The culture and sociology of rape


To understand why rape takes place and why it is so pervasive, is to be willing to explore the relationship between men and women and who our community has given more power.

We must start by exploring patriarchy and the way its social and cultural norms lend weight to sexism and a gender inequality which create risks for women.

“Where is Mere and John? It’s 6pm and getting dark out. Go and tell Mere to come home now!

“John is a boy, he will be all right.”

A form of this conversation will take place in iTaukei families as the sun sets.

Most of us will consider it normal to bring in a girl, keep her safe from harm and completely ignore that John may grow up to be the reason Mere is in danger.

By teaching our girl children to keep safe as a preventative measure, we unfortunately feed into a pervasive culture which shifts on to the victim of sexual violence the burden of preventing it; rape culture.

British sociologist Dr Nicki Lisa Cole at the University of York says rape culture is when rape and other forms of sexual violence is so common, we consider it normal or inevitable.

“In a rape culture, the commonality and pervasive nature of sexual violence and rape is fuelled by commonly held beliefs, values, and popular myths that encourage and excuse sexual violence committed by men and boys against women and girls,” Dr Cole said.

The sociologist said the rape culture composed primarily of four things:

* behaviors and practices;

* the way we think about sex and rape;

* the way we talk about sex and rape; and;

* cultural representations of sex and sexual assault.

One woman is raped by a man every day in Fiji, according to the Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde.

Mr Pryde said statistics of the past three years — since his office started to consistently keep tabs and inform the public about sex crimes — showed that the majority of these offences which reached the courts were committed by iTaukei men and in a rural setting.

Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls is the executive producer-director of femLINKpacific which operates the only gender-focused community media outlet. Their advocacy work is grounded on giving women at the very roots of the community, a national voice. Her findings support statistics in the justice system.

FemLINKPacific works with women at village level such as Mareta Tagivakatini secretary of the Labasa Market Vendors Association, Ana Ramatai president of the Bua Soqosoqo Vakamarama, Vani Tuvuki leader of the Koronubu Women’s Fellowship and Koronubu Methodist Women’s Group (Ba) and Bonita Qio executive co-ordinator of the Pacific Rainbows Advocacy Network (Lautoka) to identity the root causes of gender-based violence who are

“When women don’t understand that they have their rights … some men think that they totally own a woman. They think they can apply anything whether it’s physical or any type of violence. We have to educate women there are limits to everything. If they don’t have that knowledge, they will just follow what the men are doing to them.” Ms Tagivakatini said.

“What I’ve noticed is that women are trying to voice issues during (village) meetings … but they’re ashamed of what they are facing. It’s the culture that what happens in the house remains there.” Ms Ramatai said.

“Our tradition and religious norms are barriers. These village bylaws concentrate a lot on the men. The women are isolated from the big picture. It’s (also) surprising to see our young people don’t know their rights. We think that it is our age group — the older women and our mothers and grandmothers — but our young women don’t know where to go, what to do, what their rights are. They don’t have enough information to keep them safe even in their homes.” Ms Tuvuki said.

“We still find that marginalised women are taking their pain into themselves and hurting themselves. Whether they know their rights or responsibilities, they think that if they tell their story they will be victimised more.” Ms Qio said.

Mr Pryde suggested that maybe almost 30 years of work to change gender equality is not filtering down equally where it is needed, forcing us to examine what it is in our culture — our values, beliefs, knowledge, behaviour and practices — that allow rape to continue.

According to the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre whose leader Shamima Ali is credited with groundbreaking sociological work to eliminate violence against women and girls, the answer lies in the pillars of a Fijian’s religion and traditions.

At least when FWCC was founded in 1984, this was the reality that early Fijian feminists were confronted with, that it was not enough to counsel victims of violence but what was needed was to change societal attitudes.

In her book published by the Australian National University press, Situation Women: Gender Politics and Circumstance in Fiji, Nicole George examined the work of the FWCC and its progress on reducing the gender gap.

