet living in Vanuatu with men either in our homes, workplaces or on the street can make a sister a real man-hater sometimes.
During these times, it’s healthy to remember that men are half of society and despite some really bad eggs out there, there are still many decent men in Vanuatu. My own husband is one of those decent men – but it wasn’t always good times for us either.
I just want to highlight an issue that we often overlook.
As women, we need to take some responsibility for the hardships and position of women in our society. We women can make life pretty hard and miserable for all our other sisters just as much, if not more, than men.
What is it with jealousy in Vanuatu? It seems that sisters just cannot be happy for a fellow sister when it comes to success in relationships, work or at leisure. I have some amazing friends out there who will support me with everything I do, but I have also encountered my fair share of sister to sister jealousy for which I just can’t understand.
In order to achieve equality for women in Vanuatu we need to first unite and stand up for women’s rights together but we cannot if we are abusing our own sisters.
Below is a compilation of the ways sisters contribute to the suffering of other sisters. Various women spoke to Nikita about the lack of support from other women ………….
Woman vs. Woman over a Man
From time to time you may come across two women who are violently attacking each other over the same man – probably because it is the man that has chosen to cheat or get another sister pregnant while continuing their regular relationship.
Why are we directing our pain and anger towards another sister when it was the man who broke our trust in the first place? She is not the one who cheated on you – he did!
Why don’t we support and protect each other?
Mothers vs. Children
Our mothers are supposed to protect us right? How many times do we call out to our mums to comfort and shield us from all the pains and hardships of this world because that’s part of the job of being a mother.
Then tell me why Mama have you condoned violence on me? You blamed me for being a victim of rape due to my outspoken behaviour, my clothing or because I am an unmarried woman?
Sometimes our mums will stay silent for fear of being beaten or ostracised themselves. Others will stay silent and condone the violence by not speaking out or reporting it.
As mothers we are responsible to put the needs of our children before our own…….
Mamas we need to take some responsibility in raising our sons. A mother is the first contact a boy has to women and she sets the standards and bar for the way boys will view and treat the opposite sex as they enter into adulthood.
As a mother we need to teach our sons to respect women – I wonder how many mothers in Vanuatu just allow their sons to follow their own minds instead of instilling care, guidance and discipline in them from an early age.
Why is that we expect so much from our daughters in the way of domestic duties and respecting others and too often neglect to instil the same values in our sons?
Why is it that boys are the first priority for receiving an education? Why do we feel the need to lessen the value of our daughters as a priority in education and opportunity because they will one day marry into and belong to another family?
Mothers in laws vs. Daughter in laws
Mother in laws why do you treat us like we are the enemy? Why do you feel a need to control our every move and waking hour? Don’t you know that we have a lot in common and that we both love the same man your son?
Why do you encourage your sons to beat us and control us the way your mother in law encouraged your husband to beat you?
Don’t you know that I will bear your grandchildren and continue to care for your son long after you are gone?
Women’s Organisations vs. Women’s Organisations
How much stronger would the movement for gender equality be if the organisations set up for that very purpose would join hands and support each other instead of seeing each other as a threat especially concerning funding?
You are the examples we have to follow and yet we still are not walking hand in hand but in opposite directions and still expect to reach the same goal!
Professional women (especially in the civil service sector) vs. female members of public
There are certain places that a woman should feel 100% safe and confident that she will not be judged and will be treated fairly. These places include the public solicitor’s office, the courthouse, the police station and the hospital. This is where confidentiality and a caring demeanour are not only crucial to maintaining a quality service but are essential if women are to access to their basic rights.
So why do staff, particularly those in administration such as the receptionist, berate women when they are requesting assistance or support? Too often even female professionals who are supposed to support women in crisis will treat a woman with animosity.
When women enter these places, she is most likely to be in a vulnerable situation. She could be stressed or scared for her life and seeking support. She could be reporting a rape or other crime. She could be seeking an order for divorce or seeking help for an unwanted pregnancy. The last thing she needs to feel is ostracised by another person, let alone another woman.
Worst of all – we condone violence on ourselves!
60% of women in Vanuatu agree that a man is justified to physically punish his wife for variety of reasons – this is a very sad fact taken from a 2011 survey on Women’s Lives and Family Relationships.
I want to ask what happened to our Vanuatu Sisterhood?
Niki Taiwia is a local humanitarian journalist working for a not-for-profit organisation in Vanuatu. Despite facing many challenges in her life, including leaving home and school at an early age, Niki now has a Bachelor of Humanitarian Studies from the Charles Darwin University, Australia among other qualifications in the human services sector.
Niki has set up a safe house for Ni-Vanuatu children from difficult backgrounds (disability and victims of sexual abuse) and assists single mothers with the ultimate goal of empowering people who are in vulnerable positions. For as long as she can remember, Niki has always thought deeply about the world around her and felt a responsibility to play her part.
The passionate human rights activist says, ‘I believe in the power of advocacy and providing a voice for those who want to tell their stories but are fearful or not confident in doing so. Many issues in Ni-Vanuatu culture are seen as taboo to talk about but it is essential to bring these topics to light to change women’s position in society.’
Through her advocacy, Niki has met many vulnerable women who recognize the benefit of sharing their stories as not only a form of therapy and relief, but also as a way to empower and give hope to others who are in similar situations.
Sista Magazine is honoured to collaborate with Niki to assist women in vulnerable and disadvantaged situations to share their stories. ‘This is a way in which we can hear women and girls’ stories and raise a voice through embracing each other,’ says Niki. ‘So Speak Up Sista!’