Living in Port Moresby as an aid volunteer has certainly altered my perspective of threat and violence. In Canberra, I never felt unsafe walking down the street to grab the paper, or worried that I would be assaulted on the way to work. Such events were far from mind, rarely seriously considered, but if such an extreme incident were to occur, I know my rights and where I could get help. Here, many women do not know their rights, and men often do not understand that violence towards women is not ok.
Australian statistics show that almost one in three women will be assaulted in their lifetime. In PNG, data is harder to come by, but based on anecdotal evidence, women who have not experienced violence, physical or sexual, are in the minority.
What is most devastating is the impact of violence on children. Even if they are not direct victims themselves, they will see their mothers or sisters assaulted, carrying trauma and fear with them. A lack of basic services to help deal with violence, including access to a place of safety, justice, medical assistance and counselling, affects children disproportionately.
Reporting violence often only occurs in extreme cases. Mostly, daily suffering is borne silently. Often witnesses are too frightened to step in and assist, afraid for their own safety if they do or unwilling to get involved in “family business”. With men generally the primary breadwinners, pressure even comes from families to stay with violent men.
People here are so aware of how their country is portrayed in the Australian media, particularly around the issue of violence against women, and are pained by the image. Many passionate, dedicated Papua New Guineans are working hard to dispel it and make a difference in their communities.
With support from the Australian public, ChildFund is working with communities to improve support services for those affected by violence, and with men, women and young people to provide education around women`s and children`s rights. Amidst the challenges and complexity, this kind of work provides hope and positive action that we can all support and share in. I say no to violence against women and children, and I challenge you all to do the same.
Heather Thomas spent the past year based in Port Moresby working as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) volunteer with ChildFund Papua New Guinea. Learn more about the issue of violence against women and children in PNG.