The Social Life of Rights: 'Gender Antagonism', Modernity and Raet in Vanuatu

John (Jack) Taylor

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    In the northern Vanuatu town of Luganville a small group of men have responded to social and legal changes engendered by women's rights activists by forming a male support group called 'Violence Against Men'. Members of this 'backlash' movement argue that the insidious promotion of Western-style 'women's rights' is leading to discrimination against men in divorce proceedings, child custody battles, and in domestic violence and rape cases. They directly oppose recent and ongoing legal changes aimed at protecting women from domestic violence, such as Domestic Violence Protection Court Orders, and the repeatedly tabled (but long-delayed) 'Family Protection Bill'. Such interventions, they argue, undermine Vanuatu's 'natural' kastom and Christian patriarchal gender order and, in doing so, pose a serious threat to the socio-economic productivity of the nation-state. For other men, however, rather than opposing women's rights activism, such challenges have raised questions about how men might successfully negotiate their identities in ways that are sensitive to contemporary issues of gender equality without undermining existing paradigms. Thus, this paper addresses the value accorded to universalism and relativism in gender activism in Vanuatu, and especially in terms of the linked discourses of kastom, church and modernity. It therefore explores gender relations in terms of the contemporary entanglement of indigenous and exogenous epistemologies, and in doing so argues that the contextual analysis of 'rights' should consider the specific historical, political and socio-cultural circumstances in which they are put to use.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)165-178
    JournalAustralian Journal of Anthropology, The
    Issue number2 (Special issue 20)
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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