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29 March 2012


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I am no poet - but I give you this.

Death is a country I have visited several times.

Once with my mother, once with my sister,
and most recently last week with my baby niece in PNG.

We walked hand-in-hand down the dark corridor of approaching eternity.

My mother, my sister, my niece and me.

But I had to leave them...

I expect to visit this place again shortly with my father and myself.

Death can be horrible or it can be glorious.

How do you see it?

My Dad is quiet and still;
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken memories will
Let winds blow bleak and shrill.
But all are gone away.

Nor is there one this day
To speak him good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it when we play?
Around the body still
They are all are gone away,
And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill.

There is nothing more to say.
There is ruin and decay
In our loved ones bodies still:
They all are gone away.

Praise be.

Complaining at a whole of problem level won't help. Extra laws won't help either.

Analyse each problem from a subclass basis, identify the causes and address them.

Men are usually the causes of the problem. Try and understand the man to give yourself a fighting chance to fight the scourge.

Pointing fingers at them and getting confrontational won't help.

This is an interesting debate when viewed in relation to the reservation of 22 seats for women in parliament.

The article and the subsequent debate shows what a mockery is the argument that women don't need positive discrimination and should win seats on their own merit.

Women don't need help so much as they need empowerment to help themselves. If this means giving them a special way into parliament for a while so be it.

With a strong body of women in parliament PNG might see positive changes in all those things suggested as solutions in this debate.

The only thing that bothered me when Iwas thinking about this approach was a fleeting and lurid image of male parliamentarians ganging up and beating female parliamentarians on the floor of the chamber.

Welfare Officers are a good idea. I've lived with one most of my life and seen it work.

But I've also witnessed people willfuly ruin lives despite the help they might have had.

So if the issue is enforcement of laws and empowerment of our people we don't need legislation for that, we need leadership.

And an entire generational change in the bureaucracy: i.e. Retire the aging public service and give their jobs to the unemployed uni grads.

How about doing that with a bias towards women? Too radical I suppose.

No one has all the answers, since this and all other serious crimes are complex matters.

There is no one cause and therefore no one solution. The fact that there are existing laws against committing a crime doesn’t seem to have the necessary effect of stopping crime.

All extra laws seem to do is provide further excuses for politicians to claim they are actually doing something when in fact they have no idea what to do.

What they don’t want to do is be seen to be ineffectual. Yet they also don’t want to make unequivocal statements about what should be done in case they are afterwards held to account.

Understanding the causes of the problem would help go a long way towards providing some effective answers.

Violence is often the last resort for those who feel they have no other option available. Spur of the moment action is also often regretted after it happens and could often be traced to a build up of ongoing personal frustration.

Perhaps something that could help alleviate the violence would be more, trained community welfare officers who could provide free services and help provide a safety valve before personal problems become serious.

Welfare Officers should be attached and managed by local government but funded and also report to a national body.

Proactive action might well see the cost of providing punitive actions including custodial sentences dramatically reduced.

Subsequent savings in the cost of law and order operations could then be diverted to providing more community welfare officers.

Who knows, it might become a real vote winner. Why not give it a go?

I'm saying we could be more biased towards the wellbeing of our womenfolk.

E.g., tougher sentencing for rape; greater scrutiny of domestic violence cases; repealing the sorcery act: social benefits in favor of women: enabling legislation for greater participation of women in leadership roles; compulsory gender education of youth especially males; develop male role models including support to prosecute corrupt male leaders.

But I don't have all the answers.

Michael - are you suggesting that there is no law at present to punish rapists?

David - Female babies less than one year old are being raped. Grandmothers older than 70 are no different. Women of any age in between walk around in constant fear of violent attacks, not from strangers but from their very own husbands, brothers, fathers other family and friends; ask your wife, ask your daughter, ask your niece, ask your aunt, ask your mother, ask your bubuhaine. Ask any woman close to you if she feels safe at home let alone in public.

Then tell me again that we don't need a law to stop this madness.

Everything starts from the mind, but the law is concerned with the result of our actions (we might think in our minds is okay) which must have consequences for what we agree is not good for our society - for our family.

The uninhibited violence of PNG men to PNG women is destroying the family unit and hence basic social structure - the place where we begin to learn what is good and what is not good.

The social work, counselling and therapy you refer to is always an option for working through but works best for those men and women, like yourself, who see the need for it and more importantly are willing to make it work.

Recognition of the problem and willingness to solve it are the key. That is straight forward.

A law must be there to provide the penalizing recourse.

All very well, all of you, but no matter how many voice positive ideas, and even if such an idea is translated into legislation, like all of PNG's laws, it will not be translated into action because of the failure of the whole public service, and particularly the police, to act under the law without fear or favour.

The widowed mother of afriend of mine lived for long as a lonely old woman in her late husband's village, given space to grow food grudgingly as she had lost all the friends of her own generation, and was entirely forgotten in her own, somewhat distant village which she had left at the age of 15 to be married. As her house crumbled she made increasingly-feeble efforts to keep the rain out and the warmth in- for she lived near Suave in Simbu Province where it is often wet and cold. Ultimately, a young man of whom the village had high hopes, a student at UPNG, died of complications from a viral infection in Port Moresby. His constitution was weak because he had been a carrier of HIV for some years. In the village as usual a supernatural explanation and a culprit was sought. Attention focussed on the feeble, lonely old woman. She was tied to a car and dragged through the village, accused of being the fleshly embodiment of a virulent Sanguma spirit. Then, near the river, she was arrowed in the throat whilst still alive and thrown into the river to be carried away, eventually to become nutrient for the mangrove swamps of the Purari Delta.

