Having grown up in a society where I have been given all the opportunities equally as other boys did, it is easy for me to forget that gender inequality is still an issue in many places. Throughout my journey in Fiji, I have observed that Fiji is a society that is hierarchical, particularly in terms of gender. As pointed out by Cattermole (2008), ‘Fijian men are represented as having greater political power than Fijian women’ (p. 110). Perhaps it is the different role that women play in the society that leads to the inequality. Such perception on women’s role in a society is deeply influenced by traditional practices that can be dated back to thousands of years ago.
I have not been treated with inequality during the 3 weeks. In fact, everyone in the workplace has been really nice to me and Joel. Having been treated with friendliness and equality, I would never know that Fiji is a place where women play different roles in the society, if I have not attended the ‘Future Challenges, Ancient Solutions: What we can learn from the past about managing the future in the Pacific’ Conference at the USP. Attending the conference was one of the highlights of my project, where I learnt about different social issues in the Pacific.
On one day of the conference, attendees had the chance to attend field trips. I have chosen to visit Korova Village with Dr. Paul Geragty. Korova is located just 10 minutes away from the USP campus. Even though the village locates close to the university, life in the village remains simple and traditional. It is where I witnessed the different roles of men and women in a Fijian society.
(Dr. Geragty explained to us some traditional pratices before we entered the village. For example, we were not allowed to carry our bags on the shoulders to show politeness. Women were asked to put on their sarongs before entering the village to show respect. On his hand, he was holding some kava roots to be presented to the village as a gift.)
The sense of inequality is expressed through the practice of traditional ceremonies and practices. We had the chance to take part in a Kava drinking ceremony when we arrived. All of us sat in front of the Tanoa, to be welcomed by the villagers. We sat freely regardless of gender difference. Yet, when I looked at how the villagers sat, I realized the gender hierarchy that exists in the village. Women all sat at the back, while males sat in the front. Males were the one who performed the ceremony, while women were just ‘audience’ like us. Apart from the sitting arrangement, the order of drinking Kava also shows the hierarchy. The chief drank the Kava first, followed by us and other males in the village. Women drank the Kava only after everyone had their first gulp.
Apart from that, the performance of traditional practices during our visit reinforced the idea of gender difference. For instance, the males were the one who arranged a boat trip for us, while the women showed us the traditional painting practices. Their roles never overlapped.
(A woman showed us how to paint on a masi paper in the traditional way.)
Even though women seem to be ‘inferior’ to men in the village, I believe that the difference in roles creates interdependence of different genders. One may think that the gender difference is a type sexual inequality, yet I think that it is the different responsibility that is to be fulfilled by different genders. By fulfilling the specific role in the society, harmony is created.