Addressing violence and sexual abuse against women in Papua New Guinea

(Credit: Ness Kerton/DFAT/Flickr CC BY 2.0)
Written by Mouna Narara

For many women in Papua New Guinea (PNG), violence and abuse are part of their daily lives. Domestic and sexual violence are reported to be the cause of many homicides occurring in PNG. The incidence of violence and abuse happens to be a common trend where in many instances, women fall victim to men’s abusive behaviour and actions. PNG’s former Health Minister, Michael Malabag on 20 March 2019 reported, ‘almost 68% of women experience violence and abuses are worsening.’

Some people with very traditional beliefs think they have the right to control their partner and that women aren’t equal to men.

Many strategies have been adopted by the government over the years to deal with gender based violence. However, a recent Post Courier article, “Police report rise in homicide, sexual violence”, on 20 March 2019 suggests that not enough resources had been committed, and government and community support and attention is inadequate.

One reason for PNG’s failure in finding effective tactics to resolve violence is because the focus has been on addressing the consequences of violence, and ignoring the root causes of why it occurs. Priority should be on education and awareness about violence, rather than just jailing offenders.

To their credit, there are already a number of community initiatives and groups who focus on conducting public awareness and education on the causes of violence, its consequences, laws against it, and ways of preventing and resolving disputes. But more is needed.

The fight against violence demands the full participation of every individual and organisation. The approach to addressing violence has to change. The primary objective must be to eliminate the root cause of violence and abuse and, through education and awareness, change the mindset of individuals. With government support, voluntary groups, churches, community associations, and specifically designated governmental organisations must be given the authority and capacity to carry out regular awareness and education on violence prevention. The aim needs to be to: break traditional rules and structures, especially those that encourage violence and gender inequality; and inform people about the rule of law and that crimes are punishable by sanctions.

Government must especially encourage the active engagement of the younger generation in learning about, and speaking out against, gender based violence through school, church, sport and music activities. Apart from learning basic subjects like maths and social science, students must also be taught about issues relating to gender based violence and engage in awareness programs. There are a number of examples where this is already happening, but more is needed. Indeed, a policy is needed that mandates that all schools teach compulsory courses on violence, conflict management, and sexual education.

Children and youth should be actively involved in programs like youth camps, excursions and sport competitions, where individuals are taught to respect the opposite gender and get involved in debates about violence and its impacts on society. Young people should also be encouraged to compose more songs and poems that speak against violence. If children are taught that violence is bad, these same individuals will grow into decent human beings who will know how to resolve conflicts, in turn minimising the probability of domestic violence.

The practical way to address the problem of violence and abuse against women in PNG is both to support the survivors of violence and to address the root causes. While police departments need to improve the way they handle the resolution of disputes and punish offenders, the focus needs to be on education and awareness to change the mindsets of individuals. This fight requires the commitment and participation of all actors from all sectors and levels.

Mouna Narara was a participant in the 2019 ANU-UPNG Summer School at Crawford School of Public Policy, supported by the PNG-Australia Partnership. This blog is based on her research undertaken for the Comparative Public Sector Management course. The author wishes to thank Nematullah Bizhan, the course coordinator, for his advice and support.

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Mouna Narara

Mouna Narara is a fourth year undergraduate student at the School of Business and Public Policy, University of Papua New Guinea.

4 Comments

  • I would like to thank the author for this article, as it gives another opportunity to shine the spot light on an epidemic that continues to infect our society today. Yes, the root causes should be identified and dealt at the root level. Unfortunately identifying the root causes might require immense time and resources because there may be many root causes contributing to violence against women. Identifying one or two significant root cause contributor of violence against women and addressing it in areas of significant occurrence might have more impact in dealing with this issue.

    On another note, I appeal to the government to consider addressing this issue more specifically in PNG’s long term (Vision 2050), medium term (MTDP III & DSP) and short term (Sector Plans) development goals. That way, resources could be allocated specifically for addressing violence against women and not just for covering a broad topic such as “gender inequality”. The government budget (in line with fiscal objectives) can allocate funds as well to identify root causes of violence against women and address one-off expenditures where it is reasonable to do so. Involving the equal participation of women and promoting the empowerment of women can contribute to PNG’s economic growth and development however, issues facing women such as violence against women and other forms of oppression will first need to be dealt with.

  • Good start for our young people thinking about this important issue that undermines our human development efforts. At the same time we need to be cautious when using ‘culture’ in our narrative. For a long time culture or some aspects of it has been used as a factor or an excuse for this issue, however it is not the same for the whole country. What is typical for a region, or part of PNG should not be generalised for the country. In some culture, women are valuable, backbone to a family and community and are overprotected. Outside observers, advocates and writers on this issue have over emphasised culture which in itself is reinforcing a culture mindset amongst our young people.

  • A good article on a very important issue. I agree with the author that addressing the root causes of violence against women – “the rules and structures that encourage violence and gender inequality” – while continuing to support survivors and to expand awareness of, and implementation of, the legal framework, is the only way to effectively and sustainably address this global issue.

  • She says there is a root cause for violence but still fails to define what root cause. The solutions she offers are just other bandaids, not the real solutions, because she did not point out the root cause.

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