At 7:30 yesterday, a ship’s horn resounded across Vila Bay. The visiting cruise ship Pacific Dawn sounded a salute to the women of Vanuatu, in support of the hundreds of people gathering down beside Fatumaru Bay to begin a march calling for an end to violence against women.
What followed was an historical event.
An estimated 700 to 1000 people gathered in Port Vila yesterday to show that violence against women cuts across gender, age, ethnicity, religion and belief. Hundreds more marched in Luganville. Young and old, rich and poor, expat and indigenous, Melanesian, Polynesian, Asian—you name it—all of them were united in opposition to the tragic and criminal abuse of women and girls.
In the midst of a large Tongan delegation, a young man stood holding a sign that read: Real Men Do Not Hit Women.
Real men do not make excuses, either. Nor do they duck and dodge, prevaricate, deny, lie, confuse and diffuse the issue. They don’t plead false equivalencies; they don’t mitigate the sin. They show up and they march, just as so many of them did yesterday.
At the head of the Tongan contingent was a member of the Tongan royal family. His message was short and clear: “Stop the violence.”
There’s no ambiguity there, no deep, subtle reasoning involved. We, as a society, need to stop brutalising women.
The Tongans turned out in force today because a member of their community, a well-respected and widely know woman, died in hospital recently, allegedly because of domestic violence. The case is still under investigation, and a spokesperson said that Tongans living here in Vanuatu were becoming impatient.
Florence’s brave public stand against violence has given a voice to countless women whose lives have been marred by systematic and systemic violence. As the procession followed Florence past the Port Vila Market, mamas darted out quickly, singly and in pairs, to toss coins into a collection wheelbarrow pushed by MP François Chani. Their voices might still be muted in the village, but their gesture of solidarity was clear.
It’s tiny moments of bravery such as these that tell the tale, really. It’s no small thing for a village woman to brave the scrutiny of other, more conservative types and openly support something like this.
Yesterday, we saw a thousand such gestures, probably more. One act of extraordinary courage has bred a multitude of smaller acts. It’s an excruciatingly difficult thing for a woman to stand up and talk back to domineering bullies who actions are specifically designed to intimidate and coerce the weak and the vulnerable, and Florence Lengkon’s decision to do just that deserves universal admiration.
Contrasted with continued and cowardly attempts to man-splain the why’s and wherefore’s of her attack, her stand shines like a beacon to men and women throughout this country and across the region, too.
This victory is Florence’s. Her courage is an inspiration. But her victory belongs to all of us, if we want it. God help us if we waste it.