Melanesians come from Africa

Out and about in Melanesia: women's rights

Sara tells me in the archdiocese's conference room that in her village women who experience domestic violence come to her to seek protection. Every community has a household that offers protection for such circumstances. This task is not without danger for them, however, as the often intoxicated and aggressive men like to shift the violence from the living room to the neighboring property if need be. While the battered woman can hide in Sara's house, Sara and her husband try to calm the situation down. Unfortunately, she cannot simply call the police because this step has to be approved by the entire village community. According to the motto "Dirty laundry is washed at home" one tries to resolve all incidents of this kind in the village among themselves. This “culture of silence” at village level can, however, be broken if violence gets out of hand or the community itself is endangered. Sara gives as an example from her area the case of a man who was known for his excessive consumption of alcohol and brutal style of voicing his opinion. When he started supplementing his income with over 600 cannabis plants, the community was in dire danger. Cling together, swing together! So it was decided in the community to find an opportune moment and contact the police. The officers had to use electric batons to immobilize the man before they could destroy the plantation.

Within their community, women are relatively safe and there are various systems in the villages to curb domestic violence. The neighbors usually intervene when they learn of the use of violence. Sara’s offer to mediate between the spouses is only intended for absolute emergencies. There is a women's refuge on the Solomon Islands, but space is limited and only one child can be taken with you. Not only the long way for most women prevents them from taking advantage of this help. Leaving their own children behind is also displeasing to most, followed by the stigmata that the village community places on these women, is another inhibiting factor that has to be overcome.

Outside of the community, women are exposed to many dangers, which means that they can usually only travel in groups. It's not just the consumption of beer that makes life difficult for them. Quasi, self-distilled schnapps, similar to Strohrum, makes many of the men forget their manners and use all forms of violence on strange women.

In very remote areas it is common to offer guests and “big men” their own daughter for a night as a welcome gift. Most of them are happy to accept this offer. If girls grow up in such an environment and do not get to know any alternative ideas, they have to grow up with the idea of ​​inferiority and no self-esteem and pass this role model on to their daughters. Apart from this cruel cultural asset, there is also the taboo house in some areas, which is used for tribal meetings and initiation rites and the like. Taboo stands for a prohibition that can be pronounced by a big man or a chief and can traditionally represent a place or a behavior. The sense behind it is, for example, to declare overfished lakes as a taboo in order to allow the remaining fish population to recover. In the case of taboo houses, where all important decisions are made, the taboo refers to women who are generally not tolerated at these meetings. This prohibition of women in these houses is so profound that Sister Lina wants to tell me about an incident in a village. When she and a few other sisters drove to a remote village for educational work, she wanted to sit down briefly during a break and enjoyed the opportunity to sit on one of the terraces of the “leaf houses”. This house made of leaves and sticks, however, was the Taboo house and within seconds screaming boys came running to her. The excitement was so great that Sister Lina, who speaks fluent pidgin, couldn't understand a word. When a man who runs over to her arrives, it is explained to her that she has just desecrated the Taboo house. The usual punishment according to village rules is waived and she was told that this was only due to her Filipino origin, and thus ignorance, spared further consequences.

When asked whether the circumstances of the women do not lead to reflection or rebellion on the part of women, Sara tells me resignedly that you grow up in a community and that the rules that rule there are perceived as normal and even if you perceive them to be unjust, only that Accept remains. As a woman, you don't have the opportunity to simply express your opinion, especially not in public.

Father Cley demonstrated this very case to me in a very vivid way that evening. He would like me to interview a few women who visit the NAC on the subject of women's rights. Of course, I am happy to accept this offer and assume that the happy chatter from inside the building is a good omen for my interview and that all my questions will be answered by motivated, talkative women. When the door opens and I enter, the three women abruptly fall silent. This situation is only known from bad westerns, when the piano player stops jingling, all conversations fall silent and the gaze is focused on the stranger. Cley introduces me and leaves us alone so his presence doesn't stop anyone in the room from answering. At first I think that the three women of different ages simply don't speak English and therefore don't understand my questions. Even the good, old hand-and-foot communication does not produce any results, so I was infinitely happy when after a quarter of an hour Cley released our embarrassed group of four from the now oppressive silence. As he explains to us, the women are by no means separated from me by a language barrier, on the contrary. They are all fluent in English. So the silence is not based on linguistic barriers, but on the fact that women are not allowed to answer strangers. You are not allowed to communicate with other men without the consent of the man in question. The downward looks were not an expression of inability not to understand questions or to formulate answers, but rather respectful, rather fearful evasion. Cley explains to me that he sees this as one of the biggest problems in society, as 50% of the people of the Solomon Islands react in exactly the same way and live in a systematically oppressed way.

Sara's task with the “women desk”, complementary to the “men desk”, consists of organizing workshops on “women-related issues” and providing awareness-raising work. She goes to the villages and wants to "empower" the women. She says that the current generation is already very much involved in the cultural characteristics and only the next generation has any hope of seeing a change within the next ten to fifteen years. Your work deals exclusively with women and tries to create an awareness of your own rights and needs, which in turn leads to hostility from men. This is exactly where the work of the as yet unoccupied “men desk” begins, which is to be brought closer to Sara's approach by a man, as high-ranking as possible, to the village communities in the taboo houses. Only in this way is it possible at all to bring the rights of women closer to men, as otherwise the opinion of a woman will not be heard.