Pacific island women afraid to report domestic violence

Pacific island women afraid to report domestic violence


HONIARA, Solomon Islands, Nov 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Not long ago, Mele, a 24-year-old mother, was breastfeeding her six-month-old baby when her husband barged into their Honiara bedroom. He hit her repeatedly across the face with the back of his hand as his two younger brothers wrenched the baby from her arms. When her husband left moments later, Mele had a swollen right eye and cheeks blackened by bruises.

Some version of the story of Mele, who declined to use her real name, replays itself for every two out of three women in the Pacific Islands.

Up to 68 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 report routine intimate partner abuse and in some areas 26 percent admit to being beaten while pregnant, according to the latest Family Health and Safety Studies prepared by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community for the Ministry of Women, Youth & Children’s Affairs.

Other forms of violence against women, including rape, gang rape and non-partner physical assault are also common.

“It is an expected part of life, and part of women’s lives, to experience violence. It is a combination of the status of women, a sense of entitlement from men, impunity and lack of access to justice,” Alethia Jimenez, who works in Papua New Guinea on UN Women’s Safe Cities for Women and Girls programme, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The number of laws and protection acts banning violence against women in the Pacific has multiplied in the past few years. Marital rape has been considered a crime in the Solomon Islands since 2012. Samoa passed legislation against sexual offences in 2013, and Tonga and Kiribati introduced family protection laws in 2013. As of May 2013, rapists in Papua New Guinea can face the death penalty.

But fear of payback, where the tribe of an accused person avenges them through further attacks against the claimant, makes survivors even more afraid to report now that there are harsher penalties for perpetrators, experts said.

“People are fearful of reporting someone because the family could take retribution or compensation for reporting that crime,” said Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific researcher.

The entrenched use of traditional justice mechanisms also prevents women from accessing criminal court systems, even in urban areas.


In the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, where up to 80 percent of the population lives in remote rural villages, traditional justice has been in practice for hundreds of years, with village chiefs handling cases of violence against women.

Reliance on informal mechanisms continues even in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. When a woman is physically or sexually assaulted, the men in her family often beat or threaten the man responsible, rather than report the crime.

“Our father is dead, and we have no brothers, so we think maybe that is why her husband feels he can do this,” said Mary, 28, speaking about her brother-in-law’s abuse of her older sister Mele.

If women act against their abuser on their own, without the support of the men in their family, risk of payback from the abuser’s family is strong, according to advocates.

“Men in the jail are sending word out to other men warning them to make sure their abused wives never make it as far as the shelter,” reported the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank, in an August 2014 report about the situation in Papua New Guinea.

While practitioners say that laws are a first step, traditional justice’s focus on reconciliation fosters impunity since the perpetrator is not socially stigmatized, said Amnesty International’s Schuetze.

“The reality is that there needs to be a dramatic shift in social culture in the country so there is a zero tolerance policy around violence and sexual assault,” she said, noting that only then can civil laws be effective. (Reporting by Dana MacLean, Editing by Lisa Anderson)


Solomon women carry climate change burden

 Solomon women carry climate change burden

Solomon Islands has seen temperatures surge, and female farmers are struggling to provide food for families.

The Solomons has seen plant disease outbreaks, floods, and rising sea levels [Dana MacLean/Al Jazeera]

The Solomons has seen plant disease outbreaks, floods, and rising sea levels [Dana MacLean/Al Jazeera]

Koregu, Solomon Islands – Every afternoon as dusk descends onto the farm-terraced hillsides, the spotlight of acute environmental anxiety and resilience planning, traditional gender roles play out amid the struggle to adapt to hazard-inducing climate change in rural Solomon Islands.

As the UN Climate Summit gets under way in New York City, the plight of women in the Solomon Islands intersects with a pivotal political moment for environmental change.

The country suffers the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions from the developed world in the form of extreme temperatures, which in recent years have culminated in pest and plant disease outbreaks, floods, and rising sea levels at 8mm per year since 1993. That’s more than double the global average of 3.4mm annually, according to the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative.

As the primary food suppliers of the household, women in Solomon Islands carry the burden of climate change, feeling stress – and often taking the heat – when low crop production means less food on the table.

Unpredictable climate patterns have wreaked havoc on planting and harvesting times [Dana MacLean/Al Jazeera]

“There is more fighting in the house because men think women are not tending to the garden enough,” said Veronica Kefu, 47, a sturdy outspoken mother of four hailing from the 300-person Tausese community of Koregu village in Isabel province.

