Youth in Papua New Guinea stand together as advocates against gender-based violence

Like many youths in Papua New Guinea (PNG), 25-year-old Jasmine Makuku grew up in a context where violence is normalised – where acts of violence are widely accepted, condoned, or considered common place.

“I grew up in a violent home where I experienced violence on a daily basis and it has been a normal part of life for me and my family,” says Makuku, a civil engineering graduate now living in Lae, Morobe Province. “I grew up with the mentality that raising one’s hands on anyone, or that using a knife to harm a woman who commits adultery, was normal.”

However, taking part in UN Women’s ‘Sanap Wantaim’ (Stand Together), a UN Women-supported behaviour-change campaign, helped shift her mindset to see that violence is wrong and should not be tolerated as a way of life.

Makuku says the campaign trainings taught her about laws, penalties and referral pathways for people experiencing violence, rape and harassment, and she now knows the location and contact information for safe houses and family support centres in her province.

She also learned how to better communicate and deal with issues in her family and community. “The campaign enabled me to understand the importance of mental health and knowing how to go about handling mental health issues.”

Jasmine Makuku is a youth advocate in Lae, Morobe Province. Photo: UN Women/Sophia Teio

Makuku adds that the campaign also boosted her self-confidence to speak in public. Makuku is therefore fully committed to working with others to address and challenge the normalisation of violence and change societal norms, promote awareness, and implement preventive measures.

“The campaign helped me to redefine leadership in a world where everyone can be a leader,” she says. “I have flourished from being a volunteer to an advocate helping others through spreading awareness in communities within the city.”

The program also connected her with other trainings, one of such was the civil society organisations exposure mission to Bangkok, Thailand. The trip enabled to participate in fruitful exchanges with various civil society organisations in Thailand.

As one of the participants, she had the opportunity to discuss, exchange and learn from the Federation of the Informal Workers of Thailand (FIT) on the role of informal workers, shared experiences on job placement, the role of private sector MSMEs on labour rights, decent work, gender-based violence and violence against women, coordination and networking and policy advocacy with government agencies. They also visited various sites such as the Emergency Home Centre of Children and the U-rasa Dolls Making Enterprise to enhance their knowledge on women’s economic empowerment and women in value chains.

With a smile on her face, she emphasised what she can now do better for her community; “After these trainings, I know where to stand in my civil society organisation to address issues and partake in programs with other stakeholders, partners and service-providers who have common goals to see better and safer communities.”

She adds that every member of the community has the responsibility and a role to play in eliminating violence in their homes and villages.

“Change starts with you, so don’t wait. Take a first step and be an agent of change in your community,” she added.

Members of Sanap Wantaim partake in the unity walk as part of the 16 days activism campaing. The walk signified solidity in walking together to end violence against women and girls. Photo: UN Women/Daniel Undamba
Sanap Wantaim youths supporting the 2nd “United for Equality Summit” held in Port Moresby in 2023. Photo. UN Women/Daniel Undamba

The Sanap Wantaim youth program, which aims to promote community safety by fostering collaboration between men and women, is implemented by UN Women PNG and supported by the European Union – UN joint Spotlight Initiative. Over 800 young people have been reached by the behaviour-change program since it was launched in 2016 as a cornerstone of the Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Program, with initial support from the Government of Australia and in partnership with the National Capital Commission of Port Moresby.

According to UN Women Representative Adekemi Ndieli a.i “This is one of UN Women’s most effective behaviour-change programs. Jasmine Makuku’s story is a testament to the remarkable transformation that can occur when we harness the potential within our own minds. The role of youth in shaping the future of their communities is more crucial than ever. From advocating for social transformation and peace to leading initiatives for many pressing issues, young people are taking charge and making a significant impact from community levels to national level.”

Euyuc Seseru is a reporter from Morobe Province. Photo: UN Women/Lucas Vitata

Another story of change is that of Euyus Seseru, a young reporter from Biawaria Village, on the outskirts of the Wau-Waria District in Morobe Province, who came across the Sanap Wantaim Program while working as a full-time reporter for a local newspaper in 2019.

“To be honest, the Spotlight Initiative and Sanap Wantaim Campaign have helped me a lot, professionally and personally,” says Seseru. “I used to write ‘victims’ of gender-based violence in my reporting, but after attending trainings and getting involved in awareness, I learned the proper terminology which should be called ‘survivors’.

He recalls the first time he attended a Sanap Wantaim training on the topic of “harassment”, which he says changed his life. He says his heart was touched and he joined the campaign without hesitation.

Another important lesson he learned was understanding the LGBTQI+ community and the importance of being inclusive of everyone.

Influencing a shift in the cultural norms around violence against and harassment of women has always been one of his interests, alongside promoting safer communities, but he says the Program has helped him to do this better.

Reflecting on the program, Seseru said, “The campaign gave me more confidence. When I went home, I started advocating in small groups among my family members,” “I talked about making homes safer and keeping children safer and why it is important.”

The training also allowed him network and connect with other civil society youth organisations and church youth groups within the province. “Speaking in youth groups has given me such confidence and empowered me to take on a leadership role within a small space.”

Originally published on UN Women’s regional site for Asia and the Pacific