“Family Violence in Papua New Guinea is an Emergency”, says Human Rights Watch

“Family Violence in Papua New Guinea is an emergency” is the first set of prose that alight on the pages of Human Rights Watch’s latest report, explicitly entitled Bashed Up: Family Violence in Papua New Guinea. The report censures the government and associated institutions for the level and extent of family violence, particularly by male partners against women, and for good reason.

There are several reasons to be explicit, though I feel it necessary to suspend these judgments for the moment to reflect on Papua New Guinea’s more marvellous attributes. I visited Papua New Guinea for the first time recently and found it to be a land of astounding beauty and resoundingly diverse culture. You may be surprised as I, to learn that within its 7.6 million inhabitants, over 800 languages are spoken.

The people I met, and there were several, were warm and friendly hosts, generous with their time and several could easily render me a little intimidated by their extensive knowledge and brilliant acumen in matters of human existence and more practical matters of land and wealth. These favourable characteristics furnished within me a love for the country and its people.

Botrytis_Blight1315How sad and difficult it is then to learn the extent of the blight that
overlays the beauty; like being allured by the radiance and splendour of a flower petal that you only find to be infected by a disease. And like petals affected by blight, where our only remedy to bring the gardens colour and lustre back is the eradication of the flowers fungal spores, a similar need may apply to Papua New Guinea.

I was present in the audience when Elaine Pearson, Australia Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Monica Paulus, women’s rights activist for Papua New Guinea officially launched Human Rights Watch’s Bashed Up Report, on Wednesday 4th November.

The report is based on interviews with survivors of violence, service providers, police, activists and experts. It details the prevalence and challenges associated with family violence, particularly against women, in Papua New Guinea, while also providing some recommendations on how it could be addressed.

Monica described several contributing factors to family violence, including: economic problems, like poverty and health issues; cultural problems like polygamy, bride price and sorcery accusations that amount to witch hunts; justice problems, like prolonged cases, no witness protection and expensive and biased village court systems; and finally, social problems like the several structures that serve to legitimate violence against women.

These are all forms of violence (direct, structural and cultural) consistent with Galtung’s violence triangle that I described in an earlier blog entitled, ‘Killing Off’ Our Traditional Understanding of Violence.

If the Papua New Guinean government is serious about returning the beauty and lustre to its garden and even enhancing its more desirable qualities, adopting the recommendations in the Bashed Up Report will provide a sufficient point of inception.

Whatever the mechanisms developed across the political, social and economic spheres, violence against women in all of its nasty dimensions will need to be addressed to create and sustain peace with justice. Indeed, for many women in Papua New Guinea, their only hope for survival rests on this.

Of course, family violence, particularly against women, is not unique to Papua New Guinea. It appears in all of its dimensions to varying degrees in all countries. This does not absolve Papua  New Guinea from its responsibility, but holds us all accountable to these words, not least myself as I reflect on how I could be perpetuating the problem before aiding its amelioration.  

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