In April 2016, a young girl jumped off a bus to escape sexual harassment in Port Vila, Efate. A few days later, she died from injuries sustained from the fall. When the incident was discussed on the popular Facebook forum, Yumi Tok Tok Stret, it revealed that the culture of victim blaming is widespread in our society. Many people, both men and women, demanded to know why women would put themselves in the dangerous situation of catching a bus alone at night and without any knowledge of self-defense.
Here is a sample of the comments:
When are women going to defend themselves? They should always travel with things like spray. a poisonous spray or something like this because this people deserve this kind of punishment.. Also always carry this whenever you travel by foot or by transport for your own security because this people take advantages when nobody is around.
I don’t know, but by now, every woman, girl & child should know to carry protection or should know better than to stay or go out late. The crime rate has increased for more than over a decade. Parents should also educate and lecture their daughters and children not to go out late. It is not safe anymore. Awareness on the matter should be taught at home.
Girls should careful while hump in a bus..they also should take classes of self defence n kik those who trying to rape them in their lower part, that will make them learn a lesson..
Wol ya eno mo safe finis blo live lo hem,thats why mi se yu faenem safe mo right time blo movum ass blo yu lo wea ples yu wantem go. Commonsense!!
As a female, you tu must culpable from ol action blo you or lack thereof.Hemi common sense, mekem decision that won’t put yourself at risk. World blo yumi hemi no safe anymore, self administer…Sorry lo hem RIP
Driver againt! phewwwww! plis ol girl yufala no mekmek tumas,and ol parents traem tok save lo ol yangfala girl blo yufala,lo how blo dressing mo mekmek tumas,or no stap tok jik etc….wan tink2 nomo.yu kat wan laef nomo! next taem,spos i kat fulap man lo bus,yu stopem bus,be spos bus i empty yu no stopem,
Girls dont use public transport alone as late as after 12 mid nite..you never know..bfrens keep your girls safe with you and dont trust friends to drop them under their care..if you love ur gel late as after 12 keep them safe with u and dont drop them as parcels to go home alone…lessons learnt today and it might happen again…
Ol girls blo yumi today oli must usim comon sense too sometime..no workabaot late oltime ..nogud ia….
That is simply not a good image. Girls need to learn a lesson from this. Traveling alone is no longer safe for girls. Always take a friend with you or stop a bus which has passengers in it. Even if you are with people in a bus going to a destination, observe passengers whom you are with. If they all drop off along the way and your journey is still far to reach where you are going, get off and stop another bus with passengers and carry on. It is always best to have a phone with credit to keep in touch with friends and families.
Many people said it was ‘common sense’ for women to not catch a bus late at night. No one suggested that it was common sense for men to not sexually harass women, but if it was implied, the tone was more violent and proposed that he be killed or have his private parts chopped off. Others blamed Tanna, the island where the bus driver was from, to justify his actions, which only served to reinforce the stereotype that Tannese people are troublemakers and aggressive. And yet in the past year, Tanna has put Vanuatu in the international spotlight, with the screening of the movie Tanna last year, and just in the past month, it made global headlines after category 5 resistant houses was constructed on the island by Nev Houses. Considering how much negative attention we have received lately, this positive press was much needed to boost the tourism industry. It was not his island of birth that made the bus driver harass the women. It was his conscious decision to violate the rights of a female passenger that he was responsible to safely bring home.
Although many people on the Yumi Tok Tok Stret forum did voice their concerns and gave their sincere condolences about the tragic incident, there were plenty more who suggested that it’s the responsibility of women to modify their behavior and actions to prevent men from assaulting them. Women are being told to carry weapons or not to jump on a bus at all. Why is that the warnings about sexual harassment always seem to be directed at the victims of crime? Why aren’t we targeting the perpetrators instead?
Vanuatu’s Transport System – Is It Time For A Change?
Vanuatu doesn’t have a regulated bus service with determined routes and timetables. There are bus stops in main areas but a bus can be hailed anywhere, at any time. For 150vt, you can tell the bus driver where to go and he will drop you directly to your doorstep. Although there are advantages of this lax service, there are also obvious disadvantages. Whether you need to go to Number Three or Pango, the price is fixed. This is also a disadvantage for the bus driver, who could profit from the extra distance. The disadvantage for the customer is that even if your stop is closer, it’s common for the bus driver to drop off the passenger who jumped on before you. Rather than a regulated bus service with specific routes, Vanuatu’s system is based on a first come, first serve basis by individual operators. They don’t receive background checks when they get their license and some are even driving unlicensed in unworthy vehicles.
