This article is focus on safety of young girls starting with sexual harassment, to violence and other issues that are obstacles to their freedom of movement, their visibility and empowerment etc. It is also an opportunity to look at other forgotten issues that are having negative impacts on the livelihoods and development of young girls in the country.
It is a fair comment to say that teenage girls all over the world face sexual harassment in public spaces, or street harassment, as they simply try to go to and from school. Many of our young girls have experienced street harassment and how it impacts their ability to safely use public spaces and what we as a society can do about it.
Harassment can come in many forms such as being sexist or making sexual comments, homophobic and transphobic slurs, flashing, groping, stalking, and assault in public spaces. Gender-based street harassment is a global problem and It makes us feel less safe as well as restricts us where we want to go. IT MUST END.
Safety of young adolescent girls between the age of 10 to 19 years is a critical issue for Solomon Islands. Indeed, young adolescent girls are grouped with young adults and thrown into a broader category of “youth or taken them as children who often do not have much to contribute to their families, communities and the nation as a whole. This group of vulnerable girls in this country is grouped under the umbrella of women therefore policies that are in place are lacking in specifying their areas of needs and the ways in which to address them.
These young adolescent girls are not engaged in any development work of government, many of them are living in environments and communities that are dangerous as result of violence and have no opportunity to engage in capacity building that will empower them to do things for themselves. Many of them are also living in communities that have less respect for who they are.
Safety of young girls is a national concern. Several cases in the country have indicated that various abuses of young girls such as murder, rape, sexual harassment and lack of education, just to mention a few are forgotten issues and that has created a sense of fear amongst them. This fear has also prevented girls from accessing various places such as public spaces and engaging in community activities. Girls do not have confidence and self-worthiness as result of experiences they personally encountered.
Solomon Islands do not have to look very far concerning violence and sexual harassment among young adolescent girls. There were cases of young adolescent girls being horrifically raped and murdered.
With a law that is weak and slow in terms of punishing those who are responsible, the society tends to react, but that reaction is too is shallow with very little action and at times no action at all. This group of young girls go through bad experiences such as being stared at sternly, commented upon rudely, hissed, touched or sometimes raped by men as such, adolescent girls are often scared and may not go to certain places in the town or even engage in events they are interested in.
This is also shaped by the fact that young adolescent girls are rarely a disaggregated population. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years old are usually included as either a subgroup of children under the age of 18 or as a subset of adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19. With those limitations, the evidence available implies that young adolescent girls in particular--tend to be relatively more disadvantage. They have only the most limited access to opportunities for voice and agency within their families and communities, with important implications for their wellbeing and personal advancement.
There are a lot important, but serious issues that this country is not talking when it comes to girl’s safety and one of those emerging ones is ‘cross generational sexual relationship with older men. In relating to safety of these young vulnerable girls, this issue is an emerging issue that many of us know it is happening in great deal, however no one is taking the initiative to address or to talk about it.
There is significant evidence to show that girls are drawn towards older men as result of lack of money and in some cases such relationship is supported by parents and guidance. Such has been happening in front of our noses, in public bars where they entertained older foreign men for alcohol, money and sex.
This is also happening at every logging camps through –out the country and in many of the night clubs and bars in Honiara and else- where in the country. In many cases, many of us have witnessed very young girls getting married to older men who are foreigners who often refer to men with money. This is unacceptable, however this country is tolerating it for so long.
Concerning protection, safety and security, how does the law protects our young girls from any unacceptable and exploitative behaviour? Seeing many older foreign men taking advantage and exploiting our young girls sexually is unacceptable behaviour and we must not tolerate. Would these older foreign men do this in their own country and if they cannot do it there, why do it here.
How do the law addresses cases where young girls are forced to marry a logger? Cases such as this should not be regarded as family issue, but a national one as it is challenging our laws, our cultural and traditional values and principles. Although this does not happen a lot, there are young girls that have married to loggers very young with the support of their parents as result of money.
What has been happening and continues to happen is some of these young girls are forced by their parents and families to have sexual relationship or even married to loggers and foreigners who they think have a lot of money. Many young girls also are forced and supported by their parents to have sexual relationships in exchange again for money and goods. Again as a country it has closed its eyes from seeing these terrible things happening to many of our young girls who are already powerless to address what is happening to them.
There are cases that have been addressed by the law in the past, however, no one knows what happens whether people responsible are prosecuted or not. Since people are weak to stand together to address these horrible issues accountably, so our laws too are not exercising its full power to protect and to prosecute those responsible.
Gender-based violence (GBV) and more specifically, violence against girls remains a persistent health issue, seriously undermining their freedom, mobility and engagement in wider socio-political activities. There are various combinations of factors that create a situation where political, economic and social violence is more likely to happen.’ Owing to these different transecting factors, it makes them especially vulnerable to violence, with schools, sanitation facilities and establishments where alcohol is sold, all of which are more focused in towns and identified as especially dangerous and risky.
In conclusion, how can we include young girls in activities where they can be empowered to have voice and empower them to be recognised as an important group in our society? Many of these young girls are aimless because not of their own accord, but because of society not being able to cater for their needs and taken seriously. The role and influence of parents and guidance is critical to the process in terms of their development. Role models and mentors are critical to the process as well as these youngsters enters into different stages in their lives. This is where we as a society fail them. If only we protect them and attentively listen to them and to their concerns, a lot of horrific experiences they are experiencing will slightly reduce or not occur at all. Society is responsible.
By Ella Kauhue