“The Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre challenged important socio-cultural protocols which regulated conduct within civil society generally and prevented the issue of gender violence from becoming a topic of public debate,” Ms George said.

From Ms George’s report, Ms Ali said in 2002 of the FWCC’s early days, “People didn’t talk about this issue and rape was not mentioned in the press.

You only read about it if it was rape and murder. So reports were quite rare. In terms of open debate there was none at all. Rape was seen as a private affair, it was something that was shameful.”

Fiji is for the most part, largely a patriarchal society. Males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. In the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children. (Wikipedia).

“There were cultural restrictions too, the acceptability of treating women like doormats and the mentality that if these things happen, then women deserved it. We were working in a very conservative society … there is the whole patriarchal system in operation here which sanctions the culture of men owning women,” Ms Ali said in 2002.

While some may argue a change in the psyche of the young iTaukei male, typical male is largely moulded by the vanua, the church and the media.

In most homes in Fiji, the man is likely to sit at what is considered the head of the table, get the best part of a meal and served first.

Most or maybe the leading roles in traditional iTaukei protocols and rituals are performed by men.

In most Christian organisations, of which the majority of the population belong to, leadership positions are still mostly given to men.

In August 2016, Tevita Banivanua the then president of Fiji’s largest faith-based organisation, Methodist Church, agreed there was a need to change the gender composition of the church.

“Our challenge is to support our daughters, our sisters in Christ that feel the call to serve God and offer themselves to serve as ministers and deaconesses and to encourage our circuit and division to be open to receive female ministers and deaconesses as ministry leaders in our local churches and not just as chaplain for schools,” Mr Banivanua said.

In the same speech, he called for a change to the salary structure for women who already served in the church.

For FWCC, and others working to reduce gender-based violence, the difficulty lies in encouraging traditional communities to challenge conventional interpretations of the Bible in relation to how it defines the role of women.

“We have examined culture and religion. We have read the Koran, The Hindu holy books and the Bible. We have learnt all about these religions so we can counter arguments that might do damage to women. This has been an important part of our training,” said Ms Ali.

Politics is no different with only 14 per cent of the Parliament of Fiji are women, it was 16 per cent before Jiko Luveni vacated her seat to become the first female Speaker of the House. The world average is 21 per cent and the ideal United Nations measure is 30 per cent.

An Asian Development Bank report published after the past general election confirms gender inequality “is holding back development”.

Published in 2015, the Country Gender Assessment shows that rural women in particular, the same demographic that Mr Pryde said from which most rape cases came from, have fewer economic opportunities. Research gives the absence of economic power as a reason many women remain in violent relationships.

Research shows that members of a patriarchal society, that’s us — unconsciously teach our sons who grow up to be men that they have superiority over a woman. Whether we realise the dangers that await such a world view, is a serious question.

As it stands, we will call on women to be:

* less beautiful, despite that women of all shapes, size and varying physical attributes have been raped;

* wear less revealing clothes, despite that women in the traditional Islamic garment which covers the entire body save for the eyes, have been raped;

* don’t be cheeky or forward, despite that grandmothers sleeping at home have been raped; and

* don’t drink alcohol despite that toddlers, still consuming mostly milk have been raped.

Jiokapeci Baledrokadroka meets rape survivors (a term those in the field prefer in place of victim) on a daily basis. As senior counsellor at Medical Services Pacific, Ms Baledrokadroka also hears the sometimes 179 calls (for August 2017) which come through the Child Helpline (dial 1325 from any telephone to reach free counselling, free health care).

She and the team of counsellors at their clinic, which is on Waimanu Rd in Suva and in Labasa, work hard to remind survivors of sexual violence that no one has the right to abuse them. Her experience is telling.

“Unfortunately some survivors do blame themselves due to lack of awareness about their rights and if the assault has been going on when they were too young to understand what to do,” Ms Baledrokadroka said.


By: Lice Movono
Date: September 27, 2017
Source: The Fiji Times Online

This entry was posted in Latest Post, Public Sociology. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.