By GORITHIE TAI
IN 2013 I got involved in the Gender Based Violence (GBV) program run by the Oil Search Foundation. The program not only kept me in Oil Search to advocate but drove me back home.
Fighting inequalities in gender is very challenging and even tougher in the highlands of Papua New Guinea where I come from.
The Foundation involved consultants, advocates, public health officers and its workforce to combat this serious epidemic. I joined the teams in tool boxes (work group meetings), awareness and education sessions, listening to personal life testimonies – specifically mothers, professional women, girls and other women folk who had been victims and vulnerable to all forms of violence.
As the days went by, GBV awareness began taking on a greater shape around me. In 2014, I was tasked to coordinate the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) international day program for Oil Search in the field where I was based.
I worked closely with Sexual Health consultant – Kelwyn Browne, Solicitor Diane Unagi from Papua New Guinea Development Laws (PNGDL) presenting laws protecting women and girls, the Male Advocacy Network (M.A.N) that included a group of lawyers and magistrates and the Gender Equality Social Inclusion (GESI) team from National Department of Personal Management. This group of networking added more value to our awareness and education.
These experiences drew me back home. I was trying to work out where things were. The so-called normal weren’t normal anymore. Abuse of women and girls was becoming rampant, domestic violence was commonly being referred to as ‘marital problems’, rape cases went unreported, bodily injuries, physical harm and retaliation to name a few seemed to be everyday issues with minimal or nil action from law enforcers. Compensation was seemingly the only solution to these issues bulldozing womenfolk. My questions were: how is the survivor’s (victim) wellbeing covered? Has she returned to her normal state? How is she benefiting from the compensation? How is the perpetrator dealt with? Or has he or they just paid compensation to the woman’s relatives with the poor lady most likely getting only K10 as the perpetrator(s) walk away happily.
That wasn’t fair! Women are regarded as second class in the highlands region. This masculine society nourishes men to flourish their mandate and restrict women from decision making.
Only the elites and educated women could step out of this barrier and go forward with changes. How about the rural majority of women still undergoing these traumas? When will it change? How will it change? Who will support them in their villages/ communities when they are faced with these traumas?
These are some existing unanswerequestions that crossed my mind. I’ve witnessed and experienced countless women facing these traumas many times – the husband being dominant and possessive, telling them, “you meri nating, you nogat rait, you stap ananit lo mi, mi boss!”(You’re just a woman with no rights, you are under my authority, and I own everything here”?
I had been home in the second week of September 2013 with presentations, pictures, and materials from partners who advocated for GBV and started off by working with the local churches. The pastors and Catholic priest announced on a Sunday that I would be facilitating evening presentations and video shows in my village. I organised tea, coffee and buns for my audience as incentives.
The youths from my local church and family members assisted me with preparing the hall, hot water etc. Over 300 attended the gathering at Kuplang Catholic Community Hall in Jiwaka on 16th September 2013 as part of the independence activities that night. The community later requested me to conduct more awareness sessions capturing an audience of more than 400 on December
In 2014, I continued donating tea, coffee and buns to mini church activities, funerals (hauskrais) and sports gatherings primarily to target audience for awareness. The impression after weeks and months from the general population were:
- Lo bilong meri em strong, yu tingim gut pastaim lo you putim han lo meri (women are legally protected, be cautious of violence against women)
- Ol meri save lo raits blo ol nau, lukaut (women are aware of their legal rights, be careful)
My husband, Robert at times was a bit arrogant towards this subject. I understood that was due to the highlands bigman philosophy which I respected but didn’t allow that to deter me. I continued with the awareness in churches among local youths and women groups. My efforts were rewarded when my husband came to realise the changes in my personal, family and community life. On April 7, 2014, he bought me a multimedia projector to assist with my presentations.
He confessed; “I’m seeing the impact your program has not only in other people’s life but your own life too.” He’s now an advocate himself.
The program has helped him to be one of the best husbands’, fathers and inspiring community leaders.
He does all the household chores a mother would do; He’s the best nanny, prepares meals for the kids, bathes the children, tends the animals, helps with the laundry, daily housekeeping, shopping and all chores regarded as ‘women stuff’. He ensures men in his village don’t get away with domestic violence.
