GENDER-based violence in Papua New Guinea has increased over the years with dire physical, psychological, social and economic consequences and serious human rights implications.
Research and findings by government and non-government organisations point to the fact that gender-based violence is an epidemic affecting thousands of people, especially women and children.
In the patriarchal structure of Melanesian society we view women as a passive and weaker class who must be submissive to husbands, brothers and fathers and who cannot operate or live independently.
Women’s freedom in marriage is minimal. The bride price custom does not give women the freedom to exercise their rights as independent people and children are regarded as property owned by men.
The women obey this tendency as normal and frequently even rape in marriage and sexual violence are considered normal. Women have being coping with such problems for too long.
In the context of contemporary culture - with social change, a decline of moral values, secular humanism and sometimes daunting modernisation - women feel under siege from a violence which has taken on a new form and meaning.
They feel that they are not valued as human beings but are seen as second class citizens, inferior, sexual commodity and objects.
Women are increasingly aware of their rights but PNG has yet to establish a coordinated system of assistance to victims including legal assistance, economic empowerment, survivor support services, counselling and other professional assistance.
Young people are allowing harmful forces to control their lives including drugs, alcohol, homebrew, cargo cults, religious fanaticism, conspiracy theories, sanguma (witchcraft) and more. Gender-based violence is often part of this.
Young people need to be rehabilitated and newly orientate their lives to eliminate such deviant behaviours. We have to assist them to change and to be authentic selves through various intervention programs including self-management, psychotherapy, anger management and others.
Gender-based violence won’t be solved by dealing with problems on the surface without relating them to the inner conflict within people, especially males.
It is even worse in marriages when wives become enablers and support the continuation of these problems. It is difficult to assist a woman who keeps protecting her husband by minimising the problems or saying the violence is her fault. “After all, he is a good man who supports the family.”
And so the wife suffers silently and finds it difficult to tell the truth. Families operate as a system and protect and support each other and often pretend they don’t have problems. In dysfunctional families, though, the problem gets worse and there are no functional boundaries.
Polygamy is a real headache to our developing nation. It is promoted by a few promiscuous men who are full of pride and only want to satisfy their urge to copulate. Many children from polygamous marriages are damaged because there is lack of parental guidance and support.
Their fathers are absent during the early stages of growth and behavioural formation. The men look for new wives, leaving the kids vulnerable to all sorts of abuse.
Girls have their mothers to learn from and imitate but, for boys, the father’s absence is critical in the early stages of growth and development.
The wives of polygamous husbands also tend to be unfaithful because there is lack of intimacy and true love. If their husbands are preoccupied with new women, they may feel they don’t have any choice but to have sex with other men who may be available. I have seen several cases where a man has taken over his brother’s wife.
Gender-based violence is our issue - it needs to be solved within ourselves and locally. Understanding ourselves, other people and society and acquiring skills to find solutions and solve problems are essential.
Referring problems to police, courts, welfare, NGOs or feminist groups to solve for us is not sufficient.
We ourselves need to explore deeper in the search for answers.