21 Aug 2013

Grassroots helpers of PNG's women say Governments to do more

4:59 pm on 21 August 2013

Organisations in Papua New Guinea protecting women from domestic violence say progress could be fast-tracked with Government help.

The Lifeline Women's Refuge in Port Moresby opened last year and thousands of women have been counselled and cared for already.

But groups like Oxfam say the PNG and New Zealand Governments need to support such initiatives with more funding.

Alex Perrottet was in Port Moresby:

A short drive from the heart of Port Moresby is Waigani, where a small wooden office-space and hall has been used to set up the Lifeline Women's Refuge Centre. Originally a tele-service for victims of domestic violence, they opened safe houses last year where up to six women can stay when they are too afraid or traumatised to return home. Thomas Harea, the acting director, says the women are usually young and many of them return to them regularly after repeat incidents.

"THOMAS HAREA: Particularly when they are suddenly attacked on the road by those rascals or whatever they call them. And sometimes they're very, very traumatised. When they come in we have to be very careful that we don't hit the wrong key and make them frightened again."

Mr Harea spoke of one lady who walked out of her home after a fight with her husband, and was then attacked and raped on the street. She came with her three year old girl who doctors confirmed had been repeatedly abused. He says part of their efforts is to spread awareness, but that only gives them more work.

THOMAS HAREA: If we go out more, we'll have more and we don't have enough space. (Laughs) 'Cause there's only six beds there and mainly for the women. But the women come with their children, three or two children, that's our difficulty. Also that's another problem we are facing because of the children, we don't have programmes for the children.

Phillippe Allan, the acting country director for Oxfam, which is sponsoring the centre, says they have reached 4,000 men and boys through

awareness programmes, working through community leaders. He says about a third of the men being tracked understand that what they are doing is wrong and against the law. But Mr Allan says the Government must join them in the struggle.

PHILLIPPE ALLAN: If the country can afford to have its biggest ever national budget, but its smallest ever contribution to women's rights and crisis services, I think it tells you the government's priorities may need to be challenged somewhat more. It needs to do a lot more on funding, it needs to make sure the police are properly resourced so that they can investigate accusations of domestic violence. Often they can't investigate because they don't have the fuel to drive the car to the local village.

The Papua Hahine Social Action Forum is working on awareness programmes, and Susan Setae, the Executive Officer, says they train men to work with chiefs so the message can filter down.

SUSAN SETAE: The chiefly system is very patriarchal and women's status is very, very low. By doing this I think the chiefs are taking ownership and are now influencing more males to see that there's so much violence against women. So we are happy with that kind of benefit that's going to the communities.

Phillippe Allen says the triggers for domestic violence are mixed, but one is actually the way the economy is developing. He says some men rich from working in mines, have multiple wives which causes conflicts between families. Barry Coates, the New Zealand executive director of Oxfam, says the New Zealand government has chosen to focus on economic development but there are more basic needs.

BARRY COATES: Often this desire to help economic development ignores the roots of how people can become involved in economic development. They need education, they need training, they need rights, they need decent health. Working on the foundations in a society like Papua New Guinea is essential because the number of people who are in the formal economy are so few out of a population of seven million people.

In the meantime, a grassroots problem is being solved by the people themselves. Many of the volunteers at Lifeline are past victims with their own emotional and physical scars.