In previous posts I mentioned how wonderful the women in my family are. I have also previously mentioned that there are huge domestic abuse issues on Kiribati. Yeah, this isn’t such a happy topic is it? But nevertheless, a topic that must, must, must be out in the open.
Unfortunately almost every I-Kiribati woman I know has been a victim of domestic violence in some form. Nearly every woman I know. Think of all the women in your family. Then the girls you went to school with. Then your friends. Then your friends’ friends. Teachers. Bank tellers. Students. Mothers. Daughters.
Upon leaving Kiribati I had a stopover in Fiji. At the hotel I ended up speaking to two lovely ladies who had been working with AusAid and the UN to work on projects that raise awareness and education on domestic violence. These two ladies were incredibly helpful and they kindly let me join them for dinner as I pried them for more information. As I mentioned to them that most of the I-Kiribati women I know have been a victim of some sort of violence they gave me a startling figure. 2 out of 3 women in Kiribati are subjected to violence. 2 in 3! What the hell?
To be honest knowing Kiribati, this figure doesn’t surprise me but that doesn’t make it a less horrendous statistic.
I’d thought about this issue a lot on the island and I kept asking myself the same questions over and over; why is the figure so high? Why is it not just Kiribati but a lot of islands that seem to have this type of culture?
Well my first theory I will put out there is the language restrictions. The Kiribati language is a simple. There are only 13 letters in their alphabet and many words sound the same. Also singular words can be used to mean various things. For example ‘Nakonako’ means to walk, ‘Nako’ means to go, ‘Nako mai’ is ‘come here’ and ‘Biri nako’ means to run away. My thoughts are that when the I-Kiribati people argue or feel anger they have a limited amount of words in their vocabulary to express themselves. Thus they resort to physical violence.
Adding to this, as I have said before, Kiribati people are incredibly happy all the time. Everyone laughs and smiles. So when they do feel angry, upset, frustrated it almost feels like such an unnatural feeling that again they don’t really know how to control it. Add this ‘unnatural’ feeling to not being able to find the words to express how they feel and what do you know – being physical seems like the only answer at the time.
My last theory is, is that due to the high unemployment rate in the country the men of the house can somewhat feel emasculated. In every household I can guarantee that there will be one, two maybe even 10 people sitting around the house all day. The employment opportunities on the islands (Tarawa and outer islands) are pretty non-existent so a lot of men spend a lot of time at home. At this point I must say that Kiribati women are strong; physically and emotionally. Without a doubt they rule the roost in the household. They can carry three children at a time while pulling water from a well, can cook meals to feed armies while disciplining rowdy teenagers, all the while singing in four part harmony with the rest of the household. The households depend a lot on the women and the women are happy to be the leaders. I honestly would place a baby in the care of a 10 year old I-Kiribati girl over an 16 year old Australian girl any day. No offense to Aussie girls but it would be most likely that the 10 year old would have been changing diapers and holding newborns since she was 5. At 16 all I was used to changing was my profile picture on MSN Messenger.
Day to day the women are the bosses of the house. They yell orders and keep everything going like clockwork while the men generally sit at home waiting for work. Yes they collect the coconuts, the toddi, fix the house and go fishing but still, this doesn’t take all day, everyday – plus the weather is getting hotter to work in (don’t get me started on THAT!). So after sitting around for weeks on end with the women ruling the household you can only imagine that they would start to feel a little emasculated. So when this frustration accumulates and they want to show everyone in the family who is boss, guess who is in their line of fire? If you want to be at the top of the pyramid just knock the top off it.
On a positive note, I did notice that domestic violence awareness has hiked up since I was last there. Every Thursday women are encouraged to wear black to publicly show that they are against domestic violence. Once I was made aware of this it was fantastic to see how many women wore black. I even saw men wearing black which made my heart melt. Also, on the 25th November there was a march in Bairiki (a main town on Tarawa) to raise awareness for White Ribbon Day. I attended – adorned with my black attire – marched with the women along with the police and marine corps. President Anote Tong spoke about how Kiribati must get rid of the opinion that domestic abuse is ‘Islander culture’. It is not Islander culture. Traditional dancing, island mythology, songs, rituals and customs – they are what defines a the culture NOT how women are traditionally treated in the household.
It’s hard writing this while also trying to tell you that many islander men aren’t arseholes. There are so many of them that work hard for their families, are good fathers, sons, uncles, cousins. I love the men in my family just as much as I love the women. The real shame is that because violence is apparently part of the ‘culture’ even the most gentlest men in the family are told by other I-Kiribati men that hitting your wife/sister/daughter is the only way to be the ‘man of the house’. And when you are told by other men that you can’t ‘control’ your wife – mixed in with islander pride – it is very hard to go against the grain.
I think the thing I find really annoying about this whole topic is that it’s not just Kiribati. It’s a whole Pacific Islander thing. It is safe to assume that this is the way of life in most other Pacific Island countries – Samoa, Solomon Islands, Fji, Tonga, Nauru, Tuvalu, PNG etc. I really really hate writing this because I know men and women from each of these countries and islanders are the most loving, happiest and caring people. I feel like I’m going against my own race by saying it but I also hate that this seems to be a hidden issue or at least an issue that seems to be accepted in islander way of life.
- In the Solomon Islands 64% women aged between 15-49 who ‘have been in a relationship reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, and sometimes both, by an intimate partner’
- ‘In Papua New Guinea, 67 per cent of women are beaten by their husbands – 100 per cent in the highlands – with gang rape and pay-back rape common…In Tuvalu, half the females surveyed lost their virginity in forced sex. In Samoa, 46 per cent of women are physically abused, and up to 8 per cent are beaten unconscious by their spouse. In Fiji, 66 per cent of women have been physically abused by their partners; 26 per cent were beaten while pregnant. And in Kiribati, 68 per cent of women have been physically or sexually abused.’ (Read full article here)
These statistics make me sick.
If you have any feedback on this, I’d love to hear it. Especially other islanders. If I haven’t been clear enough, if I have portrayed islanders in the wrong light please say so. It’s a hard subject to write on especially when I have so much respect for islander men but you can’t deny that it’s a problem that needs to be highlighted and fixed.
For more information, check out these great websites.