27 March 2019
Domestic and family violence: The consequences are often cited but the causes are complex in a traditional culture dominated society
The launch in the last couple of days of the findings of the 2018 survey on the impact of violence on the workplace in the country was illuminating in revealing that domestic and sexual violence in the Solomon Islands was costing companies almost a fortnight’s worth of work per employee each year.
Given that the Solomon Islands still rates as a country having one of the highest rates of domestic and sexual violence in the world it came as no real surprise, however, to learn of the negative impact domestic and family violence is causing to companies.
I was hoping to get more of an insight into the actual causes of violence in the home and am inclined to take the view that much still needs to be done to look deeper into the core issues and to see how they might be addressed and overcome.
Frankly, after 21 years of observing the plight of women and girls suffering domestic and family violence in the Solomon Islands and knowing of the many, many, millions of dollars invested in surveys, conferences and the dedicated work of so many case workers, field personnel and those representatives of regional governments and organisation such as the UN and affiliated bodies, we seem to be simply talking around the problem rather than finding real answers.
Let me try and explain as best I can and with the help of the WHO’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health which underlined that gender inequality impacts health, violence against women, lack of decision making power and unfair divisions of work, leisure, and possibilities of improving one’s life.
I noted that it was reported in the meeting to launch the 2018 survey that an equal men and women believe violence against women is justifiable.
As an enforcer of the law for more than 40 years I have some personal difficulty in accepting that violence against women is justifiable in any circumstances and it is here that “custom’ comes into play.
I am led to understand that a majority of women in the Solomon Islands believe violence against a woman is justifiable, especially for infidelity and “disobedience, when a woman does not live up to the gender role that “society” imposes.
The WHO document I have referred to mentions that men in the Solomon Islands have cited acceptability of violence and gender inequality as two main reasons for violence against women and often resort to hitting a female partner as a “form of discipline, suggesting that women could improve the situation by learning to obey them.
Another manifestation and driver of gender inequality in the Solomon Islands the WHO says is the traditional practice of bride price.
“Although specific customs vary between communities, paying a bride price is considered similar to a property title, giving men ownership over women. Gender norms of masculinity tend to encourage men to “control” their wives, often through violence, while women felt that bride prices prevented them from leaving men. At the same time, and despite continued efforts by non- governmental organizations (NGOs) and faith-based organisations including Voice Belong Mere (VBMSI), the Christian Care Centre (CCC), the Family Support Centre (FSC) and Solomon Islands Christian Association and the Federation of Women (SICA–FOW), until comparatively recently political leaders trivialised and denied the existence of violence against women.”
Thankfully that earlier situation has been turned around and legislation enacted to allow women and girls having suffered domestic violence to report the crimes in terms of the Family Protection Act.
Despite this important Act being on the statute books there has been few, if any prosecutions brought against offenders to-date.
It might be said that the customary practice of “payback” has prevented victims coming forward.
It has been mentioned that victims have not felt at ease reported their incidences of violence to male police officers. The RSIPF has been active to increase the number of female police officers and demonstrated prowess in promoting gender equality in the service, but perhaps it is still the case that victims remain reluctant to report to the police with the implication of having to give verbal testimony in a court naming the offender or offenders.
Another viewpoint, often recited, is that the police are not honouring the restraining orders that have been made against offenders. Whether this is a true situation I am not in a position to comment.
There is no doubt, in my view, that alcohol often is the cause of violence in the home and I have seen many instances of domestic violence occasioned by a male partner beating his female partner after coming home drunk or drinking ‘home-brew’ and becoming abusive and then violent.
My brief observations here exclude many other intimate issues between men and women that often lead to violence.
Domestic and family violence is occurring in many countries but complicated all the more in the Solomon Islands by cultural factors, as explained, and by the fact that victims of violence in the home are still not reporting what is taking place domestically.
I am a great supporter of gender equality and human rights and appreciate the support of the 9 commercial organizations in the Solomon Islands working towards equal representation in the workplace.
A final thought, I have pondered. How does gender equality sit with some men in the context of custom and old traditional norms?