In the beginning of 2013 there was an up-rise in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), to stop violence against women. It was called “Women Arise (PNG)”. The theme was “Enough is Enough”. This up-rise brought in media and world-wide attention on gender violence in PNG. This issue is not new, it just escalated to another degree. Foreign interests in this issue peaked and organisations such as UN and World Bank started speaking out against the gender violence again in 2013.
For me, a past victim, this new spark of re-lived activism (about ending violence against women in PNG) gave me hope for many victims who face this monster (violence) daily and for the baby girls who would be born innocently into the monster’s hands. I watched the campaign from the distance. I had offered some help earlier on the the Women Arise (PNG) Facebook Page but no-one took notice. Many people I knew took active roles to fight against issues of violence against women.
Upon reflection, I have to admit, at that time last year, I did not feel confident enough to take part in the march organised in Brisbane, Australia where I live. I had been part of a similar up-rise campaigns two decades before – organised and successfully executed by women leaders such as Josephine Kanawi and others through the PNG Law Reform Commission. I was studying Journalism in the University of Papua New Guinea and at that time I supported the campaign and felt that finally, things will change for PNG women. In 1985, I became a journalist and covered news as well as got involved in the protests against gender violence.
A year later, I fell victim to it myself. The “monster” got me at a ripe age of 20 when I had begun my first relationship. While I suffered and tried to work out what I had got myself into, laws were introduced and I believe changes were taking effect. However, when I went through my own situations, I noticed just by the reaction that although good people were doing something to stop the violence, the general state of affairs showed clearly that the monster lived on.
In the city itself, we all hid behind tall barbed wire fencing, security guard dogs and male security gates. Incidences and violent crimes against women continued. The women would be snatched at gates and pack-raped. Some were raped by gangs and others by people they knew. A close friend who lived in the settlement, a mother, was taken by a group of men and in conversation of her rape, she said she thought knew who the men were. She just could not work out exactly why they did this to her.
I still felt unsafe living in Port Moresby. And inside my own home – it was worse.
During the time of the recent Women Arise campaign, I was horrified at how easily I transported myself back to the past. I have been away from PNG for ten years. The various scenes running like a film in my head depicting a young version of me being chased. Sometimes it would be the cold touch of the gun barrel and the waiting for the click and the low menacing voice.
These thoughts made me afraid. I felt sick. I could not go back there. I wanted to keep those images where I had kept them safely for two decades. Each day while watching the news on the 2013 campaign, I felt better that we were all talking about the violence again and it would help to make change. I know it would take a long time to end violence against women in my country or anywhere. It may not even happen in my lifetime but we need to keep hoping.
Today, my friend Kevin Miller sent me this video (click link below the story) about how women are violently treated in PNG. The New York Times video and interview by Carey Wagner stirred deep emotions in me and forced me to write this post.
The video did not shock me. It made me cry because this video is so true. I have not tolerated foreign media as often as I find many stories to be one-sided and exaggerated. This one is true. The sad part is, there are so few of us – the victims of domestic violence and violence against women who are prepared to speak out. The majority, hundreds of thousands of women are being reduced to nothing daily. Many die at the hands of the monster.
PNG is a Melanesian country. Violence is accepted. Violence against women is a global issue. I speak for my own country because I want it to change. I want my young sisters, cousins and daughters to feel safer. Here, a woman’s ‘place’ is accepted as lesser and insignificant. Educated men and leaders beat their wives and get away with it. Brothers cut sisters with bush knives and get away with it. Sons beat mothers.
“Em meri blong em, em ken paitim em” – (“that’s his wife, he can beat her”) or “Em sista blong em, larim em, lainim em” – “that’s his sister, let him teach her”). That’s how we as a country are always quick to justify a beating. And if a woman goes out and comes home where she is taken from the gates and raped, she is blamed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is shocking sometimes to hear this culture and attitude echoed by women themselves. It is almost as if to say – what else is there to do? That is the way it is.
PNG, can we as a country resolve issues without violence? Is there a need to beat someone to get the message across? ..Really?! What about the rapes – what is the message there?
The topic of gender violence was something that has been part of my past – aged 20-23. I had moved on. We migrated to Australia when my sons were six and three. We were shot at the night before, and coming home from a farewell function at Port Moresby Golf Club. Months before I made the decision to leave, my manager, a young woman and a mother who ran my store, Beyond Art, got held up, stripped and almost pack-raped in the middle of the day in my store about 2pm.
