Just sharing my thoughts...
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN has become the norm in many parts of Papua New Guinea and is one of the many issues affecting our country today.
There are a number of factors involved with the three most common being domestic matters, bride price payments and the mentality of a male dominated society.
Most men regard women as objects and blame their wives for every little thing they find fault in. For instance bearing a female child when they want a male, work pressure, family obligations, forgetting to clean the house or wash the dishes, children crying, food not cooked to his liking, does not like the way she is dressing, no respect, not enough food in the house and talking to a male stranger to name a few.
This in turn leads to quarrels, arguments, disunity and to domestic violence within and among families creating a tension in the village, community, the society and the country as a whole.
Since most communities view domestic violence as a private matter, only some of the victims press charges, and prosecutions are rare; most of those affected by it, think it is normal.
Moreover, growing up in a culturally oriented society makes many women think that it is their duty to make their husbands happy and therefore, have no right to refuse sex with their husbands. They obligingly give in to their husbands wishes even though they do not like it.
This in turn leads to many problems and tensions in the family, the community and the society as a whole. These people who are affected by violence sometimes do not know they can get help, are too scared or are too ashamed to come forward.
Another matter viewed as private and a form of violence is rape. Rape in the past was regarded as a war strategy in most parts of Papua New Guinea and was therefore not seen as an issue. There was no concept of rape in marriage either.
Rape or sexual assault is ‘an assault by a person involving sexual intercourse with or without sexual penetration of another person without that person’s consent.’ Men have the mentality that: ‘My wife is my wife and whatever we do in the vicinity of our dwelling is our private business.’
The rapists when reported and apprehended sometimes do not face trial and walk around freely, especially if he or she was someone important in the community; sometimes they break out of jail.
Even though ‘rape is punishable by imprisonment and sentences were imposed on convicted assailants, few rapists were apprehended. The willingness of some communities to settle incidents of rape through material compensation rather than criminal prosecution makes the crime difficult to combat.’ Rape whether you like it or not, is a crime and should be dealt with accordingly and not something to be shunned or viewed as a private matter.
Wife beating too is seen as a private matter in almost all parts of the country. Reports show that some of the highest rates of violence and abuse of women in the world occur in PNG.
However, in 1986 the Law Reform Commission decided to take a stand and began its campaign against wife-beating. And now PNG is one of the few developing countries to embark on a ‘nationwide program of legal, social and educational measures’.
The immense public-campaign was carried out to try and change the attitudes and the norm of wife-beating. As a result of the campaign, some of the policies were changed and the constabulary ‘began treating wife-beating like any other form of assault and were arresting and prosecuting offenders.’
The other factor that mitigates domestic violence is the payment of bride price. Whenever men pay for their wives, they have a propensity to believe that they are their possessions.
In some parts of the country, especially in the highlands provinces, this type of practice is common. Men tend to view women as objects when they are being paid for. This gives them the mentality that they own women and they can do anything they want.
Men do not care about women’s feelings if they had paid their bride price. Some clans also give the men full responsibility and authority to do whatever he wants with his wife. Thus, paying a bride price tends to reinforce the view that women are property.
In 1987, a government minister said in a statement that ‘we pay for our wives, so we own them and can belt them any time we like’. Now this type of mentality has been instilled in the mindset of some men in PNG.
We can say that our culture says to beat wives if she is in the wrong but who gave you the right to hit someone? It is also against the law, and if caught then tougher penalties should be ensured to make the offender pay for his actions.
In addition, ‘in the villages, a husband’s right to chastise his wife physically was accepted, with some tribes even recognizing this by presenting a stick to the bridegroom in return for the payment of bride price.’
There is no law that limits the full participation of women in all aspects of life, but the deeply rooted patriarchal culture sometimes stops women from fully participating in any development.
PNG as a male-dominated country gives few opportunities to women in communal life. Moreover, development itself can be a link to violence. There is also the rise of a new culture of boyfriends hitting their girlfriends at the secondary and tertiary level of education.
Rapid social change sweeps away centuries of old ways of doing things creating stress and insecurity. However, this has greatly changed in the last couple of years giving women equal participation in all walks of life.
Today, women are doctors, lawyers, managers, directors and officers to name a few. Women tend to jump in the race to show their counterparts that if you can do it I can do it.
Whereas in the past they just sat on the fence and observed. Women can now get higher positions and achieve their aims and dreams; they can aspire and become successful.
They fully know their rights and therefore, they do not get abused or misled quickly, unlike in the past. And now there is current pushing of the Bill for 22 reserved seats for women, which was originally included in the constitution but never passed into effect.
To conclude, the most damaging effect women face as a result of domestic violence and which they are forced to endure is the humiliation and pain of violence. As a result of violence women see themselves as weak, vulnerable, helpless, inadequate and helpless.
Domestic violence can surely be erased if both parties understand and do not abuse each other’s rights. They must understand that it has drastic effects on the victim. Children too are affected by what they see in their families and there is a possibility that they can repeat what they observe in later life.
Therefore, men should understand that women are created to be their partners and not something to be regarded as under him; as the famous saying goes; “woman was created from the rib of man, not from his head to be above him, nor his feet to be walked upon, but from his side to be equal, near his arm to be protected and close to his heart to be loved.”
There is an urgent need for the government of the day to see and ensure that wife-beating is a serious problem affecting and affected by development.
The government needs to provide resources to deal with it because simple campaigns and awareness programs cannot solely eradicate the issue.
There should be a ‘Domestic Violence Act’ introduced to deal with such cases.
The churches should work in partnership to promote equality among their congregation.
The education department should set in place curriculums to deal with this issue in the schooling system from prep to university. It should start at the prep or elementary level because a child’s first years of growth will surely affect his or her life later.
There should be awareness within the family that violence is not an answer to a problem. “Family is the social unit of a society and the country as a whole.”
Outreach activities should be provided by the organizations and institutions concerned to raise awareness in the communities because sometimes people do not know they can get help or are too scared or ashamed to come forward.