As a developing nation, this system has worked for many years. In fact, it’s often considered one of the many quirks of island living. However incidents that have occurred in the recent months have shown that a systematic change is required to ensure the safety of the public. Although the majority of bus drivers are law-abiding, hard working citizens, it’s the few who have tarnished their reputation with their antisocial behavior. On an international level, Vanuatu almost saw the cessation of cruise ships after bus drivers threw rocks at a tour bus full of tourists. On a local level, women are now afraid to go on buses alone.
Victim Blaming Happens Across All Sectors
When Florence Lengkon, manager of Vanuatu Helicopters, spoke out against bus drivers’ aggressive behavior on social media in March, she was kidnapped and beaten by several bus drivers. The Port Vila Efate Land Transport Authority (PVELTA) President Donald Satungia said at the time, that the incident occurred because of ‘social media and had nothing to do with taxis or bus drivers.’ He also said that PVELTA doesn’t agree with new laws and western products adopted by the Vanuatu government such as Facebook and Gender Equality as Vanuatu will lose its custom and values. Rather than making the men who beat Florence accountable, Mr. Satungia blamed social media and Florence for voicing her opinion. The CEO of Land Transport Association, Sandy Banga, also apologized – but not to Florence. Instead, he apologized how the bus drivers’ behavior tarnished Vanuatu’s reputation as a friendly destination and hoped that it wouldn’t ruin the tourism industry.
If even the men in positions of authority perpetuate the culture of victim blaming, how can we stop this cycle that asks women to change their behavior rather than men who commit the crime? After the young girl from Tanna jumped off the bus to escape sexual harassment, the Chief of Staff Commissioner, Karlshem Bongran, had said that women should not be going on buses alone, particularly at night. Some may argue that this is a fair statement. In fact, the sad reality is that there’s some truth to his words. The core of sexual harassment arises from gender inequality. The statistics speak. More than half of Ni-Vanuatu experience domestic violence. Less than 3% of women are in executive positions. None of the 52 seats in parliament has a woman’s voice. Gender inequality sees women discriminated at home, in the workforce, in politics, the judicial system and beyond. Women are not seen as equals in Vanuatu and therefore their rights are undermined. We live in a country where we ask women to stop going on buses, rather than tell men to stop behaving badly.
If We Can’t Change The Attitude, Then We Must Change The System
If we cannot change the attitudes of men who choose to participate in exploitive behavior, than a systematic change in bus services is needed for the safety of all passengers. Transport authorities and the government need to strengthen their commitment to regulate bus services and to establish a code of conduct amongst drivers. An environment needs to be created in order to facilitate a reputable and safe public transport system. Not only for the wellbeing of locals but also for tourists who contribute significantly to the economy.
It is also important that law officials establish an appropriate sentencing that is carried to its maximum term. Often perpetuators don’t even carry out their term due to the lack of enforcement from the police and relevant authorities. Many times the case is pushed forward so that it takes years before the court even hears about the crime. If criminals don’t receive a punishment, it only reinforces society to disregard women’s rights and the cycle of abuse continues. As they say, if you do the crime, then you must do the time.
Women Need To Start Speaking Up Against Gender Inequality
Half of Ni-Vanuatu women are involved in the subsistence economy but we are slowly seeing more women integrated into areas of leadership. Vanuatu now has two female deputy lord mayors and recently MP Ephraim Kalsakau appointed a group of mamas to manage his allocations, which is something that has never happened before. At a grass roots level, women are also recognizing their rights beyond the constraints of custom and culture. This is mostly due to the relentless advocacy of women organizations such as the Vanuatu Women’s Center and Women Against Crime and Corruption.
But if we really want to make headway about stopping all forms of violence against women, it means more women need to start speaking up. Ni-Vanuatu women are conditioned to obey and be quiet, but often it’s to their demise. In Port Vila alone, the Vanuatu Women’s Center sees 1000 women a year. These are domestic incidents that occur in the capital alone. What are the statistics in the outer islands? What about assaults that occur outside the home? It’s frightening how often it occurs and how little it’s talked about.
The conversation about violence against women is complex and multifaceted especially in a country such as Vanuatu where custom plays an important role. But we cannot keep defending criminals who are empowered by the disregard of women’s rights. As women we need to start speaking up. When Florence Lengkon led the march against violence after her attack, she said, ‘Someone had to do it’. If everybody had the courage to speak up as Florence has, then we can start changing the narrative from victim blaming to one where a society understands that it’s not okay to violate women and that it’s not a woman’s fault if she is violated. Enough is enough. It is unacceptable that women are afraid to go on a bus. We also deserve to ride home safely.
If you or anyone you know is a victim of violence, please report the incident to the Police or visit the Vanuatu Women’s Center.
The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are by the editor of Sista, Yasmine Bjornum.