I have seen it all as a police officer and a journalist. With difficulty, I was allowing time to drag my own personal shit about this issue slowly out of me. Almost two decades later, you would think I could just forget it. I cannot. I wish there was a way I could tell it easier, softer, and nicer. I also wish I could make sense of it all and why it is happening and what our culture holds against us women. I don’t know.
Today, I want to speak up against the evil monster that suppresses lives of many women in PNG. There is no other nice way to tell it. Men and women – we need to fight the monster together. This is a root, we must uproot and let it die. It is something a healthy society has to do.
On my street called Mavaru in Port Moresby, I recall throwing myself between a man who was trying to stab his wife one morning in 1989. After screaming and attracting neighbours to the scene, he fled. I tried to help the woman to take her to Boroko Police station but she would not do it. She believed if she did, he would kill her. In another incident, during a community development workshop I conducted in Suki, Western Province, PNG in 2011, I met a woman on the first workshop day who looked very familiar. She had fresh bush-knife scars all over her body. I did not recognised her at first. The bandages were still on her head. I sat with her two days later with Neurofen and water and realised, I had met her before in 2009. She was one of the women leaders. A young, beautiful, active and very intelligent woman. A high school graduate (that is the second highest achieving level for many PNG girls – the first would be primary school). This woman was a mother of four. The woman, (her name is withheld) told me the story of how she got her injuries. Her husband had gotten angry one day and decided to chop her with a bush knife in several places including stomach, neck and her arms which she held up to defend herself with. She was left to die. Villagers helped her to the nearest hospital which was miles away and she lost a lot of blood. Surprisingly, although badly disfigured, she survived.
I asked her if she would take her husband to court and leave him. She refused because she was worried about her children. She was also concerned about what her own people and her husband’s would do to her if she left. I understood her.
I am no expert. I do know that the issue of violence against women is still very serious in PNG. The laws have to be even tougher. PNG women need to have an environment where they can feel safe to get help. There could be like triple zero phone lines or a task force to intervene. There has to be practical accessible help.
As a victim, I just want to say it was not easy and is never easy – do not judge the victims, they need your help. Every human has a right to feel safe. Never begin to imagine or say to the victim that you know what it is like. Every woman deserves love and security and appreciation for what they contribute to their loved ones, families, their community and their country. We cannot take it for granted that there are safe places.
I was even working for the police as the media person at that time I was attacked. I did not get help. On one specific day I was physically beaten in my police accommodation while neighbours and colleagues heard and saw me dragged away to a car and driven off. I was in the police ‘safe’ compound, the Bomana Police College. What took place afterwards remains in that secret place.
For me, finding that no-one could help me, I lived inside of myself and let my captor do as he pleased at least for a few more months. But what he did not know was that I had grown a rebellious monster within myself and my monster wanted to fight back and get out and run. There were times when I tried to go to someone to help and even before I mentioned anything, the gun barrel was on my head, in my ears or down my throat warning me – my helpers would become victims themselves. The monster, the man, read me too well.
For the happy ending, one day, I woke up bruised and bleeding. I was not sure if I was dead or alive. Even if I had to crawl out of there, this was the day I had to do it before he came back home. I was determined to live.
A miracle happened.
Someone or some people heard me and quickly and surprisingly help came from friends and family. I ran. I was on the road and in the air. I travelled over the sea. I stayed with people with kind hearts and protective spirits. And, wherever I went, the monster went.
With the support of a friend lawyer I went to court with hard evidence; bullets, doctor’s report and photos. I had journals, dates, ‘incident occurrences’. These provided a strong case but I still needed some very important people to protect me. When my ex had been jailed one night, he cried and the male police let him out. They said it was not right for a grown man to cry like that in the cell.
I kept on running for almost three years after I got away. And it took me a total of five years before I stopped looking over my shoulder. I truly believe I had gotten away only because the man monster had found himself his new victim.
To this day, I am indebted to so many good people. Thank you for giving me my life. You all know who you are. We need more good people to help our women and make them feel safe.
Next week, I will post a short story based on true events of a friend of mine who also ran and survived.
Below, click on links to watch Carey Wagner’s story or join Women Arise PNG. You can also Google many related stories about the violence against women in PNG.