The men challenging everyday violence against women in Papua New Guinea
The rates of violence against women in Papua New Guinea are amongst the highest in the world for a country not at war. In the highland regions virtually every women suffers from domestic violence and throughout the country a shocking one of every two women has been raped. Councillor Peterson Kalip and Apelis Kunubake are two men trying to put an end to this.
“The violence has been here for a long time, going right back to our ancestors” says Peterson. “It’s culturally accepted for a man to beat his wife and the perpetrators don’t understand the damage they are causing.”
It is this acceptance Peterson is trying to change. As a Ward Coordinator he leads awareness sessions for members of his community. At these events, groups discuss family and sexual violence and Peterson helps people to understand what gender-based violence is and the serious damage it causes.
Apelis is working to support the Family Sexual Violence Action Committee, and sees on an all-too-regular basis how much damage is being perpetrated:
“I’ve seen a lot of violence in my community. I’ve seen husbands chop off their wives’ arms or belt them. At the moment, I often see a little girl go around with a 50-year-old man and it’s encouraged by her family because she brings money home.”
This committee, which was established by VSO volunteer Catherine Bedford, works to improve the help that is available to survivors. It brings together groups such as social organisations, churches and the police to help address the situation.
Engaging local police is particularly important - currently the lack of policing and repercussions for perpetrators is seriously lacking. As Apelis describes:
“The police are not very active. Their service is not effective. There’s corruption; if they help someone they will want something back from it, like a ‘fee’ for detecting. Or they will give an excuse like not having enough fuel to actually drive their car to police something.”
Changing attitudes towards women in Papua New Guinea is undoubtedly an uphill battle – so ingrained is domestic violence in this culture. Yet through the work of passionate people such as Peterson and Apelis, the tide is beginning to turn. Peterson is already seeing progress within his community and wants to see attitudes changing nationwide:
“Violence against women should be everyone’s business in this country, from politicians’ right down to the grassroots. If we all work together, we will be able to reduce it.”