29 Aug 2013

Call for PNG society to confront lateral violence

4:57 pm on 29 August 2013

A former Papua New Guinea Cabinet Minister, Dame Carol Kidu, says Papua New Guinea society needs to confront what's known as 'lateral violence'.

Lateral violence occurs within marginalised groups where members strike out at each other as a result of being oppressed. Dame Carol told Don Wiseman it's long been a significant problem in PNG.

CAROL KIDU: Lateral violence is a backfighting, gossiping, destructive type of behaviour that is not necessarily of a physical nature. It's verbal. Not necessarily verbal directly, but verbal indirectly. It occurs in Western society with the tall poppy syndrome, but I think in such an individualised society, in Western society, that people kind of manage it. But in the communal codependent societies lateral violence can be quite destructive, in the sense of destroying development initiatives. I saw that happening as a member of parliament. The problem is I didn't deal with the relationship issues involved in a project and managing that and trying to manage all that through, as well, and let lateral violence, as they call it, take over, often the development issue initiative would fail. Another thing is lateral violence, it can often accelerate into physical forms of violence, as well.

DON WISEMAN: Is it something you see that's getting worse in PNG?

CK: Oh, no. I think it's just always been there. And I think we haven't acknowledged it and recognised it, and I think it needs to be part of all of our behavioural change mechanisms, our programmes. If we're working on behavioural change I think we need to take this into account, as well, and get people to recognise it. It's not necessarily just Papua New Guinea. I've seen writings on lateral violence in Inuit and North American societies, in indigenous societies in northern Australia. And actually it was brought to my attention by an indigenous Australian male who was talking to me about the degree of natural violence in his society. And I said to him, 'What on earth are you talking about?' And that's when I became more aware of this phenomena and recognising it as such, and so, thus, trying to address it.

DW: In terms of addressing it, you need to do what?

CK: I think it's continued sensitisation, to make people aware of those behaviour patterns and how those behaviour patterns can be quite destructive in families and communities and society. And so it's all part of behavioural change management. I used a mechanism called Community Conversations, which was first introduced in the African continent as a strategy to deal with HIV stigma and those things. And we've now been working - I've got a young man who works with me on it - on adapting this to general issues, not just HIV, general social issues and into conversations. So it would be one of those issues which can be discussed in a community conversation. You get communities to recognise it. Because often communities do recognise this, this destructive thing of jealousy and backfighting and criticism and not working together. So you work on how you can help people to work together. People worked very well together in traditional times, but when there's cash and all sorts of things possibly involved, often the working together falls apart.