“But it is not true, the garden does not produce the same as before.”

The traditional role of women farmers descends partly from matrilineal land ownership among certain tribes, and mostly from a heavily patriarchal culture where men make the decisions – and earn whatever cash is needed in the household through occasional casual work in the towns – while women plant, till, and harvest crops in the fields to bring home food and care for the family.

“Men usually do not even step foot in the garden after clearing it. They hardly go, but at the end of the day they still expect a big taro [root vegtable] on their plate,” said Benjamin Tambe, a research officer with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock based in Avu Avu.

Decades ago, when planting a garden promised nearly a full harvest, farming was only necessary a few days a week to secure enough food and surplus to sell to neighbouring communities at the weekly market.

But unpredictable climate patterns in the past few years have wreaked havoc on women’s planting and harvesting times, with unseasonable rainfall and violent storms that destroy gardens through landslides. Initiatives by the government, in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), have introduced dry rice farming, sites which provide seeds and other planting materials, and training to encourage the women to diversify the traditional Solomon diet.

Women farmers on the frontline

Taro, sweet potato, and cassava – the three traditional staple foods – have suffered extensively under increasingly erratic weather patterns. Extended periods of unseasonable rainfall have destroyed root vegetables, which can only stay submerged under water for a day without rotting, according to the UNDP’s SWoCK project – Strogem Woaka Lo Community Fo Kaikai – which works with the Ministry of Agriculture to provide root vegetables and seedlings in 18 communities across three regions in the Solomons.

“We used to know when to grow what, but now we don’t know,” said Linesu, 35, a mother of four hailing from Tausese community in Koregu, Santa Isabel province, which was recently the battleground for a 10-day typhoon that burst the Jarihana river banks and left cassava and kumara crops rotten and mouldy.

It is the growing discrepancy between commitment to labour and yield that remains the most trying aspect of the barrage of symptoms brought on by climate change.

“Where we used to be able to grow taro in three months, it now takes five. We do the same amount of work, and the garden produces less,” said Kefu.

While men are also worried, according to the village chief, Jaspar, and the local heads of households, “The women are the ones who face it on a daily basis, because they are responsible for procuring food,” said Jacob Pitu, the ministry’s chief field officer overseeing Koregu.

Rosemary, 28, gave birth to her fifth child on the kitchen floor of her leaf hut in mid-August with the help of her sisters, and plans to go back to the fields in a few weeks, though she is still tired from the birth and newborn care.

“If I don’t go, then we will not have any food to eat. We cannot rely on my relatives forever,” she told Al Jazeera.

Women, who on average have five or more babies, generally return to fields less than two months after delivery – strapping the babies to their backs or taking the older children to the fields with them to look after their younger siblings, according to Mary Waletasu, an assistant field officer for the Women in Agriculture Programme for the government.

“Nobody will go to work for them, so they have to work,” she said. “It’s not enough [time to rest], but it’s part of our daily lives because it’s the woman’s task.”

Dietary changes

Yet the fertility of the soil in the inland Tausese community makes the burden of food insecurity less than other parts of the Solomon Islands, along the windward coast, where growing crops is nearly impossible because of constant landslides and torrential winds, which wash away the top layer of soil.

In other towns, the only fertile soil is at the top, and if rainstorms wash it away, nothing can grow

– Jacob Pitu, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock

“In other towns, the only fertile soil is at the top, and if rainstorms wash it away, nothing can grow,” explained Pitu.

Since 2011, the Solomon Islands government, in partnership with SWoCK, supported by the Adaptation Fund under the Kyoto Protocol, has provided farming training along with seeds and planting materials to grow different crops simultaneously, maximising chances for survival for at least one crop if disaster strikes.

“If water washes out the taro, there is rice or swamp taro planted in another place, which thrives in water,” said Nixon Buka, SWoCK’s provincial project coordinator based in Isabel province.

But even with adaptation methods, women still carry the burden.

“Women are working harder than men, even more so now. It needs to change, both of them need to work together in both garden and home,” said Waletasu.

Many climate scientists say time is of the essence.

“The more we wait, the more difficult, the more expensive, the more challenging it will be to adapt to climate change caused by human activities,” said Michel Jarraud, the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, in a recent statement.