Thank you Oil Search Foundation – you’ve turned the world upside down for a durable masculine highlander – one I proudly call my husband.
Questions from our audiences urged me to further research GBV.
I was not only interested in working solutions for current victims of GBV but was more interested in impacting the upcoming generations- to influence theirs and other generations down the line to totally eradicate GBV. It was easier working with girls and older women.
I personally saw youths as the best population to take up the fight against this pandemic with the best chance of positively impacting generations. After careful and continuousresearch, I decided to target the male youth from all backgrounds who gathered for Rugby Football League (RFL). That was an opportunity for me to tap into and work with them to be advocates and champions
in the fight.
In May 2014 I decided to sponsor the local RFL Club in my district for the Coca Cola Ipatas Cup and Jiwaka Governor’s cup.
I wanted to develop these boys as role models in Saying No to Violence against Women. When I was declared as the official sponsor, I started to draft personal development guidelines, embedding key messages targeted towards shining a light on the issues of GBV. Stop Violence against Women was a major policy of the club. Team officials and management accepted the policy and we re-designed our club logo to show this.
We had policies that ensured anyone reported abusing his wife, girlfriend or sister, verbally, physically, sexually was either terminated or suspended from the team and games depending on the severity of the abuse. It was a philosophy that was implemented by the team coach and trainer to the letter.
Since we needed more technical support, we invited Voice for Change (a local based NGO) to run more education and awareness on GBV. And the team grew both in the game and personal development.
With high team discipline, one of the boys was selected to join a Gold Coast Titans feeder club, three players got selected into the Enga Mioks, three joined TNA Lions and six for the Waghi Tumbe to play in PNG’s Intercity Cup. Some players’ wives eventually approached us to say thank you and openly confessed saying,
“They stopped bashing us. They are now helping us with baby sitting and gardening.” It was so satisfying to hear such remarks.
In 2015, we maintained our programs. Team members started holding loud hailers and campaigned. We planned major awareness activities but didn’t get much done as I was out working in the field.
We’ve started fresh in 2016. The Kuma Cowboys RFL team has expanded from 25 to 55 men from all around Jiwaka. Many joined saying they’re attracted to the team’s level of discipline. The 2015 season for the Coca Cola Ipatas Cup and Jiwaka Governor’s cup began in early February 2016. The boys started their first game displaying a banner reading “WE SAY NO TO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN”. Every person taking the field had orange ribbons tied around their wrist.
In March 5, the team campaigned to commemorate United Nations (UN) International Women’s Day.
They dramatized the global theme in three districts Kudjip, Minj and Banz illustrating the importance of a mother and the potential of a daughter.
With the UN “Pledge for Parity” global theme, they campaigned locally with their theme “My Mama’s Campaign – Luksave na Lukautim”.
Its International White Ribbon week this week and I was fortunate enough to have successfully applied for a small grant as part of the Women’s Protection and Empowerment programs with my employer, Oil Search Foundation. This will help my team to carry the message onwards and continue the conversation on GBV back at home.
The boys are excited and will carry out awareness this week around; the daily life of a rural woman and mothers and how men can unite to alleviate daily issues regarded as violence; Finance related violence where men bulldoze womenfolk and vice versa with males.
They will stage a campaign to highlight the issues that surround underage girls being abused by mobile men with money, the violent component and long term implications and well-being of such abuse;
And finally they will join and raise hands, declare and pledge in public to be advocates and change drivers to unite and help work to Eliminate Violence against Women as part of marking the International Ending Violence Against Women Day.
In the long term we are planning to start rehabilitation programs for more than a 100 drug addicts who have been referred to me by the Police and community. Jiwaka Provincial Executive Council Women leader, the Provicial Police Commander and his police officers will also support in the awareness.
The journey has been personal but my passion was sparked by the work I was exposed to working at the Oil Search Foundation. The knowledge at work I am sharing with my community to make it a better place and I could not be more satisfied. With my husband and boys right behind me supporting this fight, we can only do more to be the change we want to see in our homes, villages, towns, cities and this beautiful country PNG.
- The author is employed as a back to back Provincial Development Manager with the Oil Search Foundation based in Hela.