Aid advisers in Papua New Guinea: a partial solution
Law, custom & compensation in Melanesia: restoring the balance

Dealing with gender-based violence in our changing society


GENDER-based violence in Papua New Guinea has increased over the years with dire physical, psychological, social and economic consequences and serious human rights implications.

Research and findings by government and non-government organisations point to the fact that gender-based violence is an epidemic affecting thousands of people, especially women and children.

In the patriarchal structure of Melanesian society we view women as a passive and weaker class who must be submissive to husbands, brothers and fathers and who cannot operate or live independently.

Women’s freedom in marriage is minimal. The bride price custom does not give women the freedom to exercise their rights as independent people and children are regarded as property owned by men.

The women obey this tendency as normal and frequently even rape in marriage and sexual violence are considered normal. Women have being coping with such problems for too long.

In the context of contemporary culture - with social change, a decline of moral values, secular humanism and sometimes daunting modernisation - women feel under siege from a violence which has taken on a new form and meaning.

They feel that they are not valued as human beings but are seen as second class citizens, inferior, sexual commodity and objects.

Women are increasingly aware of their rights but PNG has yet to establish a coordinated system of assistance to victims including legal assistance, economic empowerment, survivor support services, counselling and other professional assistance.

Young people are allowing harmful forces to control their lives including drugs, alcohol, homebrew, cargo cults, religious fanaticism, conspiracy theories, sanguma (witchcraft) and more. Gender-based violence is often part of this.

Young people need to be rehabilitated and newly orientate their lives to eliminate such deviant behaviours. We have to assist them to change and to be authentic selves through various intervention programs including self-management, psychotherapy, anger management and others.

Gender-based violence won’t be solved by dealing with problems on the surface without relating them to the inner conflict within people, especially males.

It is even worse in marriages when wives become enablers and support the continuation of these problems. It is difficult to assist a woman who keeps protecting her husband by minimising the problems or saying the violence is her fault. “After all, he is a good man who supports the family.”

And so the wife suffers silently and finds it difficult to tell the truth. Families operate as a system and protect and support each other and often pretend they don’t have problems. In dysfunctional families, though, the problem gets worse and there are no functional boundaries.

Polygamy is a real headache to our developing nation. It is promoted by a few promiscuous men who are full of pride and only want to satisfy their urge to copulate. Many children from polygamous marriages are damaged because there is lack of parental guidance and support.

Their fathers are absent during the early stages of growth and behavioural formation. The men look for new wives, leaving the kids vulnerable to all sorts of abuse.

Girls have their mothers to learn from and imitate but, for boys, the father’s absence is critical in the early stages of growth and development.

The wives of polygamous husbands also tend to be unfaithful because there is lack of intimacy and true love. If their husbands are preoccupied with new women, they may feel they don’t have any choice but to have sex with other men who may be available. I have seen several cases where a man has taken over his brother’s wife.

Gender-based violence is our issue - it needs to be solved within ourselves and locally. Understanding ourselves, other people and society and acquiring skills to find solutions and solve problems are essential.

Referring problems to police, courts, welfare, NGOs or feminist groups to solve for us is not sufficient.

We ourselves need to explore deeper in the search for answers.


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Philliip, I truly agree with your insights on these issues affecting PNG. Especially with the murder of a young beautiful girl just recently, there is a dire need to revisit rules and regulation guiding the rights of our women folk in this country. There are certain issues that you raised which i want to expend on.
I think the first thing is the PRIDE PRICE SYSTEM. This system must be eradicated from the life style of PNG. To some extent, it has lost its true value and purpose in its traditional sense as opposed to the modernized life style. To weigh out its goods against its disadvantages, there are more disadvantages than the advantages. One of which would be the translation of a female life to being objectified and commercialized just like any other commercial good or item. The bride price system places a price on the female and clearly illustrates a demoralization of her rights from a companion to merely a baby bearing machine and "keep me satisfied" type of object. I truly detest that this be weeded out of our culture.
The second obvious issue is YOUNG MARRIED COUPLES. I for one believe that the right age to marry would be between 25 and 30 years old. Even so the counselling of parents to their kids must be maintained when these they start dating to the time they decide to tie the knot. It is the responsibility of the parents to make sure their daughter doesn't associate with someone who will be abusive and eventually leading to divorce or worse, death. Parents must be introduced to potential boyfriends or girlfriends to ensure their is a sort of scrutiny over the life of both the boy and the girl.
The third issue would be of GENDER BASE VIOLENCE. This must stop, and it has to start within the family base circle. Parents must ensure they themselves must practice safe problem solving measures instead of resorting to fights. Parents must be equipped to pick out traits, attitudes and behaviors of the boy for example that will trigger a red flag for them to advice their daughter of a possible abuser or a womanizer. Their daughter must be schooled to look out for certain traits that will sound alarms if they are courting a jealous, pretentious or mediocre man. Gender violence must be tackled in homes, only than can we slowly have an impact on the community and society that we live in. Gender base violence must be made a compulsory subject which must be incorporated into the education curriculum so that kids are taught about this horrific issue before they are confronted by it when they grow older and embark on starting a family. We must drum into every student and kid that all forms of violence must stop in order to create a safe and harmonious environment for everyone to live in.
I truly cannot agree with you enough on these issues and hope we improve our lives through practicing common sense and bringing up our children with christian values and beliefs held against the purpose to bring love and respect to all.

Bomai Witne

Phillip, thanks for bringing to fore some emerging issues surrounding gender based violence (GBV). Practitioners and victims of GBV need counselling to minimise spread of GBV.

My wife and I decided against bride-price and we pooled energy, knowledge and a little money we saved to support education of a few young children from my wife's and my people.

To us, this is substitute for bride-price but our relatives find it hard to understand us. They still feel that bride-price is missing and labelled me as an unworthy in-law. I know that I am testing a tradition that Melanesians and Simbus take for granted.

My wife and I don't see ourselves unworthy. We struggle to educate young people including our own children with the hope to create a violent free future for those that are under our care.

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