1-8 On being a Woman in Vanuatu

The gender divide here dwarfs the Grand Canyon.

Women do all the day-to-day cooking, women do all the laundry, all the dishes and all the cleaning in the house. Women discipline children and reward them. Women wake them up in the morning and put them to sleep at night, comfort them when they cry and play with them. Women weave matts and baskets. Women work in the garden. Women carry water and store water for when the taps run dry. Women look after the chickens and feed the pigs. Women sell extra food at the markets.

Men go to the garden, where they grow kava as well as vegetables. Men build things, when there is something to build. Men slaughter animals for special occasions and cook the meat, for special occasions. Men make kava. Men drink kava.

Women do not build. Women do not go in the nakamal. Women do not wear pants. Women do not leave the house area without their husbands’ permission. Women do not walk around alone. Women do not take part in courts or “community” decisions. Women do not have the right to ask for help from a man who is not their husband.

Men do not raise children.

Men can hit their wives, if she deserves it. Deserves it means: not making food on time, not being at the house when he expects her to be, cheating, talking about family planning or going to the Aid Post for a condom.

Men can cheat on their wives. In fact, it is almost expected. The self-reported rate of men with multiple, concurrent partners is 33%. The women self-report at 11%.

This divide is visible even in children as young as three or four. Girls are told to go help with the wash or the cooking. Boys roam the village playing games all day. By the time they are ten, the boys are wandering around, eating whatever fruit is in season and swimming in the ocean while the girls clean their brothers’ clothes, cook their meals and general keep house.

Community life revolves around the nakamal. It is the ceremonial center and the meeting house. Decisions about community issues are made there, while drinking kava. Kava has a calming effect, which makes for great discussions about whatever problems are plaguing the community. Women are not allowed in, except during ceremonial meals. Women don’t drink kava. Women have no voice in the running of the community.

I miss my freedoms. I miss being able to go where I want to, talk to who I want to, feel that it is my place to be in any room or with any group of people. I miss women and men sharing housework, childrearing and daily chores. I miss having male friends. I miss feeling like I have value in the community without a judgment based on whether I was born with a penis or a vagina.

I’m writing this after a rough day of feeling like the social inferior of my partner. I’m upset, but in the spirit of honesty, I am writing about it. Not every second here has been laughter and fun, but enough of them have been to make it well worth it.

0 thoughts on “1-8 On being a Woman in Vanuatu

  1. I love this Gaea. Thanks for helping us feel a little more blessed in a Country that gets a lot of criticism. Im also so glad for our freedoms:)

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