A journey of resilience, the struggle of a mother and daughter


It all started with one poster hanging on the wall with a half face of a woman bruised and tears running down her face with the CEDAW initials engraved on the poster. Every day my eyes gazed at the poster and repetitively read the long form of CEDAW “The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women”.

I had asked my mother multiple times about the significance of the poster and what it meant because I was so curious as to why the woman was crying and what CEDAW meant. “A law that will one day protect women,” was her reply to me based on her understanding, but given my age, I was not satisfied and did not really comprehend what the law meant.

Even though I have experienced a lot of violence in my life growing up, witnessing my mother suffer makes me more confused about the poster and the surrounding circumstances. Was my mother supposed to be beat up all the time? While I tried to comprehend the reason for this. These encounters persisted until that time where we had to live independently with our mother.

We now realise that because of the decision taken, we must live alone. My mother was unemployed, so we had to fend for ourselves. During this time, I noticed more women and kids started to arrive home and often stay overnight. I saw them confiding in one another and occasionally crying to my mother. We had to share whatever little things we have with everyone because they were all fighting different battles. When they went to the police station or court, my mother would willingly take them there. I kept asking myself, “Why do all these women come to my mother?” she has endured agony and continue to fight for her life, while I contemplate on all these and the poster.

I’ve witnessed her defend the rights of victimised women, some of whom have remained with us, in conflicts with violent spouses or even chiefs who may debate with my mother, reminding her of her proper place in society. She never allowed those women to suffer in silence and stood for them at every turn until justice was done.

She bravely defended those women, even at the danger of her own life, yet she never gave up on her goals despite discrimination from others. Sometimes at night when I thought everyone was asleep, I would see her sobbing softly outdoors and pleading with God for strength. I would stealthily follow her outdoors, where I would sit a few yards away and weep with her, trying to comprehend her suffering and the reasons for her engagement in all of this, given her personal issues. Whenever I would come to her in tears, she would chastise me and urge me to go back to bed.

I promised myself while crying in bed that I would one day eventually grasp the concept of CEDAW and what the poster was trying to tell me.

Even though my mother did not receive any help while taking care of other women’s issues, she made sure we had food and clothing and never gave up on God because she constantly reminded us that God will provide and has provided for us in our darkest hours.

The Vanuatu Counseling Center recognised my mother for her dedication to empowering women and, through her approaches, contributed to educating women to speak up and seek justice, even if it takes dismantling cultural obstacles. After volunteering for four years, my mother received a call from Mrs Merilyn Tahi from the Counseling Centre called her to work after being a volunteer for four years and she started working as the first counselor and setting up for the first time the Tafea Counselling Center (TCC) on Tanna. In fact, during the opening of the office, I met Shamima Ali and shook hands with her as a teenager.

I have made a promise that one day I will understand all that is happening, because I have experienced and felt that pain that my mother had to encounter standing up for women who are victims of gender-based violence. I have felt her pain, seen her cry and, importantly, seen how strong she was. Although her marital life was at risk, she still stand for other women, therefore the strongest woman I have ever seen was my mother. Despite the limited knowledge she has around that time, God gave her strength to live, move and have her being during those days.

I am dedicating this qualification to my mother Mrs Lotty Keai Karu for her struggles to ensure Tafea women have access to justice, breaking cultural factors that hinders women to speak out or seek justice, and for building a good working relationship with the chiefs towards gender-based violence despite the challenges she faced during the process.

In recognition of her struggles, this qualification will always remind me of her legacy, and from where she left, I will continue to support and empower women and girls through development from where I practice. In addition, having an only daughter urged me to stand up and say no to GBV (Gender-based violence) and ill treatments that is happening in our societies today.

Therefore, to all young women and girls out there be the change, make a difference, and maintain that positive vibes no matter the challenge you are going through. Learnt to give a helping hand without expecting something in return to a sister who might be going through a difficult time. A random act of kindness cause a ripple in someone else’s heart and in doing so you are contributing to making a change in our society.

Thank you USP for giving me the opportunity to gain knowledge in this field of interest through constant lectures and tutorials to broadening my insights around understanding my childhood confusions of CEDAW. I would have not understood all this without your admission. Also, owing it all to the New Zealand Government (NZAID) for financially supporting me to have my degree in social work in 2022. And currently, to the Vanuatu Government (VANGOV) for sponsoring me in completing this postgraduate certificate in Gender Studies. I would not have painted myself with these awards if it were not been with your sponsorship. As I am forever grateful for these opportunities for shaping me to become the person, I am today.

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