NIGEL SPENCE | Women’s Agenda
"Any argument I have with my wife, I have laid on my children. It is psychology that when you don't want to do it to the wife you do it to the children, but they are innocent."
TAINA GEBAI IS A COMMUNITY ELDER living in Port Moresby who regrets once having been violent towards his wife and children.
He has transformed to a peaceful man after being violent in his younger years and says he has come to see that life is better if men and women walk alongside each other as equal partners.
I met with Taina during a visit to Papua New Guinea, where ChildFund Australia has been working for almost 20 years. He impresses as a thoughtful, caring man, respected in his community and deeply concerned about the violence experienced by women and children in his country.
Taina features in a report released by ChildFund which reveals extreme levels of violence against women and children in PNG where women are raped, killed and maimed on a shocking scale. The brutality is severe, often involving bush knives, axes, burning, spearing and even biting.
It is estimated that two-thirds of all women in PNG have experienced physical or sexual assault. Many community leaders and researchers believe the rate is even higher, a view supported by ChildFund's research.
The report highlights the need for more programs in PNG to help women and to work with men to change attitudes and behaviours. This is why ChildFund has launched an appeal to fund a new program that not only provides services to protect women and children, but also engages men.
The program will offer education and training to help men understand the devastating consequences resulting from acts of violence and abuses of power. It will promote alternative conflict resolution techniques to avoid the use of force and maintain respect for women.
It will motivate men to change by highlighting the greater strength involved in taking a stand against violence.
ChildFund is implementing these programs because it is clear that violence against women hurts children too. Nearly all of the women interviewed in our field research had experienced violence and said their children were often present.
The women were especially concerned about the trauma for children witnessing the brutality and the direct harm caused when the violence was turned on them.
Monica Richards, who manages Haus Ruth, Port Moresby's main women's shelter, told us about 60% of children who come to the refuge with their abused mothers have also been hurt. "Most [men], when they touch the women, they touch the children as well," she says.
Children's development depends on having a family and community where they feel safe, loved and protected. Growing up in a violent home can severely impair a child's physical, emotional and social development. For PNG, the personal, social and economic costs of violence are enormous.
Nevertheless, there are some positive signs. Courageous women like Dame Carol Kidu and Monica Richards are speaking out, and some male leaders like Taina Gebai are also taking a stand.
Women who have experienced violence like Helen Michael, whose lip was bitten off in an attack, are standing up and using the media to publicise their demands to live in a society free from violence.
Earlier this year, during the national Haus Krai event, women and men across PNG (and Australia) held peaceful protests to demand an end to the violence. It was a powerful moment that showed there is a movement for change in PNG.
Now is the time to support and accelerate this movement to change prevailing social norms that allow such brutal and widespread violence to occur, and to create a safer and healthier environment for children and their families to thrive.
You can help stop violence against women and children in Papua New Guinea by donating to ChildFund's appeal.