You may already know about the White Ribbon Campaign, which is observed in over 60 countries around the world. It is a day that recognizes the need to end violence against women, specifically by the hands of men. It began in 1991 following a horrendous massacre of 14 female students at Montreal University by the hands of a male student. The actions traumatized the nation of Canada an brought the issue of violence to the forefront of collective consciousness.
As a result, a group of Canadian men decided to speak out and work to end this type of violence and ended up forming the White Ribbon Campaign. The color white was specifically chosen as a symbol of surrender, of men giving up their arms, so to speak. Today it is celebrated each year with events, campaigns, and various ways to raise awareness about violence toward women and promote healthy relationships and gender equality.
White Ribbon Day lands on November 25, which is also the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the campaign runs for a week. While violence toward ANYBODY is incorrigible and should not be tolerated, statistics overwhelmingly show this is a crime that disproportionately affects women and girls.
Since this is an initiative meant to be led by men, it is encouraging to see the various ways men around the world are stepping up the global fight to end gender violence. A group of men in Vanuatu this year celebrated White Ribbon Day by engaging their community to understand the implications of violence toward women.
The men of the Vanuatu Surfing Association, which began in 2004, decided to make a statement and set an example as community leaders about gender violence. And they certainly have a great platform to do this, as surfing is an activity that has the power to unite people from different backgrounds, professions, socio-economic status and ethnicities.
The statistics around gender violence in Vanuatu are awful, according to a report earlier this year from News.com.au which talked about the juxtaposition of island nations such as Vanuatu, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, known more commonly as idyllic paradise vacation destinations, but which are also dangerous places for women. In Vanuatu, 30% of women report being sexually abused before they turned 15 and 41% of women say they were forced into their first sexual experience.
“One in three women around the world experience violence but in the Pacific it’s one in two. Put simply, the Pacific region is one of the most dangerous places to be born a girl,” said UN Women National Committee, Australia executive director Julie McKay.
In March 2016, hundreds of protestors marched in the capital of Port Vila, demanding action from government and NGOs, after the news of a female tourism worker being abducted and assaulted. Florence Lengkon was allegedly targeted due to social media comments she publicly shared about the misconduct of bus and taxi drivers at Port Vila’s wharf.
Needless to say it is an issue that is getting more and more attention, and rightly so. The Vanuatu Surfing Association, in partnership with Solwota Sista, an online women’s magazine dedicated to sharing resources about gender equality and fighting domestic violence, decided to enlist 7 men to share their perspectives publicly about why they want to be part of a community dedicated to ending gender violence.
The following images and statements were shared on the VSA Facebook page:
Wayne Kalotiti: “Violence is not the way to solve a problem. There are different ways, you can talk it out or ask another person to help you. Violence isn’t good because it goes against Christian principles and is morally wrong. We wouldn’t have the homes or the life we do today if we didn’t have women. We all need to appreciate women and girls!”
Feanser Kalmet, one of Vanuatu’s top surfers: “We should solve our domestic problems with words, not violence. We must respect all women and girls, they help out a lot in our families and in our communities and as men we need to find a good balance with women in our lives. Show love to your women, not violence.”
Matai Alista Kaluatman, Chairman of Pango Land Council and the Vice Chairman of Pango Village Council: “Violence against women is not the custom of our community, our custom is peace. As a representative of Pango Council I want to say that violence is not an accepted attitude in our community.”
Dereki Narsong Taleo, a big supporter of female surfing in Vanuatu: “It is hard to help families that are experiencing domestic violence. We can help by assisting young girls in finding a respectful man and to get more positive male role models. I want to be a role model and show all men the correct way to treat a woman and to show that it is not ok to hit women.”
Roger Taleo: “When I go surfing I view women and girls as my sisters and I have and show respect for them in the water. They have rights too and we need to treat them equally!”
Camillo Kalran: “We are all equal, there is not one person better than the other. We all have the same rights and should treat each other as equals.”
John Steven, a founder of Surf Vanuatu and a community leader, has a short but poignant message: “We must all respect women.”
We certainly hope this group of men, along with organizations and platforms like Solwata Sista, can begin to change the statistics around violence toward women. Change can only happen when each individual acknowledges the problem (regardless of whether it personally affects them or not) and choose to make a difference.
Australian surfer Sam Suendermann, who is currently living in Vanuatu and working with the VSA, wrote a short piece for online surfing news platform The Inertia reiterating how important it is to see men like those mentioned above to speak out publicly for such a cause.
“What if the male leaders in our communities decided to take a stand? Choosing to become role models and show respect to women, demonstrating attitudes and practices that are not harmful or violent towards females in order to promote gender equity in all levels of society. This is exactly what these seven young surfers and community leaders from The Vanuatu Surfing Association did. Their movement isn’t a one sided fight, women against men. We need to include everyone, from our respected community elders, to our youth. We need men actively engaged in this space, taking a platform to advocate for women everywhere,” she wrote.
You can learn more about the Vanuatu Surfing Association White Ribbon Day campaign in the video below: