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[The Fiji Times, 14 Dec 1996]


Month after month, year after year, theFijipublic is told of horrifying violent events involving women, events that scream out that our communities are sick to the depths.


Not only are there all kinds of physical violence by men against women (of all ages), but women take the ultimate desperate action to end their misery, by committing suicide, and even more horrifically, some mothers also kill their own children.


Often, the method chosen, such as setting themselves on fire or drinking poison, leads to physical and mental agony that lasts for days and weeks, before death.


Such deliberate deaths are a total contradiction of all that constitutes life.  Yet they occur so frequently inFijithat they cannot be considered mere aberrations: our communities are sick.


No doubt there are social and individual factors which may explain some of the violence against women and suicides by women.


However, there are two economic aspects- women’s changing expectations and economic roles- which are creating enormous stresses in the lives of women, leading to violence against them, because men are not adapting their expectations and behaviour.


If violence against women is to be significantly reduced, it is the men in our communities- the husbands, fathers, brothers and sons, who need to adapt their attitudes and behaviour, to the changing economic expectations and roles that women rightly have.


And political, traditional and religious leaders in our communities (mostly men), must put pressure on men, to bring about these changes.


The Gap Between Expectations and Lives


At the heart of much violence against women (by others or themselves) is the gap between what societies (dominated by men) allow women to do in life, and women’s own changing expectations of life.


There is no doubt that our communities systematically discriminate (with double standards) against females in birth (and death), food, education, jobs and pay, promotions, ownership, sexual activity, friendships and entertainment, housework, sports, leisure, politics and even religion.


What is as disturbing as the discrimination, however, is that mostFijimen still dispute that this discrimination exists, and therefore see no need to do anything about it.

More than a decade ago, when I included gender issues in my USP Micro-economics course, this was considered by some of my economics colleagues (and some students) to be radical and “not really economics”.


Today, even the men-dominated World Bank, IMF and the American Economics Association have been forced to focus on gender issues.   WhetherFijimen wish to admit it or not, discrimination against women exists and will not be denied.


On the other side, despite all the discrimination against them, women’s expectations of life have been very rightly strengthening and enlarging, from what may have been the case fifty years ago.


This change is taking place with Fiji women (as world-wide), through education, through political and social organisations of women, through the increasingly international and cosmopolitan consciousness that is being created by the various media, (despite the flood of trashy, allegedly “entertainment” programmes and movies, which all too often create negative images of, and for, women).


Fijiwomen are also quite rightly not tolerating the pressures created by the gap between their expectations and what life offers them.


Yet if women actively resist the pressures and try to realise their legitimate expectations, they face violence from the men who expect them to behave differently.  Or the women (especially Indo-Fijians) in total desperation and inability to cope with the pressure, commit violence against themselves through suicide.


When women prefer death to living, when nurturing mothers kill their own off-spring, this is surely the ultimate primeval scream that everything in life is stacked against them: their men, their families, their in-laws, their traditional leaders, and even their gods.


Are our men leaders getting the message that our communities provide these women with no avenues other than death?


Despite the frequency of these screams of powerlessness, it is dismaying that there seems to be little happening to the attitudes of men, who are ultimately the source of much of this violence against women.


This can be seen most clearly in the refusal of mostFijimen to adjust fairly within their households, to the dramatic changes that have taken place in the economic roles of women.


Changing Economic Roles


In recent years, one of the major changes taking place inFiji’s economy (as everywhere else in the world), has been the increasing participation of women in income earning employment.  Over the last three decades, most of the new jobs have been taken by women.


Women are rightfully improving their share of paid work as professionals, office workers, as factory workers, as market and street vendors, and in most spheres of paid economic activities (except notably in Parliament, Senate and religious organisations, and as captains of industry).


This trend will continue and even strengthen into the future, given that inFiji(as elsewhere) females are tending to out-perform males in primary, secondary and tertiary education.


This trend must eventually lead to even higher demand for women’s participation in paid employment.  Women will require greater independence, and broadening of their range of activities in all spheres, political and social.


