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Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2



What the Rotuman woman is like today is really a lot of traditional attitudes or beliefs that have been handed down by generations to the young ones today.

How does traditional culture fashion Rotuman women? Firstly, like other cultures it defines the sex roles of Rotumans, and child bearing and child rearing become the prime role of the woman. One striking feature regarding Rotuman women is that their role is very, very rigid. This is greatly determined by the fact that Rotuman women are considered very uneconomically productive in agriculture. Yet if you go to Rotuma now, you would not meet a Rotuman woman coming back from the bush carrying a load of food and her caneknife because this would only reflect that her husband is lazy! Relieved from agricultural activities, her activities within the family or in the home become very rigid.

Thus, it is the woman who wakes up at night to answer to the call of the child, cleans up any mess and controls the child, while the father is left to sleep on because he has had a strenuous day in the bush. In the urban complex, the woman is blamed for the untidiness of the child when he or page 13 she goes to school. Yet in the urban situation, many women earn a lot more than their husbands and are better educated as well. This shows the inequality and the unfairness of the treatment that the Rotuman women are receiving today.

Marriage is commonly matrilocal, the husband residing at the woman's place. The Rotuman woman acts under a lot of constraint. The husband is regarded as a guest, therefore she adopts the role of a good hostess. Within the family, the woman had to keep quiet about troubles and give in to her husband to uphold the family image publically and also to uphold family solidarity.

Traditional culture specifies many things that a woman cannot do. For example, she is not supposed to talk too much in a meeting since this is a priority of the men. The woman is expected to make herself as inconspicuous as possible in a gathering, remaining, if possible, at the same place and not moving around.

Her in-laws expect her to display proficiency in speaking, in craftwork, and it can become embrassing for the woman if she visits her husband's place and does not succeed in the tests given by her in-laws. For example, they may ask her to plait a certain mat out of coconut leaf, and she is expected to use up the whole coconut leaf economically. This means that she plaits the mat and then if there are any bits left over, she makes a broom, and out of the hard stem in the middle, she must fashion a certain fork, a Rotuman fork. She cuts it up into long strips and then folds them into two. If she is able to prove her efficiency, then she is accepted. If not, in early days, songs would be composed about her inefficiency. Even though this is not done today, the idea that you must be adequate in the eyes of your in-laws is still very strong.

The Rotuman woman is also expected to be proficient in ceremonial activities. Her main role is either serving the kava or serving the food. In Rotuma, the food is served on a very low table and the serving of the food needs a lot of skill, and a lot of practice. If you forget the type of food that goes on first, you are subjected to a lot of ridicule page 14 later. The Rotuman woman undergoes a lot of tests that are not serious as far as men are concerned. It shows the inequality between the two sexes and the rights that they enjoy.

The most important and the most controversial feature of traditional culture is virginity. The women are expected to be virgins when they marry and are condemned if they are not by the parents or in-laws, if they find out. This is quite unfair that while women are expected to inhibit their sexual desires, men can have a good time and nothing is said about them. In Rotuman society, the men are entitled to this, it's the men's right or priority but not for women. This attitude had better change. Once the attitude is changed then women will not suffer from unnecessary guilty consciences.

The Rotuman wife in the family maintains the strong link between the relatives. She initiatives how much should be taken to a wedding, how much should be taken to a funeral. But this is not acknowledged. For example, when a man is successful as a leader in the society, he is praised, but the wife is never associated with him. She is not associated with the success of the husband. But when the husband does a lot of bad things, normally the people blame the wife, saying that she must be a bad wife, inconsiderate etc.

In her family, the woman's husband sometimes takes advantage of her and even though she is better educated, and better paid, he still has the final say in the home. And it restricts woman from speaking up or saying things that may be constructive as far as the whole society is concerned.

Rotuman women are not equal to the opposite sex. Attitudes that the Rotumans hold strongly must be modified. We need a lot of womenpower to do that. Women should threaten their husbands, that if he does this or that again, they will walk off, since they may be earning a lot more than he is.