Saturday, March 09, 2013

Violence: PNG's women face a crisis

by Jenny Hayward-Jones - 8 March 2013 1:49PM
It's not often in international affairs that a story about sorcery makes the headlines or that I find myself being interviewed about it. The horrendous public execution of Kepari Leniata, a young woman accused of using sorcery to cause the death of a young boy in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, received worldwide condemnation following the publication of photos of the incident.
High quality reporting by Jo Chandler on sorcery-related violence in PNG and on the Mount Hagen incident drew much needed attention to the this ugly underside of PNG society. PNG's traditional and social media outlets condemned the murder of Kepari Leniata and a Facebook community has set up a 'Remembering Kepari Leniata Campaign' to pursue action on sorcery-related violence.
International media coverage of the Mount Hagen murder led the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Amnesty International to call for the PNG Government to implement the recommendations of the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission to repeal the Sorcery Act 1971.
The PNG Government has promised to take action on sorcery-related violence. The reaction to this incident, when there have been many others like it, suggests a tipping point may have been reached.
Action on addressing sorcery-related violence (some suggestions for which contained in this Oxfam report) however, has to be accompanied by addressing violence against women in Papua New Guinea, which affects two out of three women. Annmaree O'Keeffe's post outlined some horrific statistics of violence against women worldwide. Medecins Sans Frontieres has described the levels of violence against women in PNG as 'unique outside a war-zone or state of civil unrest'.
This is an issue Papua New Guinea has to resolve from within and there are limits to the influence outsiders can bring to bear. But given the extent of the violence, there is a case to be made that this is a humanitarian crisis that requires at least some international assistance.
Foreign governments and non-government organisations can help to sow the seeds of change and assist Papua New Guineans working tirelessly on helping women escape domestic violence. The focus of International Women's Day this year in highlighting violence against women is important. The Australian Government, to its credit, has taken a regional leadership role on ending violence against women through its Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative. It has used AusAID programs to encourage and implement practical action. The Australian Foreign Minister last year announced funding for four Family and Sexual Violence Units in PNG.
Calls for action to end violence against women from then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited PNG in 2010 and the Duchess of Cornwall during the royal visit to PNG in 2012 were also important in reinforcing a strong global message.
The PNG Government appears more ready than its predecessor to admit the extent of the violence against women but the attention driven by media reporting and lobbying from social media forums is still necessary to ensure action.
These issues are not a distraction from the core business of governing. They are not second order priorities. Violence against women undermines democracy, economic growth, effective government and peace in Papua New Guinea. It contradicts the PNG Constitution's Preamble principles of integral human development and equal participation. It should not be hidden behind the veil of untouchable traditional cultural practices. Violence against women in any form is not traditional, nor is it cultural. It is unlawful and it is wrong.
Photo by Flickr user Jeremy Weate.

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