Paradise on earth? Welcome to the Pacific!

It’s almost winter here in Melbourne and while the rain falls and the frost thickens, we while away our time by looking out the window and dreaming of holidays.  Holidays with endless sunshine, drinking straight from the coconut and swimming in the ocean at night.

The Pacific Islands can give you this luxury and it is perfect a holiday.  It’s always warm, the sunsets across the water make you feel like you’re in the most remote place in the world and the local people are warm, smiling and arguably the most accommodating on the planet.

Tourism is in the Pacific Islands is constantly growing with flights becoming more affordable than ever before.  Holiday packages, wedding packages and family holidays are now affordable almost to the point of some islands being cheaper than holidaying in your own country.  At the moment figures for tourist figures are as around 600,000 in Fiji; 90,000 in Vanuatu; 250,000 in Tahiti and 100,000 for Samoa.

The people are friendly, always smiling and it’s generally a safe place to be.

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For tourists.

For locals and more specifically for women, their everyday life consists of the threat of being hit by a husband or male family member, being beaten, being threatened or being raped.

No, this article is not about to tell you the cheapest holiday packages in the Pacific.  This article is about how 64% women in the Solomon Islands between the ages of 15-49 have reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, 68% of women in Kiribati have been physically or sexually abused, 66% of women in Fiji have been physically abused by their partners (26% while pregnant) and 67% women in PNG have been beaten by their husbands – 100% in the highlands.

Welcome to the Pacific!!

Some of you may recognise these statistics and my sentiment towards it which I previously wrote about in my piece ‘Women of the Pacific’.  I haven’t written on this topic since January 2012, mainly because I didn’t want to keep ranting over the same thing over and over again.  Now with Papua New Guinea announcing that domestic violence is about to be set as a criminal offence, I figure it’s time to rant again.  Now, I don’t want to start complaining about how this law wasn’t existent in the country in the first place because that obviously riles me like nothing else.  They previously had laws that allowed a victim to report abuse but this law allows for other people other than the victim to report the abuse.  So neighbours, children, family members and strangers can now report it.  So I suppose that is a step up but anything is a step up from 100% domestic abuse in the highlands.

The thing that really annoys me about all the statistics that I’ve just ranted on about is that all these statistics reflect an attitude that throughout the Pacific Islands that domestic violence is the ‘norm’. And it is.  It’s an accepted way of life and an assumption that most Islanders have.  The assumption is that domestic violence is an everyday occurrence in every family in every Pacific Island nation.  If it’s not happening to them, they know someone it’s happen to or they know someone who is the abuser.

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The other night I had dinner with a wonderful friend of mine who is also half Pacific Islander, was born there and still has a strong connection to the place.  We were talking about all the great people in our families on the islands, the kids with the potential, the smart cousins, the wonderful relatives that have become wonderful parents.

‘What about the not so good one’s?’ I asked her.

‘Their probably off in a gang, drinking too much and raping women.’

I nodded in agreement as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

It’s normal to assume that when an islander is drunk, he will most likely hit his wife that night.  It’s normal for a young mother to turn up on her family’s doorstep with her children in her arms saying that she needs to stay for a couple of days.  It’s normal to assume that she has been abused.

And you know why it’s normal? Because each and every Islander is being brought up watching how their father act and how their mother reacts.  Gorgeous, happy and laughing children are seeing their fathers physically dominate over their mothers.  The mother leaves for a few days but then returns when the husband begs to her family that he needs her back.  And the family send her back because he is the father of her children.  The next generation see this first hand.  This is what they’re being taught is normal.

As much as this frustrates and angers me like nothing else, I’m starting to realise that things don’t change over night.  In fact, as impatient as it is, it takes generations.  My grandma is visiting from Kiribati at the moment and she comes from the generation that stays silent and thinks that there is no other way of life.  How different is that to my generation that not only listens to stories with horror but writes articles to publicly express her feelings about this?

So I’m coming to terms that to change an attitude and way of life takes years, who knows how many.  But we learn from those before us and it’s up to us to use that knowledge.  Each generation need to do that little bit more than the one before it.  Tell stories, teach them what is right and wrong and try that little bit extra to educate the ones that come after you.  I’ve heard and seen the effects of what the generations before me have experienced and I have to somehow figure out what to do with this knowledge.  So I’m doing what I know.  I’m writing about it.

By any means, I’m not trying to dissuade you from holidaying to the islands because they really are beautiful and a must-see.  I am constantly inviting friends to come over and visit the place for themselves and please do visit any country in the Pacific.  For tourists, I can’t suggest any other place that would be as welcoming, inviting and such a paradise.  But like any other place, the countries have their own problems and the life that the locals lead is not a holiday.  Despite what the tourism advertisements say, the islands aren’t the happiest places on earth.  They’re not all just white sandy beaches and fresh fish.  Yes, they are laughter and singing but they are also places that are remote, a lot of the time devoid of a full nutritious diet and over populated.  The people of the Pacific have worked hard over generations to create a culture and traditions that make them unique survivors of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s just that sometimes, it becomes evident that there are some cultural ‘traditions’ and attitudes that aren’t right.

By hitting their wife, by raping girls and women, men are killing everything that is good about the islands. Life could be so wonderful on there and with the amount of vitamin D the place gets, the people should be happy and wonderful.   There is nothing positive, nothing beneficial about it – kids won’t be better citizens, wives won’t obey you and it certainly doesn’t make a boy a ‘man’.

Pass the word on is all I ask.

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Ko Raba

Nei Marita

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. PasifikaObserver says:

    What a fantastic piece!

  2. plumeofwords says:

    Thanks for bringing attention to this important issue, and for writing so passionately on it. Are there any measures currently being undertaken in Kirabati, i.e. education projects targeting gender violence, etc.?

  3. busymum says:

    I seen a programme on tv not so long ago about the pollution in Kiribati, it has been playing on my mind quite a bit. Would like to help somehow, so will do a little more research and see where I could do my bit to begin to end the need for the pollution that seems to remain in some parts of this beautiful pacific nation.

  4. Emily Allan says:

    Beautifully written maddy! I watched a fantastic documentary on NITV called “the hungry tide” on Tuesday night…I balled my eyes out over the raw deal kiribati and other small low lying pacific island nations have been dealt by the worlds devloped nations (Australia included!). however, one thing that left me feeling uplifted was the wonderful things Kiribati women are doing to fight for their country environmentally and in the preservation of Kiribati culture. Keep the blogs coming maddy – I want to learn more! X

  5. Eric Larson says:

    Absolutely essential post about an endemic problem. Keep bringing exposure to the devastating problem of domestic abuse.

    1. Thanks Eric – this issue is constantly on my mind! There are never enough ways to try and address this.

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