Despite this trend, however, women continue to be denied full participation in the economy and society, as they have historically been denied, because of our male-dominated traditions and social expectations.


Take just one, but important, example- the fact that men continue to expect women to do the bulk of the unpaid work in the household, despite earning cash incomes, and despite their education, abilities and potential to do other socially useful things..


The Killer Housework


Most men do not appreciate what an enormous burden is imposed by cooking, washing of clothes, cleaning of the house, feeding, cleaning and care of babies and children.


I refer to the soul-killing drudgery that must be done, on a regular day to day basis, day in day out, year in and year out (and not just the token bit on Mother’s Day).


Numerous studies show that even where men and women are both earning incomes, and even taking into account the typical “men’s activities” such as looking after the car etc., men’s share of work at home is extremely small.  It is nowhere near the half it should be, and men and their attitudes, are a large part of the problem.


It is expected that women (and girls) will be responsible for most of the housework, whatever their other contributions at work, on the farm, in the shop, or elsewhere. And to serve the men (and boys) hand and foot, when called upon.


By not doing their fair share of housework, men (and boys), deny the women (and girls) the same freedoms and stress relief that they expect for themselves: to put their feet up after work or school, to have a relaxing alcoholic drink, to visit their friends, to play their soccer, rugby, and golf any

time they want, to engage in political and social activities, to advance their careers through study.


These double standards are especially prevalent in Indo-Fijian households.


There are males who do, or try to do their fair share at home.  They know how time consuming and killing the drudgery can be.  Yet they often face ridicule and amused pity, from other males.


Such unfair behaviour by men is unfortunately supported by religious and traditional beliefs, which may have been understandable in a different economic and social environment, two centuries ago (even if unjust then as well).


It is regrettable that religious, political and social organisations, run largely by men, still continue to perpetuate social rules and practice, that effectively allow men to constrain the lives of women, to treat them as chattel, and commit violence against them with impunity.  Some religions even convince many men (and women) that this is what God intended.


However, whatever largely male religious leaders may claim about God’s views on how men should treat women, men’s attitudes and behaviour are directly responsible for the stresses that lead to violence by men against women, and drive women to suicide.  This cannot be acceptable in a decent community.


Men Must Change


If the violence against women is to be reduced, men, who are largely responsible for the problem, must allow women the same economic, political, social and religious freedoms and expectations in life, that men take for granted for themselves and their sons.


To take an every day important example, for these freedoms to have any meaning, men (and their sons) must do their fair share of family and household work, to enable the females to have equal opportunities and time to study, play sports, socialise, work on their careers, serve on school boards and political organisations, and engage in the kinds of activities that will enable women to achieve their full potential (just as men have the freedom to do).


How will this massive change in the attitudes and behaviour of our men come about?


No doubt men can (and will eventually) be forced to change if women battle it out with men, and enforce their legitimate rights.  The Darwinian biological reality is that no species survives by destroying itself in order to cope with its problems.


However, given the potential richness, satisfaction and beauty that men can achieve through fair and just relations with women, and given the complete biological and social inter-dependence between and women, surely men would be happier if they were to change their ways voluntarily through consensus, rather than through conflict.


But such change is unlikely to come about through men reading articles in newspapers and journals.  It requires more concerted social action and pressure, especially by the men leaders and the organisations they dominate.


What of Our Leaders?


There are women’s organisations, such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, who are doing admirable work trying to give vulnerable women alterative avenues to cope with and address their problems, despite the abuse hurled at them and the victims. Such valuable work needs greater support from our communities.


However, the problem must be tackled at source- the attitudes and behaviour of men.


Political, traditional and religious leaders (mostly men) must use their powers of persuasion on men, to modify their behaviour so as to give women a fair deal in life, at all levels and in all areas.  Let there not be any double standards.


It is unfortunate then, that with respect to what men should or shouldn’t do to reduce violence against women, there is deafening silence from our political, traditional and religious leaders.


And month after month, year after year, the violence against women continues; women continue to commit suicide and kill their children.


When will the message get through to men?



[Appeared as “When women choose to die”), The Fiji Times, 14 December 1996.]

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