Gender based violence in the Solomon Islands comes under the spotlight once again The story I submitted and which featured on Facebook today referring to a set of guidelines having been launched in the Solomon Islands for Counsellors engaged in dealing with domestic and family violence drew one rather blunt comment which read.
“Until kids are taught in school that what their father does to their mother is WRONG....... nothing will ever change. Kids see what their parents do and copy.”
Was the writer of the commentary rather implying domestic and family violence in the home is a cultural problem?
In the Journal of ‘Family medicine and primary care,’ I had seen a degree of support linking violence in the home to cultural practices. The paragraph relating to this notion read:
“Time and commitment is needed to change the cultural perception of domestic violence in the Solomon Islands.”
The full commentary of the Conclusion piece of the Family Medicine and Primary Care paper, stated.
“Domestic violence is a major public healthcare concern in the Solomon Islands. From our experiences and interactions with people working in this area, it is evident that numerous interventions are being developed and implemented. However, these interventions are still in their infancy and have largely stemmed from Western protocols. Therefore, for these models to be effective, time and commitment is needed to change the cultural perception of domestic violence in the Solomon Islands.”
In an excellent commentary written as a Blog in a Development paper released by the Australian National University (ANU) in April 2016, Dr Anouk Ride, a gender and social inclusion consultant working in Solomon Islands, wrote at length about gender-based violence in the Solomon Islands, when she posed the question -‘What’s culture got to do with it?
Dr Ride’s commentary is well worth downloading.
Taking several extracts from her Blog she wrote:
Frames of “culture” and “women’s rights” have dominated discourse in the development sector regarding Solomon Islands’ high rate of gender-based violence. The two are often linked – i.e., the assumption that Solomon “culture” leads to views of women as inferior to men, leading to low levels of political participation and representation and high rates of violence. Bride “price” or payment from the husband’s family to the wife’s family during traditional weddings is another often-cited “cultural” factor.
“The only major research report available on gender-based violence is the Solomon Islands Family Health and Safety Survey [pdf], prepared by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in 2009. It replicates, with slight modifications, methodology used for the World Health Organization’s Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women and interviews around 3,000 Solomon women.”
“This survey debunks certain myths – namely that violence against women by their partners is a product of low development levels on the national scale or education on the individual level. It finds instead that intimate partner violence is largely unrelated to most socioeconomic and demographic indicators, such as the age, education, employment, income and marital status of women.”
“The report turns to cycles of violence (such as perpetrator and survivor seeing or being subject to violence as a child) as a contributing factor. Men who are violent to others are more likely to be violent towards their wives, as are those who saw women and children being hit or were hit themselves when they were growing up.”
“Cultural change can legitimise violence as traditional gender norms shift. Qualitative interviews in the report point out that the view that bride price signals “ownership” of a man over a woman is a new perversion of the tradition that was formerly about cementing relationships between two families. Nonetheless, this new interpretation of what bride price means is used to legitimise violence against women. Pre-colonial behavioural norms that provided some protection for women, such as a belief that warriors who hit women were considered “weak”, have eroded in modern times.”
“Despite all this complexity, the headline figures from the report have been used to emphasise Solomon “culture” as a causal factor of violence. For example, Andrew Mason, the gender co-ordinator for the World Bank’s East Asia and the Pacific Region, said in an interview that the report “means that societies in the Pacific have a higher tolerance for men abusing their spouses. And in fact what’s interesting is that it’s a culture that includes not only male views, but female views. One thing we find, which was surprising and a bit disturbing frankly, is that 70 per cent of women in the Solomon Islands also say that under certain circumstances that husbands beating their wives is acceptable”.
“The most common “circumstance” cited by women as providing justification for wife beating in the survey is if a partner finds out the woman has been unfaithful (63%), followed by disobedience (41%) and if he suspects infidelity (27%). Anecdotally people say affairs have risen in the post-conflict period, and jealousy and possessiveness are also common causes of domestic disputes. However, it is an awkward subject, and one that is usually brushed aside, with disobedience being given more airtime by the development sector as a perceived common justification for violence in Solomon Islands. This reinforces frames of cultural difference between Solomon Islands and, for example, the UK, where studies have also identified affairs and disputes about control as the most common circumstance men use to explain their violence .”
“When surveyed about specific incidences of violence that had happened to them, women reported the most common situations contributing to violence is that male perpetrators were drunk (in Honiara) or were involved in disputes about affairs (in the rural provinces). A 2014 study of men and women admitted to the National Referral Hospital for domestic violence incidents also found alcohol was involved in many cases, although more data is needed to see if it was consumption by the male, female or both.”
“The underlying assumptions that men can hit women for transgressing certain expected behaviours (such as fidelity or obedience), and that blame can be attributed to alcohol rather than self-control, are shaped by culture and found in cultures worldwide. However, circumstances have arisen in Solomon Islands, due to modern pressures, that add fuel to the fire. One is particularly aggressive marketing, distribution and consumption of alcohol, but homebrew alcohol is also common). Sudden influxes of cash rents and payments to men for mining and logging (which can be readily spent on alcohol rather than the family’s expenses) are another contributor.”
“My own research suggests that, rather than a static “culture”, rapid changes to Solomon society and gender relations may account for the apparent rise in domestic violence.”
As a former police officer having served in several countries it has been my experience that drunkenness on the part of the male partner has been the primary cause of wife beating and family violence, including violence on the children in the home.