Addressing gender based violence in Minj
Margaret Yalo (not her real) has lived the past four years of her life in wretched dejection and often wonders why she was spared her life.
At 35 now and a single mother of six adult children, Margaret was physically assaulted and then raped by two men in early 2007 whilst as a volunteer carrying out HIV/AIDS awareness and condom distribution in a remote highlands village in the Minj district of the new Jiwaka province. Although the rapists are known to the local community where the rape occurred, the police have taken no action since Margaret reported the rape almost four years ago.
Apart from the medical treatment she received at the Minj Health Centre, Margaret, who has no formal education, did not have access to any of the essential counselling and case management services she desperately needed at the time to help her deal with her ordeal. Almost four years on now and Margaret painfully and tearfully recalls the ugly memories of a violation that torments her every single day. ”They should have killed me, why did they spare my life”, she deplores in tok pisin.
Papua New Guinea has one of the highest rates of violence and abuse anywhere in the world. About 67 percent of women in the country report experiencing violence and in some remote highlands communities, this figure rises to a staggering 90 per cent. Almost 80 per cent of children experience some form of physical, verbal and sexual abuse.
The problem is widespread and UNICEF is supporting the government departments and various non government organisation partners to create awareness around gender based violence in an attempt to reverse the trend.
Margaret hopes the disturbing trend of violence towards women will change for the better soon. She attended the first gender based violence training in Minj to listen to discussions by key stakeholders. Although she is not a formal participant but is keen to share her story with participant representatives of organisations who she thinks can help survivors of gender based violence.
The gender based violence training in Minj sets the platform for the Jiwaka province to set up its provincial Family Sexual Violence Action Committee (FSVAC). Key stakeholder participants at this training represent a range of service providers essential to addressing the violence towards women and children. The composition of the Minj FSVAC will include the hospital’s family support centre, police, divisions of education and community development, youth, faith and church based organisations, non-governmental organisations and women’s group.
When fully functional, the FSVAC will be the primary body providing services to survivors of gender based violence and bringing perpetrators of violence based crimes to justice. A police representative at the training in welcoming the formation of the FSVAC admits that no violence cases have ever gone beyond the committal stage. “I am happy with the idea of setting up a FSVAC desk at the police to deal with this problem,” he adds.
Male advocate for ending violence against women, Charles Oll when addressing the participants stresses the importance of the need to change the mindsets, particularly of the male population, in order to change their attitudes and behaviour. “Change can happen,” he states, “but we need to change our mindsets first.” Charles is one of a few trained male advocates in the country who provide support to the work of the FSVAC by advocating for ending violence against women to male counterparts. “Talking to men is really hard because they still hold on to their cultural and traditional beliefs so it is a big challenge to try to change their mindsets,” Charles explains.
Margaret agrees that while the training is a good start to providing some awareness on gender based violence she is less optimistic that positive results will be seen quickly. I think we need more of this type of training and more men must attend. Also it will only be successful if all the partners are committed to this cause,” Margaret states.
The training has set the foundation for the formation of the local FSVAC and the participants are keen to move it along. Already the Minj Health Centre has initiated work on its Family Support Centre (FSC). The FSC is a vital service and link to the work of FSVAC. It provides a safe haven for women and children who experience family violence. More importantly, the FSC provides a ‘one-stop shop’ coordination and support service, providing survivors of violence with psychosocial, paralegal and case management support and medical services.
The establishment of FSC is one response to the situation of violence in the country. A national directive issued in 2007 requires all provincial hospitals to establish FCS. The goal is to have a centre in every provincial hospital throughout the country by 2012.
The Minj Health Centre now joins five other hospitals in the country that have responded to this national directive. In a timely manner, the Minj Health Centre also launched the building that will house its Family Support Centre. Once renovations to this building are completed, the FSC will be fully functional and will provide essential counselling and case management services to violence survivors like Margaret.