Posted By Staff Reporter
By Dulciana Somare-Brash, former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare's daughter
The death of a very young mother after a life of violent abuse has triggered much public condemnation and inadvertently some soul searching by our people online and elsewhere. Last week a woman carrying a placard at a related protest came under attack online for daring to reveal the underbelly of the broader issue of Gender Based Violence (GBV), Family sexual violence and abuse in Papua New Guinea (PNG). She stated as pictured: “PNG is not a safe place to be a female.”
Commentators online felt that that was a matter of opinion; in fact many suggested her opinion was the wrong one. Relegating her lived experiences and the stories of so many women and girls to mere futile complaints that betrayed PNGs reality. Both men and women online were horrified at the confronting placard.
I want to express why I agree with that woman’s sentiment about our general safety as females. For many reasons I feel unsafe in my own country. This is why. In PNG our ‘risk profile’ is very weak. That’s an evaluation of an individual/organisations willingness and ability to take risk in our jurisdiction as an investment destination. Lots of things matter in that space including how citizens treat one another and how leaders treat their constituents, visitors and our future.
Our economic trajectory is the weakest it’s been for a long time since independence. Despite that we still blame others, we seem to resent foreign investors and we loath anyone who wants to legitimately follow due process and respect universal governance standards.
Internally, we can’t afford the interest component(s) on our expensive loans yet we borrow with impunity. Taxes paid by investors & citizens are not going to accessible public goods and services. Donors are treated suspiciously. Our recurrent spend as a nation is very high but we’re not taking bold steps to improve internal revenue; (money collection) to pay for our own bills (public sector wages, utilities, office space etc.) yet we spend like we’ve had decades of surplus budgets and robust sovereign wealth funds.
We can’t agree on a single strategy to leverage our resource wealth, we don’t have deep conversations or dialogue to transparently share our collective resource benefits (resource taxes & dividends). We can’t manage exponential population growth, urban drift, environmental pollution or climate change but (pre-COVID) we were still going on junkets overseas to talk about them.
We’ve normalised all serious law and order issues and crime has become a way of life while we shun any real policy planning and enforcement. The ‘youth bulge’ reveals only that we have more children than educated adults with schools poorly equipped to train them.
We haven’t turned a profit from a single State Owned Enterprise (SOE) with good consistent reforms. In cities 80+ children sit in a classroom with a single teacher (shocking student/teacher ratio). In many villages there are no teachers or students. We haven’t prosecuted a single MP for gross misconduct in office in the last 5 years. We can’t be bothered to collect data, so we can’t economically model our policies so as to spend frugally on priority areas for growth and sustainability. We’ve never taken on the recommendations of a commission of inquiry to legislate, regulate or prosecute against administrative wrongdoing.
We haven’t grown our GDP base or created new equity markets for jobs, taxes and economic growth to thrive. We haven’t right sized our enormous public service or stopped paying the ‘ghosts’ on the public payroll. We haven’t managed inflation through fiscal or monetary policy so affordable living and housing become a reality.
We don’t understand the importance & link between critical export revenue & a devalued Kina. SME’s can’t save their meager earnings because the cost of living is so high (water, power, food, fuel, transport). The cost of doing business is killing local business and foreign investors alike. We have so many “energy mix” opportunities but we prefer diesel generators so electricity prices will still be our greatest cost.
No one has life, health or home insurance because we can’t afford today so how do we save for tomorrow? Commercial banks are ripping everyone off with veiled fees and bad manners. Hospitals are falling apart with great workers that don’t get acknowledged.
We don’t have a solution for the cash flow crisis or the foreign exchange nightmare. Some foreigners are bribing us blatantly in exchange for our birthrights. Land grabs are the norm and violence is a favourite pastime now.
In amongst all these woes are regular people with zero influence. Sadly it’s largely women who spectate through all these highly political macroeconomic and development challenges. The contention here is that men decide everything for this country - they always have. This to me says something. It’s an anomaly. Our country’s financial, political and socio-cultural health is in the hands of people who are indifferent about how we – the other half of the population (as women) feel about our current and future nation state, our livelihood and our collective wellbeing.
If I am being honest, this is the scorecard in PNG. The rage we are witnessing may be caused by decades of accepting standards of others, our people are angrier than they’ve ever been because perhaps we are growing and changing and many more of us are competing for fewer services and even less opportunities. And everything costs money and not everyone has it. And frankly all our modern and historic influences struggle to coexist, fuse with or trump (where relevant) our embedded ancestral ways.
So we have come to worship the magic powers of money that make things appear and challenges (and people) disappear. Plainly, we don’t know how or why we got here. But as always, women are relegated to being an object, named and shamed or bashed and humiliated for reacting to the symptoms of the systematic breakdown of a governing structure that is failing us all...not just women.
Frankly, let’s consider some facts in PNG; Women didn’t lead a political impasse, ever. No woman set our own army on our own people. No woman led men to illegally remove a legitimate government. No woman had a windfall and spent 2 weeks in a hotel room with young boys! No professional woman stalks and lures young boys outside schools. No woman held up a man at gunpoint to sexually assault and humiliate him before stealing his car and possessions. No woman committed PNG to billions of Kina’s worth of expensive commercial debt. No woman colluded with other women with intent to defraud the State.
No woman forced a man to vote for her. No woman destroyed ballot boxes to win an election. No woman raped a man in custody. No woman paid the family of a man for him to be her slave or sex object. No woman led a violent attack on entire villages or made a poor decision about the future of our resource wealth by ignoring landowners, laws and process. No woman paid a public official to make evidence disappear. No woman has ever been in charge of any of the 3 arms of government.
No woman watched a man give birth to a child and then ignored that gift of life. No woman beat a breastfeeding person or pregnant individual for not preparing a meal. No woman drove a PMV drunk and killed scores of innocent passengers. No woman wore an official police uniform, carried a high-powered gun and raided the money and buai of men selling ice blocks & Mutrus for a living.
As women, we are spectators in our own lives. No man (or woman) should tell me I’m safe here in PNG when I have so little control over everything that happens around me and to me, in my world that simply means I’m unsafe as a female in PNG. [And don’t bother telling me to leave my country either, just do your part to break the cycle. I plan to].
If we could count the hours and cost of lost productivity stemming from violence and abuse in this country, we would literally lose decades (in lost man hours). We would also lose billions of Kina in lost productivity from entire PNG families reconfiguring every aspect of their daily lives to give violence a place in our homes.
When we “man up” and start disrupting illogical patriarchal beliefs, we create freedoms, we take power away from a few, we reduce the value of money to unduly influence people, we restore the value of people, we repair a system that needs our collective help to fix, and yes we create new rules for everyone we didn’t even know we had the power to create.
Next : PNG Domestic Violence Statistics