Al Jazeera

With ‘even the fish confused’, Solomons seek new weather data

With ‘even the fish confused’, Solomons seek new weather data

A Solomon Islands man in the 300-person Tausese community in Koregu, Isabel province, harvests sweet potatoes. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Dana MacLean

A Solomon Islands man in the 300-person Tausese community in Koregu, Isabel province, harvests sweet potatoes. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Dana MacLean

AVUAVU, Solomon Islands (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – An abandoned airstrip overgrown with weeds marks the entrance to this village of 400 people on Guadalcanal, the largest of the Solomon Islands. Since January, it has been home to the Solomon’s first automatic weather station, a device that may help the Pacific archipelago nation bear up to climate change.

“This is the first time we can know what is happening on the other side (of the island) in real time,” said David Hiriasia, director of the government’s meteorology department. “Before we could only use Japan’s rotating satellite, so we received the data half a day later.”

The weather monitoring system measures wind speed, air temperature, rainfall, soil moisture and other indicators to help predict oncoming storms and other weather problems. Information is automatically sent to the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand, then back to the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology in Honiara, the Solomon Islands’ capital city.

Over the last two years, Honiara has suffered floods that displaced more than 10,000 people, while a town on Taro island, part of the Solomons, has had to relocate entirely because of flooding. The new high-tech weather system aims to provide better advance warning of such extreme weather, and close the gap with island nations like Samoa and Fiji, which have already adopted similar technology to monitor and adapt to climate change.

The station was put in place by the government and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), with money channeled through the  Adaptation Fund, created under the Kyoto Protocol.


Residents say improved forecasting will be a relief in the face of growing weather unpredictability that has made traditional knowledge less useful.

“We used to be able to predict the next day’s weather by watching the movement of the clouds, the strength of the winds, and the currents of the ocean. But now the weather changes dramatically in an instant,” said Thomas Tareoha, 46, a pastor.

“When I was a child, our fathers knew when to fish and when to grow. Now with the weather, even the fish are confused,” he said.

With sea level rising and temperatures rising, the new weather data will be particularly important for subsistence farmers struggling to deal with worsening high tides, more saline water tables and changing growing conditions.

In a June report, UNDP administrator Helen Clark said increasingly extreme and erratic weather could “make it very difficult for small farmers to decide what to cultivate and when to sow and harvest.”

Officials from the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology and UNDP say they hope to use the new climate data to develop things like new cropping calendars for farmers, and to send out early warnings about droughts and other climate-related disasters, in an effort to build resilience.

Farmers and agricultural experts countrywide have seen harvests of their traditional staple, sweet potato, fall in the past decade, and noted changes in fish migration patterns that make fishing more difficult. However, most of the information has anecdotal, or based on irregular recordings.

Alan Porteous, a climate scientist based in Samoa for New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research, called the station a crucial long-term investment in climate change adaptation.

Hiriasia, head of the island meteorology department, said the equipment should provide “more material to make decisions on and to prepare communities.”

The equipment installed in January is expected to be supplemented with additional barometric pressure sensors and equipment to measure grass and leaf temperatures and moisture in the coming year. Altogether the equipment will cost more than a million dollars, the officials said.


The toughest challenge ahead, said Hiriasia, one of only three meteorologists in the country, is “lack of local capacity to maintain and run it,” something his agency is working on building.

Local conditions can also be a challenge. The equipment is located near a tumultuous section of ocean called tasi mauri (“alive sea” in the local Ghari dialect). In August, a boatful of supplies and specialists headed for the station were hurled into the raging ocean. The supplies sank, and staff from the UNDP and the Ministry of Environment swam against a forceful current for more than an hour to reach the shore.

“People think they can just check weather data on the internet. But how do you think it gets there? You have to go to (the station) at some point,” said Hiriasia.

While island farmers will not have direct access to the data, the government will use it to design cropping calendars to share with farmers, Hiriasia said.

“These technologies are not solutions in themselves, but rather the means to developing solutions,” Porteous said.

Food security and Solomon Islands

Food Security and Solomon Islands

(The Diplomat)— Pests and other ravages of climate change are creating a food security challenge for the Pacific island nation.

A woman in Koregu, Isabel Province, farms for yams, one of the staple foods for Solomon Islanders.

A woman in Koregu, Isabel Province, farms for local yams, one of the staple foods for Solomon Islanders at risk of perishing with climate change impacts

The entrance to the government-run garden in Gozoruru, in Santa Isabel island, is littered with bug-bitten leaves, and many of the sweet potato stalks have started to brown and wilt under the unforgiving scorch of the midday sun. Planting was once a cut-and-dry process, with a field planted with yam seeds producing a full harvest within three months.

