Building peace in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea

Agnes, Mary and Angela: members of enemy tribes who came together to bring peace to their community after decades of tribal warfare. Photo: Jerry Galea/Oxfam
Agnes, Mary and Angela: members of enemy tribes who came together to bring peace to their community after decades of tribal warfare.

Oxfam and its partners in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea are helping to promote peace within communities and to end violence against women.

Violence is a daily reality in the Southern Highlands Province in PNG. Ongoing violence and tribal conflicts undermine all types of development in the region, whether it’s economic development, health or education.

We are working with local partners and with local, provincial and national authorities to:

  • improve security and tighten gun controls
  • carry out research into the incidence and causes of violence
  • support local community groups with training in organisational effectiveness, advocacy and human rights
  • help families to access basic services like water and sanitation, as well as helping people learn new skills and earn a decent living.

Our work with the Kup Women for Peace

Oxfam and the Kup Women for Peace are working to end tribal fighting in Papua New Guinea’s conflict-ridden Highlands region. As well as bringing peace to their communities, the group is helping put a stop to violence against women. We also know from our research and experience that poverty exacerbates conflict. That’s why we’re helping families to access basic services like water, sanitation and healthcare, as well as helping people learn new skills and earn a decent living.

Creating a real force for peace

The Kup Women for Peace started their work in the early 1990s following decades of armed fighting, fear, murder and rape. Having watched local conflict spiral out of control with homes, jobs and lives being destroyed, women from four rival tribal groups in Kup put aside their fears and walked out onto the battlefields to talk peace.

“We were scared, but who else was going to do it? We had already lost so much, lost our loved ones. We had to do something. Someone had to start somewhere,” says Agnes Sil, one of the groups founding members.

The women shame the men into halting conflicts, and talk to communities about peace. One of the group’s first actions was inviting all tribal leaders in the district to a celebration they called “welcome home”. The tribes brought food and firewood, sitting down together to share a meal and afterwards raising a peace flag.

A return to peace in Kup has also seen the return of basic services – there are now eight schools, a hospital/health centre, a police station and even a cellular phone tower. People in Kup can now move freely through enemy tribal land and into towns, schools and other places.

Helping young people earn a decent living

Joinery project for young men in PNG. Photo: Jerry Galea
Young men learn new skills through a joinery project.

Oxfam and the Kup Women for Peace are also working with young men, particularly those with a history of violence, helping them learn new skills and earn a decent living.

Faced with limited job opportunities and difficulties fitting in with traditional community roles and values in rural areas, young men often turn to drugs, gangs and crime.

There's a huge need to keep young men busy and positive.

Having a job and an income keeps young men busy, builds self-esteem and means they are less likely to get involved in crime, violence and tribal fighting.

Ending violence against women

Ending violence against women. Photo: Jerry Galea
Wyema April, age 3, holds the latest issue of "Pacific Women Against Violence".

Violence against women is a widespread problem in Papua New Guinea. Opinions on crimes against women are formed by deeply held beliefs about the subordination of women to the interests of men.

Women are often targets in tribal fighting for vengeance and to provoke and shame the enemy. Domestic violence is rife. Cases of domestic violence are often heard at the village courts, which are dominated by men. Rape is another serious problem, with girls as young as seven reportedly being attacked.

Oxfam and the Kup Women for Peace are working to build peace and protect women’s rights by:

  • Helping the community understand women’s rights, particularly people in positions of power such as village magistrates, the police and community leaders.
  • Training young women to give talks on women’s rights and community development.
  • Working with young men, particularly those with a history of violence, helping them learn new skills and earn a decent living.

Gender justice: Women have a vital role to play in promoting peace in the Highlands

Oxfam report: Violence and insecurity in the Southern Highlands

Violence and insecurity in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea presents the results of a study looking at the scale, nature, triggers and impacts of interpersonal and tribal violence in the Hela region of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea.

Working to reduce the deadly impact of armed violence in the Pacific

Oxfam New Zealand is an active member of the Pacific Small Arms Action Group (PSAAG), a group dedicated to reducing the deadly impact of armed violence in the Pacific region. The group includes organisations from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand.

Find out more