When Fiji Red Cross Society’s Health and Care Coordinator, Marica Kepa, heard that Fiji Red Cross volunteers raising awareness and understanding of violence against women had been told they were not welcome in a particular village, she had no choice but to investigate. What followed was an experience that not only reinforced her faith in the power of the programme but also changed how it was being approached.
“I went to the village chief – luckily I know him personally because he was a classmate – and asked to talk to the village and find out what happened. It turned out that they were upset because the training had only been held for the women and they felt it painted the men as perpetrators of violence against women.
I let them have it out and then asked if we could talk about this thing called ‘gender’. We called everyone in and I did the full session covering what ‘gender’ is, gender roles and how those roles contribute to gender-based violence. Instead of doing only a few hours, we had the whole day and it was amazing.
One of the exercises is we draw a tree and ask the participants to fill in the branches – the different types of violence – then the roots – the contributing factors to the violence – and finally the fruit – the consequences of the violence. When I did it in this village, it was the men who spoke up. They brought up things like physical violence, sexual violence, rape; they pointed to drinking grog as one of the contributing factors and then named consequences such as teenage pregnancy, getting HIV, getting sexually transmitted infections, divorce, jail … To me, that means the community is aware of what is happening.
The next step was to talk about it. They all started talking, they started making their own plans, and I was so very proud that we were getting through.
In Fijian communities you don’t talk about rape or those types of things. It’s hard. So it’s good for them to identify with it and talk about it. While some men might stand up and criticise how a woman dresses, others in the room will stand up and say the opposite.
One man stood up and said he was guilty of all these charges. He thought his role as a man meant that his wife should always do the cooking for him. When he goes out drinking grog, he expects her to heat up his meal as soon as he gets home despite the fact he knows she’s sleeping, she’s tired and that she needs rest because she’s been working the whole day. He was quite emotional about it; he was connecting those gender roles to the violence.
It was really amazing. Every man in the room was moved by this. You could tell they all identified with it.
The men were very open and apologised; the community and society expects them to be ‘the man’.
Then we started talking about how they can help. To me, that was one of the breakthroughs.
One word came out clearly – dialogue. They kept on saying that nothing is impossible if we talk. And this was coming from men. They don’t want this conversation to be a one-off and have asked for someone to come and talk to them every now and then, as a reminder, and also so that everyone can hear it.
Even the youth have asked volunteers to speak with them at church meetings. Now that they have made this commitment, we at Fiji Red Cross have to ensure that we keep our end of the commitment; that our volunteers will be there when the villages ask for them.
Now we do the training for men and women together unless the villages asks us to hold separate ones. Even the feedback from the volunteers is that this is better because they find that once the participants get into mixed groups to talk about what they have gone through, everyone participates.
Right now this village is a special case, but people talk and the villages are so close to each other. It becomes contagious.”
Fiji Red Cross Society is a grant recipient of UN Women’s Pacific Regional Ending Violence against Women Facility Fund (Pacific Fund), which is principally funded by the Australian Government. The 25th of every month is Orange Day, a global day of awareness-raising about violence against women and girls.