Thursday, December 10, 2009

Peace for the Girl Child

Published in The Fiji Times on Thursday December 10, 2009.

Last week I had the pleasure of being a judge at the Responsible Fatherhood Photography Competition which is part of Fathers and Daughters – Together in Development project of the Foundation of Peoples of the South Pacific International (FSPI). Displayed at the Fiji Centre for the Arts (the home of the Fiji Arts Council) on Waimanu Road, an awesome place, the exhibition consisted of professional and amateur photographs of fathers and daughters interacting. Photographs focused on Committed and responsible fatherhood and care-giving towards daughters, portraying active fatherhood by being positive mentors and inspiring daughters to greater life achievements with the view to demand greater accountability from other fathers to carry out their roles responsibly and ethically.

In the lead up to today’s 61st Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the culmination of the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and with crimes against the girl-child recently coming to the fore in the media, this competition and exhibition addressed the role of fathers in the nurturing and development of their daughters.
As parents to both a boy and a girl, my wife Maelin and I often share with each other our hopes and fears regarding bringing up little children. To be honest, I struggled to contain my outrage when I heard of little Sadikuini Yalewavukivuki being murdered by her father in a ritualistic sacrifice to "save his district spiritually", the murder four-year-old Mereseini Burelevu in Beqa and the sexual abuse and murder of toddler Unise Tareguci. Then there are the cases of forced marriages of under-aged girls.
I recently came across a 2006 report for UNICEF on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child. The report, compiled Ms. Shamima Ali of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, focused on Violence against the girl child in the Pacific Islands region. The report highlighted that as a consequence of vulnerabilities of the girl child to violence, there were high numbers of girl children engaged in child labour, higher health-risks for the girl child, low self-esteem and psychological damage among girls, higher risk of sexual abuse among girls, and higher rates of commercial sexual exploitation of girls. The vulnerabilities include gender inequality in socialization; discriminatory application of “custom”; early and forced marriage; and social change and poverty.

At nearly four years old, my little Antonia is a princess in her own world. She loves to dress up and do all the “girly” things. Her favourite colour is pink. But she will inherit a legacy from her grandmother, mother and aunts of strong women who advocate gender equality as an essential expression of human dignity. She wants to be a ballerina but insisted that daddy make her a Wonder Woman costume for the Library Week character parade this year. It is a constant struggle to maintain a balance between nurturing this fiercely independent soul; encouraging to enjoy her femininity while at the same time trying to ensure that I do not enforce stereotypical attitudes of women; that I am not an overbearing father who cages his daughter while at the same time wanting to protect her from the violence in this world.

According to UNICEF, “Emotional abuse is an extremely prevalent form of child maltreatment.”
Violence permeates all levels of society and is not limited to physical violence. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Mental violence has no potency and injures only the person whose thoughts are violent. It is otherwise with mental non-violence. It has potency which the world does not yet know.”
Next year, 2010, will be the final year of the Decade to Overcome Violence, the World Council of Churches initiative to call all the world’s people to engage in violence prevention, the pursuit of justice and peacemaking. The Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace will be one of the culminating points of the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) by the end of 2010.It will be International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica in 2011.

In 2008 the DOV initiative focused on the Pacific region. According to World Health Organisation statistics, injuries and violence cause an estimated 1.2 million deaths annually, or nearly 3300 deaths every day, with suicides, traffic accidents and drowning accounting for the majority of cases. The top five causes of injury deaths in the Region in 2000 were self-inflicted injury or suicide (approximately 318 000 deaths per year), road traffic accidents (292 000), drowning (137 000), falls (109 000) and poisoning (73 000). Over 93% of injuries in the Western Pacific Region occur in low-and middle-income countries, involving the 5-44 year age group in particular. Violence against women is often committed by husbands or intimate male partners. Physical violence in intimate relationships is often accompanied by psychological abuse. One third to over one half of cases of physical violence are accompanied by sexual abuse. Drink-driving and domestic violence related to alcohol consumption is a growing problem. Suicide is believed to be a hidden problem (undocumented).

The following prayer, titled Atua of Peace was written by M. Aunoa of American Samoa as a contribution to Decade of Violence focus on the Pacific:
Atua of peace, allow us to drink from the tanoa of Your peace, Right the course of our canoes to overcome the currents of violence, hatred, war, abuse, Give us peace of being at rest, so that peace prevails over any wind that gusts through our islands,Tattoo in our hearts Your righteousness and purity,Through all cultures and walks of life, we pray as instruments of Peace and as the people of Pasifika.

“The violence done us by others is often less painful than that which we do to ourselves,” wroteFrançois de la Rochefoucauld.

May the rest of your week be blessed with the love, light and peace of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Rev. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as Librarian/Assistant Lecturer (Theology & Ethics) at Davuilevu Theological College and as an Associate Minister at Dudley Methodist Church in Toorak, Suva.
All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.

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