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Leader take the lead: Accept your duty to end PNG violence

Bell_Rashmii AmoahRASHMII BELL

FOR most of October I was feeling queasy.

An influx of research studies about violence in Papua New Guinea paired with child number two’s introduction to the education system’s plethora of assessment tools.

As my four-year old fumbled her way through distinguishing her elbows from her wrists, I visualised the many ways I would later self-inflict Ox&Palm tin-shaped bruises on my shins for neglecting  to indoctrinate my soon-to-be Preppie with the evidently essential nursery tune, ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.

Thoughts of incorporating basic anatomy into the already congested letters-numbers-colours-shapes-sight words repertoire was as overwhelming as digesting the findings that illuminated a concrete reality.

Little progress has been made to curb violence in PNG.

As I steered mini-me out of the Principal’s office I was relegated to that paralipsis that my insistence of opting out of mainstream kindergarten to take a solitary lead in the pre-school education of my brood meant that responsibility for ill-preparedness fell on no one else but me.

If you’d hadn’t heard of Papua New Guinea prior to the dispatch from Janet Walsh of Human Right Watch, ‘Letter to Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill: Questions re implementation of Family Protection Act’, you’d be forgiven for thinking it to be a nation of people wandering full-throttle into all categories of this raging plague of violence.

The gaps in service provision and delivery are ever-widening. Walsh’s hard questioning from an outsider echoed exactly what we, the people, deserve to have answered. The absence of dialogue on PNG Attitude in response to Walsh’s probing provided perhaps an indication of the general sentiments of Papua New Guineans to the scourge.

Either serial inefficiency has driven us to the brink of exhaustion, or we’re bogged down in denial as we blur the distinction between violations of human rights and discipline. Or perhaps it’s because progress on the issue remains stagnant that joining the conversation seems futile.

The prominent violence intervention educator, Jackson Katz, contemplates that a consistent display of effective leadership is instrumental in changing behaviour. Individuals appointed or who self-elect to be ‘leaders’ ought to understand that their words, actions or inaction have significant influence in shifting individual behaviour.

Katz urges that leaders be called out, reprimanded, when they falter in the line of duty.

Whilst Walsh was well-intended in directing Human Right Watch’s grave concerns to prime minister O’Neill, his ineptitude in addressing this issue is a continuing worry.

The silence that follows horrendous incidents of violence in our society is astounding. As international bodies and foreign diplomats take to the media to deplore and condemn, there is not much as a stirring from the domestic camp.

I’ve written about this before (‘Breaking the Bystanding Attitude in PNG’) and, as highlighted by Walsh’s open letter, the notion of applying evidence-based intervention as best practice lags in PNG.

For the amount of flapping about in conferences, forums and media by activists and commentators, we should have observed a marked difference in people’s behaviour. Instead we have the increasingly tiresome banter of ‘it’s a mammoth task’.

Hence my fervent desire to see the Human Right Watch questions tattooed in ginormous font across the foreheads of our self-ascribed lidas.

With the exception of sorcery-related matters, I’d like to protest against the further use of ‘awareness’ campaigns as the preferred modus operandi in addressing violence. Relying on one, two or three-worded slogans in their glitzy packaging is proving totally ineffective. Just. Stop.

Any awareness ought to focus on telling individuals that family violence is unlawful and refraining from the abhorrent labelling of perpetrators.

The use of different species of canine, reptilia and primates to describe fellow Papua New Guineans, is gut churning.

Papua New Guineans who consider themselves as fitting members of society lambast offenders with the ugliest of gutter-level profanities. It’s particularly shameful to see leaders using such demeaning language. It serves only to feed the undercurrents of the nation’s anti-social psyche.

And does anyone truly believe that it is anything other than utterly fatuous to stage fashion parades in the name of inspiring economic empowerment to victims of violence in PNG?

Suggesting to victims of violence that a ‘way out’ is to pursue a trade that is undertaken predominantly in the overly populated, already competitive and under-supported informal economy is not only misleading, it’s dangerous.

I’m also uneasy at seeing ‘repatriation’ pop up as an emerging intervention. Whilst seemingly a viable option in the absence of externally funded safe houses, relocation to villages may safeguard victim from perpetrator but its repercussions may be dire, particularly in PNG where relocation may mean residing with a family that already has too many mouths to feed.

Physical violation may be replaced with abuse that manifests in its ‘invisible’ form: the psychological trauma and deteriorating mental health of the individual. This is an issue of understated significance in PNG society.

A requirement of effective national leadership, one that highlights the best interests of those whom you profess to serve, entails that the writing on the wall is acknowledged.

Papua New Guinea needs only leaders who are committed to providing answers by way of consistently implementing violence interventions that proven to make a difference.

We have a long way to go.


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Rashmii Amoah

Philip - the first two lines of your poem are most fitting to ending violence in PNG and also, how I'll look to preparing kindy ed for my third child😊

Rashmii Amoah

Phil - absolutely agree. I think from this point on, HRW's questions should be the only guiding template for anything 'ending violence' oriented for PNG.

Philip G Kaupa

To harvest the juiciest fruits
The planter must mind its roots

Fools talk
But the righteous walk

Get out of the expensive conferences
Get into the real interferences

We don't need a Doctor
Or a legal advisor

Nor do we need working policies
Or the best defense and police

We do not need leaders
We need builders

To improve humanity
Get to the community

Forget the game of thrones
consider the real homes

Forget the lengthy messages
Show the simple passage

Violence is a deep problem
If we can't find a suitable programe
Then we are the problem

Phil Fitzpatrick

All very true Rashmii. Once you have identified a way to fix a problem you need the will to go with it - and visa versa.

I try not to go to meetings and conferences anymore because they invariably turn out to be pointless. A lot of people enjoy them however. They get to travel, stay in a nice hotel, eat good food and get tipsy on free grog with a lot of like-minded people.

There is a whole industry busy running conferences and workshops.

They depend entirely on problems being identified but not resolved. If you come up with viable solutions you don't need any more conferences.

If one was cynical you could say that the last thing on the minds of people attending conferences is to solve problems.

The same goes for many NGOs and government programs.

In Australia there is an 'Aboriginal industry' whose livelihoods crucially depend on not solving anything.

I suspect the same is true in PNG.

You need doers, not talkers, to solve problems.

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