By LEMACH LAVARI
THE recent tragic passing of former Miss PNG Ruby Anne Laufa has sparked widespread condemnation on social media and other news outlets. This is one in many instances of violence experienced by women in PNG. PNG has some of the highest rates of family and sexual violence in the world outside a conflict zone with an estimated 70 % of women experiencing rape or assault in their lifetime (Doctors Without Borders).
Gender Based Violence (GBV) has been rampant in PNG. It is not a women’s issue, but one that concerns both men and women in our society.
Also in almost all cases the perpetrators are men. This calls for a serious look at “What it means to be a man” in our PNG society. How can we end this cycle of violence toward our women folk?
It is through EDUCATION that we can implement the change we want to see. Yes education starts at home, but that is not enough, there needs to be serious changes to the education curriculum, especially the areas of teaching morals and ethical values.
Emphasis needs to be placed on concepts such as gender equality and gender based violence or violence against women and or other relative concepts that can instil the type of moral and ethical values we need to see practiced in our society.
Although there has been government and NGO support for the fight against GBV, more emphasis needs to be placed on the Primary Prevention Measures rather than focusing on nursing the wounds of GBV. We must be proactive and not reactive to GBV and other social issues.
One effective primary prevention program is one that is carried out by the NGO Equal Playing Field (EPF). I work as a volunteer facilitator at Equal Playing Field (EPF). We teach grade 7&8 students in primary schools around Port Moresby about exercising the qualities of respectful relationships and the consequences of abusive behaviours in relationships as a means of primary prevention of Gender Based Violence.
Just recently Equal Playing Field has branched out to run its program in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. EPF believes that women and girls are prone to violence and abuse because of gender inequality in our society. Most of the students in our program are not aware of what gender inequality is and that it exists in our society until we talk to them about it.
Students of the age group we work with are at the crucial stage of their lives where what they learn now will have a great influence on the type of decisions they make later on in their youth and adult lives.
Equal Playing Field’s largest program is the schools program called, Equal Playing Field For Schools (EP4S). These are a holistic set of activities that complement each other to maximise effect. Its components include the implementation of 8-week Respectful Relationship Education projects in grades 7&8 and training volunteers who facilitate the program and teacher training so that the program is sustained throughout the school year.
The aim of the schools program is to prevent violence against women by promoting gender equality and changing the attitudes and behaviours that cause violence against women to occur.
Students are thought through an 8 weeks respectful relationships education program. Each week of the EPF Schools Program contains a different topic relating to respect and relationships.
These include understanding types of violence and abuse, developing support networks and knowing where to seek help, developing empathy for others, managin anger and stress, and others.
Sports is used as the medium for educating students in the program, 13-15 year-old boys and girls (Grade 7) compete in a mix gender game of rugby tag where emphasis is placed on respectful behaviour and the concept of gender equality and equal participation in the game. After which students are then taken to ‘shed talk’ where they are taught by volunteer facilitators.
In the shed talks students are introduced to the topics of that week and relative concepts as per the EPF4S curriculum. They are engaged in group discussions and fun activities that further emphasise and reinforce key messages from these lessons.
The kids learn the importance of respectful behaviours and see the positive impacts it has on them as they practice what is taught throughout the 8 weeks program. At the end of the 8 weeks we tell the students to write out what was a significant change for them. One student wrote “importance of putting myself into another person’s shoes to understand them well” as his most significant change.
That’s empathy, it is one of the concepts that is taught in the program.
So we can see literal change in the behaviours of the students who go through the EPF4S program.
It is programs such as this that are truly effective and is working to provide our children with positive options in the decisions they will make later on in their lives.
The step in the right direction would be to have programs such as the one facilitated by the Equal Playing Field to be fully supported by the government and have it integrated into the school curriculum of our education system.
Children are the future of PNG, if we fail to make a change on how we educate them today this cycle of violence against our mothers and sisters will continue. This responsibility must not be on the parents alone but the government too. So that we can foster a new norm, one that is deviant from that which suppresseswomen’s rights.
Proverbs 22:6 teaches us to, “train up a child in a way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
By LEMACH LAVARI