We have failed our women big time

Editorial

WOMEN and girls in Papua New Guinea should have the freedom to move around freely.
That was the message from Justice Martin Ipang when he sentenced a man to 18 years in jail for being involved in the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Port Moresby two years ago.
He and 12 other men took turns raping the girl after holding a gun and a knife to her neck.
Justice Ipang was concerned that men do not protect and respect women and girls.
The police prosecutors involved in that case should be commended for ensuring the perpetrator paid for the crime. Sadly, in some cases the perpetrators are released on bail or the police are unable to produce the evidence required to convict them.
As a result, some offenders walk free or receive a penalty too lenient for the crime they committed.
Justice Ipang said that outside of Papua New Guinea, women have freedom of movement without fear of being assaulted or intimidated.
The same, however, cannot be said of PNG. Sad.
We have to remember that we all belong to a family and in that family there is at least one woman – the mother.
Then there are daughters and aunts and nieces.
Everyone, including the perpetrators of crime against women and girls, has at least one member of his family who is a woman.
So how do rapists and abusers feel when they are attacking a woman? Do they see the face of their mother or sister or daughter in their victim? Or are these people so devoid of empathy that they are almost not human?
All law-abiding and right-thinking citizens must now be sickened by the recent incidents of sexual attacks, not only on women and girls but also on young, vulnerable boys.
The biggest problem we have in this country is law and order.
Rape is high on that list.
The United Nations millennium development goals were introduced 17 years ago and its third pledge is to promote gender equality and empower women, a move that was meant to bring about worldwide reforms.
Yet, nearly two decades later, Papua New Guinea is still struggling to make any meaning progress in this area, with at least 60 per cent of women in this country having experienced some form of domestic abuse.
Clearly, a society that does not protect the vulnerable – including women – is a failed society.
In Papua New Guinea, it is the same story all the time.
Every time a woman moves out of the comfort of her home or office, she is on the lookout to see who is near; her grip tightens on her bag or purse, her possessions pressed tightly against her body.
Why?
Why can’t women in PNG be like women anywhere else and carry their bag over their shoulder, or walk out of their home or office without feeling like they are being hunted?
Women can’t even drive without being afraid of being held up, even in a busy street in the middle of town. Why? We should worry a lot about what our women are going through – with the abuse, the prejudice and the assault.
If this is what we have today, what will it be like for our daughters in 10, 20 years’ time? Will things get better or will they get worse?
Our only recourse is the law and by applying the law to the full we should ensure that the perpetrators of sexual assault are brought to justice and punished.
As Papua New Guineans, we have failed our women and girls big time.
We have failed to provide them the safe environment they so crave.
Now we have to change. We have to ensure our women and girls can walk our streets and not feel like they are being hunted, and when they go home they should feel that they are loved.
We all have to be watchful, protective, and speak out about what we know or see.
The perpetrators must, after serving their prison sentences, be kept on a permanent watch list to prevent further crime being commited.
In some cases men we see as respected members of our communities are the worst offenders.
They, too, must have their day in court.
They, too, must be made to know that no one is above the law.
Women’s lives matter. We must remember that.

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