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Measuring up as men

Padre James Bhagwan
Thursday, January 10, 2013

LAST Thursday night, I accompanied my wife and children to a Candlelight Vigil held at the Women's Crisis Centre in Suva.

The vigil was an act of solidarity "to remember the life of a young woman from India and the many, many women and girls who continue to experience sexual violence all over the world including Fiji."

More importantly it was a rallying call against rape, sexual abuse and other forms of violence in our communities.

During the vigil, Shamima Ali of the Women's Crisis Centre issued a call for men and boys in Fiji, "to change their own behaviour and discourage disrespect for females in other men and boys."

Her call and the messages and poems shared duringthe vigil, echoed the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in November last year, called "on men and boys everywhere to take a stand against the mistreatment of girls and women."

Tutu, reflecting on the deeply saddening, though perhaps not shocking, statistic that around 70 percent of all women experience physical or sexual abuse during their lifetime, said that, "despite the progress we have made, this world remains a cruel and arbitrary one for too many women and girls."

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights activist wrote, "Do not be fooled, however: this is not some so-called "women's issue".

After all, we know that more often than not, the violence suffered by women is inflicted by the men they share their lives with - their fathers, husbands, intimate partners."

He asks the question: "If the majority of women in this world have suffered at the hands of their men, how many millions of men must have hurt and abused women? How many millions of men have stood by and let it happen?"

"If men overwhelmingly brutalise women, then men are overwhelmingly brutal."

On the way home after the vigil, my wife and one of our friends who joined us at the vigil with her children, explained to the three girls and two boys in the truck the importance of the vigil.

Later that night, my son and I took our first steps towards responding to the call by Ms. Ali and Archbishop Tutu.

We discussed the issue of rape and sexual abuse and our roles as men (big and little).

The point of our discussion was that neither of us would ever want something so horrible to happen to our mother/grandmother, wife/mother, sister/aunt, daughter/sister, niece/cousin or any of our female friends. No one would.

We need to expand this type of thinking to those women outside our family circle.

Every woman is someone's daughter. They could be someone's sister; someone's mother. Every woman, deserves to be treated with love and respect.

On Sunday, I read an interview that the boyfriend of the gang-rape victim gave to AFP and Hindi-language Zee News channel.

The man, who also suffered serious injuries during the horrific attack, said passers-by ignored the naked and bloodied couple for 30 minutes after they were thrown out of the bus and police then wasted more time arguing over who had jurisdiction.

"A passer-by found us (after the attack), but he did not even give my friend his jacket."

The couple were to have been married next month.

When I read this article I immediately recalled the Christian parable of the "Good Samaritan" and the priest and Levite who crossed to the other side so that they would not be made unclean by encountering the injured victim of a violent robbery.

How many of us who profess to belong to faiths that teach love, peace, justice and righteousness turn a blind eye, or deaf ear when faced with injustice?

How many ignore situations of violence against women in our community, or neighbourhood because it's "not our business;" or because we don't want to get involved in someone else's mess?

What if the shoe was on the other foot? What if it was us calling, screaming, begging for help?

I note that many religious leaders have spoken out against the terrible incident and against rape and sexual assault of women and girls.

All of the religions in Fiji value the golden rule of "do unto others as you have them done unto you".

It is time that all religious communities take a stand against all forms of violence against women - not just through public statements but by making a commitment to talk about this uncomfortable issue in worship services, prayer meetings, and teaching programmes in places of worship as well in religious education classes in school.

Many churches and other religious organisations have Men's Fellowship groups and youth groups.

These are also important forums and spaces in which to seriously discuss the role of men in perpetrating and, more importantly their role in preventing all forms of violence against women.

In the words of Archbishop Tutu, "It is by standing up for the rights of girls and women that we truly measure up as men."

* Reverend JS Bhagwan is a Masters in Theology Student at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.


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