Sunday, October 17, 2010

[pima.nius] Call for women’s rights in Papua New Guinea getting louder than ever

11:59 AM |

Call for women's rights in Papua New Guinea getting louder than ever


Two women from Papua New Guinea flew half way around the world this year to attend a United Nations assembly in New York – to demand their government take responsibility for the ongoing violence faced by women. But with the country's sole woman parliamentarian set to retire by 2012, many fear the situation will get worse.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Erica George

As the two women walk up the wide concrete steps under the towering row of snapping multi-coloured flags, they carry a serious responsibility.

On that sunny day back in July, Tapora Isorua and Sarah Garap attended a meeting held by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

This was the same day the Papua New Guinea government was due to report back on the progress it had made towards protecting the rights of its women.

But these women had seen no progress so they were forced to take to an international stage to urge their government put in place a solid policy and finally address the "staggering acts of family, community and sexual violence against women" in Papua New Guinea.

And with the confirmation at the end of last year that Dame Carol Kidu will retire from Parliament before the next national elections in 2012, they fear the situation will get worse.

Carol Kidu

PNG's sole woman MP, Dame Carol Kidu: Set to retire by 2012. Photo: PMC files

Dame Carol is currently the only female holding a seat in the 109-strong Parliament.

Historic occasion
While this was a historic occasion for the women of Papua New Guinea, many supporters fear that it is not enough and more needs to be done to protect the rights of these women.

Living in the largest of the Pacific Island countries, 67 percent of women in Papua New Guinea are victims of domestic violence.

Other forms of abuse include gang rapes, child poverty, and incest as well as murder and torture following accusations of witchcraft.

According to reports, 50 women were killed last year following allegations of sorcery and witchcraft.

Amnesty International secretary-general Salil Shetty says the situation is made worse by the country's traditionally negative view of women's role in society.

Most violence against women goes unreported and is often ignored by police.

"What goes on behind closed doors is viewed as a private matter so police either choose to simply ignore cases, or worse still, in many cases they sexually assault women in their protection," Shetty says.

"Violence is not seen against women in Papua New Guinea is not seen as an issue of gender equality or human rights."

A call for change
Researcher and women's support worker Mirriam Dogimab works in Papua New Guinea and believes more needs to be done to give the women of Papua New Guinea a voice.

There is strong support by local women's groups to have a bill introduced to reserve a select number of seats for women in Parliament.

Dogimab says the lack of action by the present government to protect its women against violence and human rights issues needs to stop.

"I think that even though much needs to be done to address the issue, there is no significant change in the lives of the women of Papua New Guinea.

"More has to be done in terms of support and concern from the government on this issue. Support should be given to organisations and government organisations responsible to address these issues in the country," she says.

Pacific Cooperation Foundation project manager Cathy Bolinga agrees the imbalance of power in Papua New Guinea's society is contributing to the abuses being faced by women.

"Papua New Guinea societies are based on cultural norms and traditions and this has not changed much, despite modernisation. Therefore the gender power imbalance still plays a role in different issues being faced by women.

Selected seats
"However, in this contemporary time situations differ and we cannot only point to culture and tradition as being the only contributing factors," she says.

National president of UNIFEM New Zealand Rae Julian agrees that a selected number of seats need to be available to women in Parliament in order to give the women of Papua New Guinea a voice.

Pressure is being put on the both the Papua New Guinea and other Pacific governments to introduce these seats by local and international women's organisations and she says this is seen as the only way women will be able to get into these positions of power.

"There are often women who are quite prominent but they don't get elected.

"So it is not that women aren't standing, it's that these women aren't getting the support," she says.

Oxfam's programme manager for Papua New Guinea, Wendy Lee, believes the political situation for women in the country is "very poor" and has declined over the last twenty years.

Having lived in Papua New Guinea and continuing to travel to the country regularly, Lee says while awareness is growing about the problems facing these women, they are being made worse by the steady increase of poverty.

Human index
While there was an improvement in development after the country gained independence from Australia in 1975, Lee says conditions have been on the decline since 1990.

The country now sits at 148 out of 182 countries on the international human development index and she says the number of people in Papua New Guinea living below the national poverty line has increased 17 percent since 1996.

According to Human Rights Watch, Papua New Guinea has the highest incidence of HIV and AIDS in the Pacific.

Lee says most women are denied access to education and decent health services and action has to come from the government.

"There needs to be a real recognition that the development research being done all over the world shows the biggest single thing you can do to improve and lift people out of poverty and improve development outcomes is directing development at women.

"If you educate women; if you protect them from violence; if you ensure that they've got access to resources like land and credit then that has a huge impact on whole families," she says.

Lee says there is hope for the future and it will be seen when the women of Papua New Guinea will take to the streets next month to voice their struggle as part of a 16 day international demonstration against violence to women.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign established by the first Women's Global Leadership Institute in 1991.

Lee says the streets of Papua New Guinea will be full.

Erica George is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.

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