THERE are several important women in my life - my mother, my wife, my daughters.
My mother was somebody’s daughter and so is my wife. She was loved dearly by her parents and relatives as much as I love my own children.
Women and girls are not meant to be abused and intimidated but need to be treated decently so they can enjoy their lives. This is a universal concern of all parents.
A Catholic nun in Wabag, Sr Miriam Diugosz, who was in Papua New Guinea for three years, was concerned for the safety of women when rape was a common occurrence in the 1980s.
“If virginity is offered as a gift then that leads to happiness,” Sr. Diugosz said. “Men must understand the hurt a woman suffers after she has been raped which is very painful. It is the last thing a woman wants done to her.
“Rape is committed by men who are angry. They want to release their tensions on a weaker creature. But a woman is gentle, men need to know that.”
In 1985, my wife spent a sleepless night after witnessing my cousin’s pregnant wife mercilessly raped at Five Mile in Port Moresby when I lived on campus at the University of Papua New Guinea.
Port Moresby was safe when I was a student at Idubada Technical College in 1975, the year PNG attained independence.
But when I returned ten years later with my wife and our first child, serious crime, particularly sexual attacks on women, had reached unprecedented levels.
The night the rascals came, my wife was nursing our second child (now a teacher). My wife had been discharged from the Port Moresby General Hospital just that day. The lights were on in the room she shared with my cousin’s mother. The two other bedrooms were occupied by my cousin’s two wives.
My wife and aunt watched helplessly as the criminals carried our suitcases away with all our belongings. The only man in the house was overpowered at gunpoint. There were no locks on the doors except the one occupied by my cousin’s newly-wed second wife, which had a deadlock. She was terrified but safe.
My cousin’s eight month pregnant first wife was the unlucky one. She was assaulted repeatedly by several men. She had to be treated for trauma at Port Moresby General Hospital that morning. Two days later she gave birth to a healthy son.
The criminals involved were never caught. Relatives came and helped trace the suspects to a nearby squatter settlement in East Boroko but the police showed no interest in following up the lead.
The men in blue too often appeared indifferent to attacks on women. Even some policemen were accused of abusing prisoners held in the country’s detention centres.
No female, national or foreign, was safe – they were all potential targets. Port Moresby, Mt Hagen and Lae became the rape centres of the country but the phenomenon spread to all corners.
Once safe places like Madang and Popondetta became hazardous. In Popondetta, a Sepik mother of five was seized from her husband and children in their own house, raped repeatedly and killed.
In Rabaul, a 10-year old girl from Gaulim village was treated for serious internal injuries at Nonga Base Hospital after a 46 year old man from the neighbouring village of Rapitola had raped her.
In Enga Province, a girl of about 17 from Kandep was raped in Wapenamanda and killed. The assailants disfigured her face beyond recognition. No suspect was caught but the people from the village where she resided paid customary compensation.
“It was no longer safe to live in towns like Lae even with the joint police and defence force anti-crime operations,” said Mrs Kila Averi after a foreign female helicopter pilot, Heather Mitchell, was savagely raped and murdered in the city in September 1987.
Sister Rita Hassett of the Family Life Office at Sangurap Catholic Mission in Wabag organised a seminar to gauge views from women and girls to find out what the government should do about the constant attacks.
The 400 participants, mainly girls from youth groups, vocational centres and high schools, said tougher penalties must be introduced to address these vicious attacks.
Some girls suggested tough punishments like the death penalty. Others said rapists should be castrated or maimed by cutting off one of their legs to immobilise them for life.
Many decades later violence against women persists in many parts of PNG with no sign of improvement.
Back in the 1980s, my wife and two young children lived in safety on campus until I completed my studies. The UPNG administration, under the late Dr Elton Brash, was kind enough to provide us with married accommodation.
Many years later, I was able to show my last born child the unit where we used to live when she enrolled to do Science Foundation in 2009.
It brought back all those memories and echoes of the anxieties of that time.