| Duresi’s Odyssey
AUCKLAND - I am a Papua New Guinean woman. I am mum to a beautiful young girl child, next generation PNG woman.
Each time I read about heinous crimes committed against PNG women and girls either by people known to them or strangers, it makes my mouth go dry with fear.
Why? Why should a Papua New Guinean female be made to feel unsafe in a country that is rightfully hers, just as the males? Is it because she can’t physically defend herself?
I’ve had my fair share of being attacked and intimidated by strange men when out and about in Port Moresby, minding my own business.
Once I actually had red betel nut spittle spat on my feet and shoes by an adult male while waiting at the Gerehu bus stop. His friends sitting with him thought it was the most amusing thing to witness and laughed right in my face.
My heart sank. I wanted to get into an argument with them, but seeing there were more of them, I didn’t want to get physically abused so I cried inside while I travelled to work.
Why? What normal human being gets a kick out of despicable behaviour? I’m sure my fellow Papua New Guinean sisters will have at least one story of being intimidated or assaulted while minding their own business in one of the big cities in PNG.
Then there’s intimate partner violence. I have unfortunately experienced this too, and it was usually alcohol-related.
When the other person was heavily intoxicated, boy did I know a fight was going to happen.
Many times, it was about something I had supposedly done to upset him, which waited until he was drunk to come to surface. Beats me why we couldn’t talk about it when he was sober.
Towards the end of my marriage, it had gotten so worse it was a weekly occurrence. The final fight was the worst – my child walked into the room as I was collecting the pieces of broken dressing mirror and began quietly collecting pieces of broken glass with me.
Something in me broke. I swore that was going to be the first and last time my child witnessed violence in any form against me, her mum, by the other person we both loved. I hugged her and we both cried for a while.
After relocating to New Zealand for study, I realised how much my child was affected by the violence she had witnessed back home.
Once there was a loud argument happening in the flat next door and my daughter was shaking, just by listening to loud voices.
I had to hug her for some time while reassuring her she was safe and nothing was going to happen to her or to me.
Sometimes if we’re taking walks in the city and see the odd drunkard walking down the street, she’ll get this panicked look on her face and walk really close to me. I hold her hand to reassure her that we’re fine, nothing will happen to us.
In a bid to equip my child with the important tools for life ahead, I talk to her about relationships and what to accept and what not to.
Even though I hope I’m educating my daughter to learn how to protect herself, I also feel that perhaps the same conversation must happen to households raising sons too.
Respectful and emotionally intelligent young women and men are the hope for PNGs future, violence free.
I remember as a kid, I could walk to school with my friends, go play in the neighbourhood and my parents thought nothing of our safety.
I never witnessed my dad lay a hand on my mum, nor did I ever experience loud arguments and fights. I wonder what went wrong in my case? In hindsight, I realise I didn’t have the tools to help me, and perhaps us both, how to handle the pressures of life.
In PNG, I wonder what has made things worse in the last 20 or so years? Is it the increase in alcohol and substance abuse? Is it a lack of knowledge on how to speak one’s feelings or communicate in a positive space?
Is it an entitlement mentality? That woman’s place is to be quiet and say yes to everything a man says and wants? If a woman does better at work or professionally, is it a threat to a man’s standing in society? I wish I had the answers.
Last week’s stories of the brutal murders of two PNG women at the hands of their partners angered me and made me feel sick, sad and helpless at the same time. How long can we continue to see this? Enough is enough!
My dear PNG men, please rise up and be living examples of what it takes to respect women – those in your lives and every other woman. I know a lot of men already do that, and I say thank you. We need everyone to get onboard.
If a relationship is not working, consider leaving. Churches and cultural obligations must not stand in the way to prevent this if all else has been tried and there is nothing left to save. Better divorce than lifelong unhappiness and a violent end in some cases.
To the government of the day, violence against women in PNG is real and the statistics are terrible.
Having policies is good, but that is not enough. Resources must be put into those who are already working to make a difference in the communities to curb violence, and not forgetting those working hard to prevent it.
I use the example of sports development: kids taught early in sports are equipped with the skills and tools to be better sports people in their field as they grow older.
We could use a similar strategy: teach our children early in life how to be respectful of themselves and each other.
Additionally, give them the tools to help them deal with life’s issues in a positive way instead of turning to substance abuse to give them a false sense of power.
One life lost through violence is one too many. One life living in a violent home is one too many.
Papua New Guinea, we must care now!