PORT MORESBY - The gender-based violence (GBV) we struggle with in Papua New Guinea is a result of many activating circumstances.
The number of cases continues to increase. Just on Sunday, two women accused of witchcraft were tortured and burnt with hot irons for hours by 20 men in Port Moresby.
Even law enforcement officers abuse their positions of trust and are guilty of gender-based violence.
In a country like PNG, it would be naïve – and the data tells us it is not true - to narrow the violence down to only a few men.
Recently social media went berserk after the TikTok twerking incident which polarised opinions about the innocent behaviour of a young woman.
If you think about it, attempts to reduce GBV has led to many interventions funded and supported by many stakeholders, whether government agencies, development partners or non-government organisations.
GBV has attracted a huge amount of external funding. To give you an idea, the Spotlight initiative managed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and funded by the European Union has a budget of around K75 million.
Apparently this is the largest amount given to any country – and I suppose it recognises that the problem in PNG is worse than in most countries.
It will be really interesting to see the difference this funding has on the rate of GBV in our country.
Will the investment achieve results that can be measured against indicators that show it is having an impact on the lives of people in PNG?
And it is also worth thinking about what previous and ongoing funding from other donors is achieving.
Without indicators, without hard data, your guess is as good as mine on how far these programs to end or diminish GBV have delivered tangible outcomes for PNG.
Without such outcomes, GBV projects may be no more than money making opportunities for highly paid foreign consultants who come, stay a while and think they have given us solutions.
That seems to have been the case with GBV projects for many years now, but we have experienced no real impact. In fact, the situation seems to be worsening.
Let me try an analogy. You are driving in the dark and you need something to show you the way? Yes, light.
Data is the light that can show where we are going in terms of lessening gender-based violence. Or not.
Data empowers us to make informed decisions; otherwise our conceptions (or misconceptions) have no justification.
Data also helps us identify the cause of the problem so we can find solutions instead of just targeting symptoms, which will have no real impact.
And, unfortunately, this seems to be the case in PNG. Not enough good data; not enough understanding causes; not enough finding solutions.
Data is the starting point to addressing this terrible problem. Data will help us to develop and validate better strategies to address the underlying problems.
But the data must did deep and find those root causes otherwise the correct strategic interventions cannot be found and executed.
And yes, data gathering can attract funding so I’m sure some data is being gathered but is it the right type of data?
In PNG there is no accepted holistic and effective data collection strategy to measure performance against indicators that will show we are dealing with the root causes of GBV and thereby achieving what we say we want.
The better treatment of women in our society is for the good of everyone in our society.
Strengthening referral systems and access to services by GBV survivors is needed. But such measures cannot prevent GBV.
The main focus of any national program must be to end violence against women. I feel sure the root causes will be complex. They will be hard to fix. And to start fixing them we need data.
If existing indicators are telling us that current actions are not working to alleviate the continuing high incidence of GBV, one logical starting point is to quickly develop a data collection and compilation strategy.
This is alluded to in many government policy documents, development assistance proposals, research papers and learned journals and which many clever people talk about but which nobody seems to do anything about.
So when does the real game begin: the root causes revealed, the strategies to address them illuminated, and appropriate policies and programs implemented.
Every life is precious. We are losing too many lives. We are brutalising too many women and girls. We are wrecking our society and we are holding back our country.
Government agencies, development partners and all our friends should commit to a data collecting strategy consistent with comprehensively and honestly getting to the bottom of this issue.
What we see happening in terms of fixing GBV is just the tip of the iceberg. We cannot say that PNG is on the path to reducing the occurrence of GBV despite so many resources having been made available by a huge range of stakeholders.
Two fundamental things are now required: good well directed data; and the will to give effect to what that data is telling us.
There is a rut here which PNG needs to get out of.
I want to stop being amazed by the number of policy documents and reports highlighting the absence of GBV data. We’ve had more than enough workshops and training and awareness.
The focus must be on strategic interventions in the right places.
Objective 2 in the still current ‘PNG National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence, 2016-2025’ is:
“To standardise and institutionalise data collection, and facilitate ongoing in-depth research to support evidence-based planning, budgeting and programming to end gender-based violence.”
It is worse than weird and totally negligent that nothing has been done about this yet.
By the way, I commend Governors Powes Parkop, Gary Juffa, Allan Bird and the Hon Charles Abel for their efforts in the Special Parliamentary Committee on Gender-Based Violence.
I hope they have plans to alleviate the data problem and the many other problems we have with GBV in Papua New Guinea.