In the lead up to the international campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, and in response to comments made by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare downplaying violence against women in Papua New Guinea, local community groups and international development agencies call on the Government to acknowledge that violence against women is a serious issue in PNG and a grave abuse of their human rights, and to urgently review the effectiveness of their policing, legal structures, and funding for support services.
At a press conference with US Secretary Clinton in Moresby recently (Wednesday November 3, 2010), Somare belittled the reality, and was quoted as saying, “Sometimes there are fights, arguments do take place, but it's nothing very brutal about violence against women”.
Local community groups know that the seriousness of violence against women in this country is not exaggerated – they work with victims every day. These groups, including Eastern Highlands Family Voice, Kup Women for Peace, Nana Kundi Crisis Centre, and Papua Hahine are supported in their claims by the research of international organisations such as Amnesty International, Oxfam and UNIFEM. Research has established that two out of three women experience domestic violence as a national average (PNG Law Reform Commission), and that 50 per cent of women have experienced forced sex.
“The violence is brutal and endemic,” says Naomi Yupae, of Family Voice. “We need our government to engage in a collaborative and culturally sensitive approach to addressing violence, and we must all work to strengthen the relationships within families, communities and tribes.”
“While women continue to fear for their personal security, they will be unable to actively contribute to the building of our nation,” says Catherine Natera from Papua Hahine.
The organisations are calling for urgent and concrete efforts from the PNG government to develop a national plan of action on eliminating violence against women; to commit to a solid timetable on law reform to support this; to support and adequately fund the provision of services, such as safehouses and counselling centres for battered women; and to ensure police are trained to deal effectively with violence against women and to punish officers who sexually and physically abuse women detainees (which is rife according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Novak).
In a report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) presented to the UN Security Council last October, government inaction, the inability of police to intervene (unwillingness coupled with shortage of personnel, vehicles and fuel), and underfunding of comprehensive awareness-raising and education, were all identified as significant factors in the increased incidence of sorcery-related violence, a prevailing form of violence against women. The report’s conclusion urges the PNG government to listen directly to women and to find the political will to meet their obligations to provide protection from human rights abuses.
November 25 marks White Ribbon Day, the international day where people wear a white ribbon to show that they do not condone violence against women.
“On this day, we challenge all our leaders to wear a white ribbon – and to acknowledge that violence against the women in PNG hurts all of us,” says Naomi Yupae.
November 25 also kicks off the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, which runs until 10 December – International Human Rights Day.
Over these 16 days, the Prime Minister is urged to confront the daily reality of many PNG women’s lives, as the picture isn’t pretty.