Mariska Meldrum recently travelled to the Solomon Islands to see a project bringing hope to women and children. Photo by Sophie Timothy, World Vision
In Australia, domestic violence often goes hidden behind closed doors. Victims suffer in silence, fearful of the repercussions to them or their children if they speak out about the abuse.
It’s no different for women anywhere.
But imagine a nation where two out of three women* have experienced physical abuse or violence from an intimate partner. This is what life is like for many girls and women in the Solomon Islands. Thirty-seven percent have been sexually abused before the age of 15, and 37 percent state that their first sexual experience was forced.
Think about that.
The saddest part of this is that of the women who report being physically or sexually abused, 82 percent said they have never sought help from formal services: health services, shelters, legal advice or those in positions of authority. In fact, 73 percent of women believe a man is justified in beating his wife under some circumstances.
These statistics sound horrific to us – but it wasn’t that long ago that Australians had similar cultural views of violence between married couples.
Forty-five year old Fred Sikini, chief leader in Sun Valley Community, Honiara, told me that he was a violent man – his wife and children were scared of him. Having paid a ‘bride price’ for his wife, he believed he owned her and his children – and was entitled to discipline them in the way he saw fit.
Today, Fred is on a mission to show his family and his community that he is a changed man.
“Now I treat my wife equally, and I now really appreciate her as an individual, a wife, and there is mutual trust and love in our marriage,” said Fred.
“My children do not have fear and distrust in me, there is an open relationship in love for each other.”
“The environment in our home is more loving and friendly, with positive words spoken to each other. After twenty three years of marriage, now my wife and my children are experiencing a happy life,” he said.
So what brought about this dramatic change in Fred’s life – from one of the most violent men in his community to a role model and advocator for change in his community?
Three years ago, Fred was one of the first community leaders in the Solomon Islands to go through World Vision’s Channels of Hope for Gender project.
In a nation where 97 percent of the population are Christian and the majority of people do not have access to newspapers, television or the internet, educating faith leaders is the most effective way to create real change in communities.
World Vision staff – with the support of the Australian Government - are working with church pastors, community leaders and the police force to equip them to change attitudes and behaviour which can lead to gender inequalities, especially violence against women.
For men like Fred, learning the truth about what the Bible says about the value of women has been an eye-opener.
Equipped them with the the tools to create change through Channels of Hope training, World Vision also supports men like Fred to go back to their community and mobilise volunteer groups to address violence against women and children.
Pastor Hamuel, elder at the Bethlehem South Sea Evangelical Church, is using what he has learnt through Channels of Hope in his sermons – saying that “it’s all there in the Bible”.
“I see this as an opportunity to reach out to all of my congregation, especially the youth as they are the next generation of married people within the community,” said Pastor Hamuel.
“I’ve also used Channels of Hope to reach out to non-churchgoers – through my home visit to resolve conflicts between married couples.”
As for Fred, he is now seen as a role model in his community – and kept busy counselling married couples and resolving conflicts within the community. He is spreading the “good news” of Channels of Hope globally – recently travelling from his home in rural Honiara to speak about his transformation experience to the United Nations in New York.
“I want the families in my community to live happily because families make up a community and so happy families will make a happy community,” said Fred.
*All facts taken from The Solomon Islands Family: Health and Safety Study: A study on violence against women and children, Ministry of Women Youth and Children Affairs, 2009