My friend was absolutely devastated, for she was extremely fond of her old mother, and on visits to the village to see her had for years made sure that she took presents of tinned fish, sugar, coffee,biscuits and smokes, always, enough to share around as her mother's contribution to the life of the particular haus-lain concerned.

The police in Goroka were not interested at all, and enquiry revealed that even a cash advance would not procure a visit to the village or an appeal to the Suave police-station to do something, as all were unwilling to make any contact in cases where the virus-like belief in Sanguma had taken hold. This belief is imbedded deeply in almost all the people of PNG.
The dreadful myth, once not prsenet in the Highlands, has spread from the coast right through to the remote Western edge of the country. It is known as vada on the Papuan side, and at some time acquired in Tok Pisin the East African description of "sangguma", to describe a mythical beleif as old as time and twice as powerful as Christian belief.In PNG there is no-one committeded strongly enough to work to kill all this craziness in a firm and authoritarian way. If any Christian dares to say Im wrong, I shall have pleasure in telling the story of a mission worker and confirmesd, practicing Christian who ended this lfe by having his heart cut out to be eaten by all members of his haus-lain, including small children, so they might thus ingest and become immune to the powerful sanguma belived to have lodged within the mission-workers body. The mission concerned was paralyzed by the story, and of course the local police were unable to help.

Like the late Percy Chatterton, I think of the 50-plus years of my own direct association with the people of PNG as "Day that I Have Loved," but despite this I have to say that Papua New Guineans, very generally speaking, are both lazy and completely uncommitted to any ideaology aimed at building a nation out of their famous 800-odd tribal/linguistic groups.

Until enough exceptions to this rule arise and join together across the barriers of tribalism/ clan loyalty-( the famous wantok sistem which educated PNG'ans often describe as their own brilliantl;y-effective welfare system) - and the present party-system which imposes an opaque shield over politics, excluding the voters from contactr and knowledge,
nothing will change for the next century or two.

We have too many laws with no order in this country.

There are already enough laws to criminally punish offenders regardless. If we can't take punitive action using current laws, then what is there to suggest that things will change when new laws are introduced?

Didn’t the Post Courier recently carry out a campaign with vengeance against the rogue policemen wife beater to no effect? Or are still waiting for a new law to punish the offender?

Simply making laws won’t change the status quo for the simple reason that it won’t be enforced effectively as is the case with a plethora of other laws.

Michael – I believe violence starts from the mind first and is then manifested in the many ugly physical forms. So it is a complicated issue and must be dealt with in a holistic manner and on a subclass basis.

For example, we don’t currently have family support services where couples are encouraged to go and seek counselling and assistance to discuss their issues before they get out of hand and result in wife/husband bashing.

I have a personal experience where a past bad experience remained in my subconscious mind and started coming back to disturb my family life when I got married.

Luckily for me and my family, I was able to recognise it quickly and took my entire family with me to Madang and sought counselling with a person I trusted to help me get over my past emotional scars.

It was a very expensive exercise but I had to do it to protect my wife and child. Sadly not everyone in PNG can afford to do that.

I do not believe it is a complicated issue.

If we can legislate that a 72 year old man cannot be the PM, why not consider legislation that gives more protection to the rights and dignity and indeed survival of our women?

I know that comparison is ridiculous: the poor situation of our womenfolk is ridiculously inexcusable. (And poor performance of parliamentarians).

Consider this: we have a whole population of women who are in danger of being physically, emotionally and sexually abused from infancy, throughout childhood, during their youth, after marriage and motherhood and into their old age.

What does that tell us about PNG men?
What does that tell us about PNG leaders?
What does it mean for our future if we do not protect them?

Nations and people who have made real progress in their lives usually have men who respect their womenfolk.

I've found that to be true down to the village level in PNG.

What's complicated about that?

I agree with you David but it is very tempting to not to come down hard on the miscreants and throw them in gaol for long periods.

The bottom line, of course, is that there is absolutely no excuse for violence in any form whatsoever against any person - no matter what the provocation or circumstance.

It’s a complicated issue.

The problem needs to be properly analysed and broken down to each subclass of violence and viable solutions offered at that level.

I don’t believe complaining at a “whole of problem level” without offering any real solution other than blaming “lack of legislation” to protect women is enough.

Has anyone done an exercise in the following format to try and address the issue: Problem identification / Cause identification / Possible solutions.

For example,

(1) Problem: Rape and violence on the streets and bush tracks. Cause: Economic disempowerment of young men & alcohol and drug abuse. Possible solutions: Rural development and proper enforcement of alcohol/drug laws

(2) Problem: Domestic violence. Causes: Drunkenness, trauma, unfaithfulness, trivial arguments. Possible solutions: Counselling and rehabilitation services

Violence against women doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It occurs in the real complicated world that we live in and their causes and possible solutions have linkages to other areas such as economic disempowerment and some other conditions prevailing in society.

I’d like to see a more holistic approach be taken with more corrective rather than punitive solutions put forward to addressing the issue.

Identifying problems are well and good but the job is not complete until their causes and possible solutions are identified and executed.

Thanks Keith for this article. It explains a lot about the terrible problems of violence against women in PNG.

I also know of women who have suffered from jealousy from men in their careers, which of course has occurred in Australia.

One lady, who was well underway with a PhD., was probably about to expose a lot of the corruption taking place in her government department, so naturally she lost her job and never finished her PhD.

I feel the womens' problems are so great that they need these 22 reserved seats for women in the next parliament. These elected women then need to work within the parliament to work out ways to overcome these problems that have developed and are causing all the violence against women. This violence has to stop!

If the West Sepik re-elects Namah, and we know his reputation, what hope is there for PNG women. If the Simbu people elect men who offer bribes to the Simbu men, what hope is there for PNG women? None!

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