White Ribbon Walkabout attracts hundreds committed to ending gender violence

white ribbon 

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
November 25, 2017
Pohnpei—Several hundred people showed up at Mangrove Bay Bar to participate in the “White Ribbon Walkabout”, a “fun run” through the streets of Kolonia to raise awareness about the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. The theme for this year’s walkabout was “Youth Building Peace: Activism for Human Rights”.
Indeed, many children participated in this year’s walkabout, many of whom walked long distances to join in the walk.
As in years past, the walk route was grueling, starting with the big hill that heads up to the circumferential road from Mangrove Bay Bar, then through Kolonia to the Spanish Wall and back again.
Charges de’Affaires, Eliza Woolcock of the Australian Embassy said that while the fun run is exactly that—fun, the more important thing was that while the runners participated in the event with their T-shirts on, onlookers would be reminded of the importance of eliminating domestic violence. She told the crowd of supporters that this year’s walkabout was especially important in light of the recent passage of the “Domestic Violence” Act.
Susanna Sohs also addressed the crowd in Pohnpeian. It was clear that she was happy about the passage of the domestic violence act.


The special guest speaker was Senator Shelten Neth, Chairman of the Health and Social Services Standing Committee of the Pohnpei Legislature. Neth is credited with having re-introduced a version of the bill that ultimately did pass with amendments after nine years of trying since it was initially introduced.
“The subject of violence in our family settings is not new to Pohnpei State. It has been with us as long as we have inhabited these islands,” he said. “The notion that women are chattels (and item of property) is a central part of other cultures, including ours. In like manner, the subjects of sexual crimes and how to deal with them have been before the Legislatures of Pohnpei since the advent of self government in the early days of the Trust Territory. The topic was always there, but it was only discussed in hushed whispers. Why could we not speak out loud about it? Perhaps the answer is as simple as Pohnpei pride. That’s our custom; that’s our tradition; that’s our way of life.”
“…I am proud to say that attitudes are changing. Today, we are not afraid to challenge our own beliefs, our own prejudices and our own intolerances. This Bill makes us stand before the comity of nations (an association of nations for their mutual benefit) and the world stage - that we are a nation who is not afraid to speak out, that we are not a backward society, that we respect a significant measure of decency, and that we refuse to tolerate abuse of power, and violence against women.
“…Through this bill, we can now expect that victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are given access to the services that they so desperately need. The motivation for this legislation is to make our families whole again, and that leads me to relay to you the curious story of what happened to this legislation on the very day it finally passed the Legislature. In the form I introduced this legislation, it was called the “Family Safety Act” and the crimes listed down in the bill were referred to as “crimes of family violence”. All through the public hearings and into the committee executive sessions, the legislation retained this name and its references to family violence.
“The concept of family, constitutes the very foundations of our customs and traditions as a people. Soon many of us began to reflect within ourselves on the true meaning of the Pohnpeian term peneinei. Family is the very essence of who we are. Family is not a singular unit under a singular roof. Our families are large; they are extended; they reach across entire communities. When problems occur in a singular home, it is our extended families who come to our rescue. They are our support; they are our strength; they are our liberators from the ravages of internal conflicts.
“Let’s not use the term “family violence” in Pohnpei. Instead, let us refer to conflicts in the home as ‘domestic violence’. An amendment was offered to the bill to this effect, it was approved by majority vote of the full Assembly, and now we have the Domestic Violence Act of 2017.
“And so, my friends, the Legislature has spoken: Families are not the problem. Families are the solution.
“That action was taken more than two weeks ago. This evening we are gathered together to campaign against ---not only domestic brutality --- but all forms of gender-based violence. As we are hearing on the internet news just this week, sexual assault and sexual abuse is also prevalent in the work place and even is alleged to be occurring between adult men and minor teenagers in stores and shopping malls. It appears that concerns about sexual attitudes and sexual misconduct reach all the way to the White House itself, both past and present.
“A new call must come out of this year’s 16 Days of Activism. Gender-based violence must be stopped whenever and wherever it is occurring ---- in the brothels, in the homes, in the work place and on the street,” Senator Neth concluded.
After Senator Neth’s lengthy speech, the crowd participated in a Zumba warmup before swarming up the hill to spread the message that gender violence must be eliminated.
As runners and walkers returned, Woolcock asked them each to take a white flower and drop it into the lagoon as a symbol for all the people who have suffered from domestic violence.