Now, throughout Solomon Islands, yams take at least five months to grow, their tubers pushed up through poor soil doused with unexpected rainfall during the dry season from April to October. Pests and disease flourish in the higher, damper temperatures, and sometimes only half of a planted garden bears fruit.

“The pests were always there, but now they come in numbers, and we don’t have any remedy for the new pests or plant diseases,” said Dominic Alebua, 59, a primary school teacher in Avuavu, on southern Guadalcanal island.

The communities near Gozoruru and Avuavu are far from sites where boats could regularly dock to bring supplies such as dry rice and tuna from Honiara – making self-reliance critical during the seven months of the year when only one or two ships pass by. Rough seas also make fishing a challenge, with people sometimes going weeks without their only source of protein.

“Sometimes we only eat bananas for three weeks. Or we skip lunch,” said Anthony Suava, 46, a local police officer in Avuavu.

Solomon Islands has been among the nations hardest hit by the impact of climate change, with sea levels rising up to 8 mm per year since 1993 – more than double the global average of 2.8 -3.6 mm – and temperatures rising 0.15 degrees since 1951. Each rainy season averages 300 mm rainfall, and this is projected to increase by 20 percent in the late 21st century, according to the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative. With 85 percent of all people distributed throughout the 1000-island archipelago relying on the earth and sea for food, environmental changes shake the basis of survival for rural communities.

So, in 2012, the government and the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) climate change adaptation project Strogem Waka Lo Community Fo Kai Kai (SWoCK), pidgin for enhancing community resilience, supported by the Adaptation Fund, began a series of experimental gardens, known as bulking sites, throughout Solomon Islands. Their plan was to test out which crop varieties will survive the barrage of ill weather brought by climate change, and distribute planting materials to farmers.

“We want to determine which ones are strong enough to grow in erratic conditions,” said Benjamin Tambe, the Ministry’s research officer based in Avuavu, who lives alone at the isolated site, tending to the garden and collecting growth data and weather patterns.

Flourishing Pests

Countries from all over the world have sent their seedlings for experimentation, including Peru, the U.S., Papua New Guinea, Denmark, Mexico and Taiwan. The tubers, planted in November this year, will be examined and rated next year to determine their hardiness against pests, heavy rainfall, soil erosion, and rising temperatures.

But there are more than 2,755 different pests flourishing in Solomon Islands, according to the Pacific Islands Pest List Database, and identifying the resistant crops will be an arduous process of trial and error, with constant adjustment to new conditions, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock – which, with SWoCK, plans to open a Plant Health Clinic (PHC) in the upcoming months. Community members will be able to bring in samples of plant materials ravaged by pests and disease for physical examination, diagnoses, and practical advice for treatment. Common pests include the taro beetle, taro worms, and the weevil. The Alomae-Bobone disease transmitted through mealy bugs can destroy more than half a field.

“The low-lying coastal areas used to be the only places infested, but now the pests are appearing in the cooler highland areas, a sign that the temperature is warming,” said Nixon Buka, the SWoCK Provincial Project Coordinator based in Isabel province.

Rotting Crops

By encouraging seasonal crop rotation with support from SWoCK, the ministry hopes to cut off the life cycle of the pest and control population growth. Planting different crop varieties, such as swamp taro (which thrives in swampy, wet conditions) will also ensure more tuber and vegetable varieties are available after heavy rainfall.

“The problem is that the food people like and have planted mono-crop for years is very vulnerable to pest attack,” said Buka.

The staple yams can only survive two to three days of rain, but others, such as the ubiquitous swamp taro, thrive in swampy wet conditions throughout the bush.

“If people don’t have sweet potato, they say there is a shortage of food. But [there are other things] they can plant and eat,” he stressed.

But the farmers have not given up hope that the experimental gardens will result in seeds and planting materials for their staple starches.

“We need to have our own taro and yam again,” said Alebua. “The farmers don’t give up, they keep making gardens in spite of pests and disease… it is part of our tradition,” said Alebua.

The pests are  but one concern in the host of climate-related issues for Pacific Island state governments. The third international conference on Small Island Development States (SIDS) being held this week in Apia, Samoa is giving them an opportunity to discuss such issues, and to see how cooperation on initiatives such as seed swaps can mitigate the harsh impacts of climate change on communities.