IT'S that time of the year again — the Hibiscus Festival at Albert Park. It's popcorn and ferris-wheel time and not to mention the floats and the queens.
The excitement I feel when I drive past the grounds despite the fact that I am now an adult has never changed.
I still remember my first Hibiscus Festival as a child coming in from Lautoka as I held my dad's hand to go and have a ride.
Then as I became a teenager, I would muck around with my friends at the grounds with my eyes on the big clock, mindful that at 11 o'clock I had to meet my family under the lit hibiscus at the corner.
Now many years later, the feeling of excitement is still there but now it is coupled with apprehension as I remember the landmark hibiscus flower, the experiences and relationships that started under that very colourful and lit up hibiscus where many a date would start.
I am now apprehensive because children are getting more adventurous and I fear the dangers they will encounter at this very pervasive and very shark infested grounds during the festival.
I use the word sharks because that seems to be the metaphor that best describes people who prey on young children, youths and women at these social events.
We need to trust our children to follow our instructions and be back at the right time and ensure that they are well-equipped to go out to the grounds — after all it is the school holidays and we need to start teaching our children and youths the value of trust, responsibility and the ability to differentiate good from bad.
This is best done through teaching them good habits and tools to safeguard themselves and be able to keep predators away.
This is often done by what Ursula Benstead termed as 'building shark cages'. Benstead in her article on "The Shark Cage" revealed that children can be taught at a very young age to build shark cages and this will help them identify as well as keep off predators in life.
Some of the very basic bars are when children are taught at a very young age that it is not nice to call people names.
The second is when it is not right for anyone to hit us as well as to touch us in a way that makes us feel uncomfortable.
When a child is taught these basic tools at a young age, when he or she grows up, it will be very easy for him or her to identify sharks and stay well away from them or highlight who they are.
When children are allowed to think otherwise then their shark cage is not well constructed and it is very easy for sharks or predators to get in to their safe space.
Take for example, your daughter and her friend go out to the park and while at the park she and her friend encounter a man who whistles and calls out very crude remarks.
The man then comes up to your daughter and touches her arm, offers to buy her a bag of popcorn and says that she is a very pretty girl while looking at her up and down.
Your daughter screams at the man and tells him to get his hands off her saying that she will call the police while her friend is very embarrassed and tells her not to be rude as the nice man was just trying to buy them popcorn and there is no harm.
What has actually happened is that your daughter, who has been helped to build her shark cage, recognised four things — the man spoke to them without knowing them.
He assumed the two girls wanted popcorn without asking them, he touched your daughter in a way that she felt uncomfortable and he looked at her in a way that was sexually inappropriate.
Your daughter's friend on the other hand had told your daughter that the nice man was very pleasant and had only been appreciative of their apparent beauty.
She said he was trying to be very friendly and there was no need to be so rude and uptight.
Often during times like the Hibiscus Festival, children and youths as well as older women meet strangers and often what is actually a predatory move is often misinterpreted by our people as complimentary because of the fact that we have not taught them to pick up signals of invasion to their personal space.
As we are Pacific islanders who are known for our warm and very friendly personalities, we need to teach our children that they also have rights and that no one is allowed to treat them without any respect despite their age, relationship or status, and as they go out to enjoy themselves they must be mindful of their cage bars.
We as responsible adults in their lives must help them to also define what their rights are under the law as well as help them define that a relationship is one based on mutual respect and that it is important that they have a support group to help them.
Another scenario involves women who may be encountering abuse. It is important that we encourage women to have a good support group made up of people that are caring, supportive and understanding.
Support groups or people must help abused women or those trying to overcome abuse by building or reinforcing their shark cages.
They have to be able to identify the characteristics of a shark such as; does he comment on her body insensitively, does he check on what they are doing or where they are during the day, does the partner listen to them, does he make decisions without consulting them, is he moody and sulky when he is not with them or when they have plans to be with their family or friends, is he critical of them or thinks that it is OK for people to hit others?
These are some warning signs and it is important that we help women rebuild their cages if they say yes to more than three of these statements.
This must be done by supporting them and also helping them realise that there is a difference between selfless attitude and selfish attitudes.
For example a woman might be abused by her husband and she cannot report the act as she is trying to be selfless because her relatives say that if she does she is being selfish.
We have to be able to inform women that they have the law such as the Domestic Violence decree which states that it is a crime to abuse as well as help them define a good relationship which should be based on mutual respect as well as direct them to a very supportive and caring group.
This holiday is supposed to be a time for family and it is our hope that all mothers will equip their children to identify sharks and if we are being involved or married to a shark, let us rebuild our shark cages and chase the sharks out of our safe space by knowing our rights, knowing what is a loving relationship and identifying with a very supportive and caring group.
For more information on shark cages, please contact the National Council of Women Fiji, Fiji Women's Rights Movement and Fiji Women's Crisis Center.
Have a fun-filled and restful holidays with your children and let us enjoy this year's Hibiscus Festival.
* Fay Volatabu is the general secretary for the National Council of Women Fiji. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org