Men and gender justice

Jason Garman, Oxfam's Communications Specialist, blogs from the Solomon Islands...

Timothy Vuria was an angry drunk. He used to disappear for days at a time, spending the family’s money on alcohol in town and finally coming home in a rage. As Timothy shouted and smashed anything in sight, his older kids had to jump out the window in the middle of the night and run for safety, sleeping out in the bush.

His wife Lilian would pick up the younger children and head for cover, only coming back when Timothy passed out.

Timothy is the chief of Binu village in Guadalcanal Province, about an hour outside of Honiara in the Solomon Islands. By local standards, the family makes a pretty good income from selling cocoa, coconut and oil palm. But they used to run out of money and couldn’t pay the kid’s school fees.

Standing against violence

Alice is Timothy’s 18-year old daughter. She said, “When he came home, we could hear him shouting. And we know, Daddy’s coming back. Daddy would bash the door. He threw stones in our house. Inside the house – breaking the wall. Even our own vehicle, he came and smashed it.”

I sat in the community hall listening to Timothy and Lilian’s stories about how common family violence is around here, wives and children who have been killed, and perpetrators who have never been brought to justice.

But things are different in Binu now. Oxfam has been working with the community as part of our Standing Together Against Violence programme. They have learned about gender roles and stereotyping, becoming aware of the ways families can work better together and support each other. Through workshops, they have seen the terrible impact of violence against women and children. And men like Timothy have made dramatic turnarounds in their behaviour.

Lilian described the transformation: “He used to be a man who drinks a lot. But when we attended the programme, he changed his attitude. And I don’t have to worry anymore. We live happily now.”

Bread, not beer

Part of Oxfam’s programme has been financial management training. With a basic understanding of budgeting, people are becoming aware of their earning and spending. They are starting to save money. Lilian is now involved in the family finances and she has already been able to pay all of the kids' school fees for the rest of the year.

It was truly inspiring to hear Timothy, with an energetic smile, talk about how much better his community has become: “Most of the time here, crime was very high. Boys and men set up road blocks to stop traffic and demand money. Drinking. People hitting their wives. But now, it start to change. Most of our young people stopped beating their wives. They start to love their wives. That’s what’s happening here.

“And with my children – now when they see me, when I’m coming back home, they smile. Not like in the past, when they used to hear me shouting and run for their lives. But now when I’m coming home, they’re happy. Because I am changed. I’m not holding beer when I’m coming back. No. I’m coming home with a little bit of sugar, or chicken, meats…bread. Not beer.

“That’s why I’m happy. Because my children now, they are happy.”

And when I look at Alice, Kelsey and Joylyn Vuria smiling with their parents on the steps of their house, so am I. Happy to see that harmful and terrible behaviours can be changed. Happy to know that the world can become a healthier, happier and safer place through the generosity of New Zealanders who support Oxfam’s work and the expertise of our local staff in places like the Solomon Islands.