Australian Aid Agencies Call for an End to Violence Against Women and Children in Papua New Guinea

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Australian aid organisations are drawing attention to the plight of women in Papua New Guinea (PNG). With one of the highest rates of violence against women, urgent assistance is needed so that work can continue to address this problem.

In a statement released by ChildFund Australia , Australian National Committee for UN Women and World Vision Australia , the organisations highlight that the situation has not improved for women in PNG in recent decades.

“A report published over 30 years ago by the PNG Law Reform Commission found that two out of every three women in PNG had experienced violence,” said Nigel Spence, CEO, ChildFund Australia. “A recent study conducted by ChildFund indicates there has been no improvement in these statistics with 86% of women surveyed reporting they had been beaten during pregnancy.”

The statement encourages Australians to give what they can to programs that are working to reduce violence both in the home and in public spaces. Many of these programs are funding innovative approaches to reducing the risks women face.

“We have increased the focus of our programming in PNG to help women safely participate in public life,” said Julie McKay, Executive Director of the Australian NC for UN Women. “We identified that markets were a high risk area and have worked with authorities to improve safety. This has included increasing police presence around markets, improving lighting, and providing mobile technology for cashless transactions.”

The statement also calls for the Australian and PNG Governments to step up their activities to address this issue. The PNG Government has taken positive steps to strengthen gender violence laws through the Family Protection Bill which criminalises acts of domestic violence and is providing better services to women through initiatives like the Family Sexual Violence Units at police stations around the country.

These changes are significant in combating this issue but the statement recognises that the PNG and Australian governments will need to increase their support if they truly want to put an end to violence against women.

“The Australian Government has been a strong and reliable partner in supporting World Vision’s programs that directly address issues of violence against women,” said Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive. “While these initiatives have brought some relief, there is much work yet to be done before everyone, including men, understand the role they must play in keeping women and children safe.”

Appendices include:

Joint statement calling for more to be done to end violence against women
Background information on ChildFund, UN Women and World Vision programming in PNG
Joint statement calling for more action to end violence against women in PNG

It is nearly 30 years since a study by the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Law Reform Commission found that two out of every three women in PNG had experienced violence.[1] Subsequent studies have shown that the situation for women in PNG has not improved. In fact, rates of violence against women continue to rank amongst the highest in the world.

A recent study by ChildFund Australia[2] found that women are raped, killed and maimed on a shocking scale. The brutality is severe, often involving bush knives, axes, burning, spearing and even biting. It also found that women had limited options in responding to domestic violence.

While there have been some recent gains have been made – the Family Protection Bill was passed in September 2013, making domestic violence an offence under PNG law – these measures will only be effective if they are enforced and supported through community education and training programs focusing on gender equality, respect, conflict resolution, human rights and the legal system.

More needs to be done to protect women and to give them choices. The PNG Government needs to improve the support offered to women and children affected by violence and ensure law enforcement. Due to the lack of services, many women have no choice but to stay with violent men in order to feed themselves and their children. Prosecuting perpetrators is also difficult as police are reluctant to investigate instances and obtaining the documentation required by the court may be financially beyond the reach of affected women.

As a good neighbour, Australia needs to be a voice for the most vulnerable and Australians should not sit silently as women in nearby countries experience horrific violence. We are calling on all Australians to lend their voice to the plight of these women. We are asking them to give what they can to aid agencies who are addressing this problem. The ChildFund study highlighted that education programs are working and these need to be continued and expanded.

We are also urging the Australian Government to do more. A significant part of the Australian Government’s aid budget goes toward gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region. This must be maintained and increased, with more targeting of anti-violence initiatives. Increased funding could go towards efforts to ensure the PNG Government is enacting existing law. The Australian Government can lend its voice to advocacy efforts that are calling on the PNG Government to prioritise this issue.

It is clear this is an issue that needs urgent attention in order to bring lasting change at a national and local level for women and children who currently live in daily fear of violence.

[1] Ganster-Breidler, Margit. Gender-based Violence and the Impact on Women’s Health and Well-being in Papua New Guinea [online]. Contemporary PNG Studies, Vol. 13, Nov 2010: 17-30.

[2] ChildFund Australia and ChildFund PNG, 2013, Stop Violence Against Women and Children in Papua New Guinea.