No Place for a Girl

What message do we send when we allow boys freedom, yet restrict girls with the threat of shame? What happens when girls open up about abuse, but are blamed rather than supported to bringing a perpetrator to justice? For LAUMATA LAUANO, the encouragement of victim blaming and outdated gender roles in our Pacific communities is more than problematic. It’s potentially dangerous.



What are we saying about our girls in our community when we tell them what they can and can’t do, because they’re girls?


The idea that a girl should have as much agency as her male counterparts and her place should not be dictated to her by society, is supposedly a given in New Zealand today.


And yet when tragic events take place, or allegations of abuse arise, people are quick to ask questions like, ‘What was she doing there?’


‘What was she wearing?’


And make statements such as, ‘That’s no place for a girl’.


Even at seemingly innocuous events, there’s trouble … but only for girls. I overheard a speech to a group of Pacific youths at a festival - a speech not unlike one I, or many young Pacific women, have heard before. It doesn’t matter who said it, or where. What matters is what was said and what it implies.


What was said perpetuates the idea that boys and girls should not be treated equally.


It peddles this ideology to young people in the Pacific community, where questioning one’s elders is unheard of.


Fostering an environment where girls grow up underestimating their own potential while allowing boys to grow up believing in their own male privilege, protecting that privilege with the perpetuation of sexism.


The speech started innocently enough, congratulating a whole group on a job well done during an event at which they performed. He was proud of them.


He then proceeded to tell the boys to go and enjoy the rest of the event, not to cause any trouble, but to have fun nonetheless.


This is where it got interesting.


To the girls he said, ‘Go and find your parents. If they say it’s time to go home, don’t make a fuss, just go home and do some chores’.


That alone seemed unfair. It not only reeked of double standards, but also sexism and antiquated notions of gender roles.


He then topped it off further.


“If your parents are okay with staying a while to enjoy the event, stay right by their side, for a girl’s place is beside her parents.”


A girl’s place.


I thought for a moment that I had stepped back in time where women were considered chattel.


A time when girls were considered ‘less than’ boys, and treated as such, when gender equality barely existed and a girl was bred for servitude, her worth being measured by her purity.


Was that really the only place for a strong Pacific girl, or any girl for that matter?


His speech seemed to be nothing new to the girls in the group. He continued on about a girl’s place, as dictated by tradition and culture.


For all the strides that feminism has made in achieving equality for all, in a country that has seen three female Prime Ministers and various triumphs by women, his speech served as an example of how mistrust, suspicion and misguided assumptions about the roles of women in the Pacific are still prevalent.


It’s evident in the statistics, where more than 60 percent of women in Pacific countries have experienced physical or sexual abuse. Where most of this violence and abuse is kept under wraps, even in New Zealand where ACC research shows three quarters of all violence experienced in Pasifika communities goes unreported.


Why would they be reported, when perpetrators get light sentences if they have a promising sports career.


Research undertaken by Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP (2002) found there were a number of restraints which prohibited disclosure of sexual violence, particularly amongst young females across all ethnic groups. However, for young Pacific females, it was discovered that the notion of having been taught to obey and respect adults was a factor in underreporting (Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP 2002).


Across the Pacific region, men outnumber women in paid employment outside of the agricultural sector by two to one.


In government, women make up just four percent of parliamentarians in the Pacific region (the lowest rate in the world), compared to a global average of around 21 percent.


So, what does telling a girl where her ‘place’ is or isn’t, do to her, and to our communities?


For one it reinforces the idea that a girl only has one place. But she doesn’t have a say in what that place is.


When these messages are absorbed by the boys in the group, it takes root and has the potential to develop into misogyny, fuelled by ‘cultural norms’.


Boys grow up thinking women are told where to go, what to do, and that women can, should, and will be reprimanded when they don’t.


Teaching antiquated notions of gender roles to future generations breeds misogynistic ideals, like how a girl should behave and what the dire consequences of her actions will be if she does not do what she’s told.


It places restrictions on girls based on their sex, and inevitably leads to victim blaming (both in domestic and sexual violence cases) and mistreatment of women.


You hear it all the time when people wonder, ‘Well, what was she doing there? That’s no place for a girl.’


If you’re going to tell the boys to go and have fun, but not be a rowdy mess, say the same to the girls. If you’re going to tell girls to go home and do their chores, tell the same thing to the boys.


Teach our boys and girls how to be respectful of each other.


Don’t impart on them ideas that dictate where one should be and the other shouldn’t, based on their sex.

This article was first published in Issue 73 of SPASIFIK Magazine, out now.