Revise anti-violence, AIDS strategies

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday 01st December 2011

LAST Friday, we were asked to wear white ribbons in support of the struggle to end violence against women and children.
Today, only a week later, we wear red ribbons to remind ourselves of the ever-present danger of HIV and AIDS in our communities.
But really, nobody needs to wear ribbons of any colour to remind themselves of these scourges.
If ribbons, or any other apparel, were to be worn to remind society of domestic violence or the threat presented by HIV/AIDS, they ought to be worn every day. They are ever present, everyday problems.
Despite all the hive and attention given to these problems, they continue unabated day after day, year after year.
Once we thought that domestic violence was an education thing, that increased education would help arrest the problem. The opposite seems to have happened. Violence in the home against women and children seems to have increased.
The threat of HIV and AIDS too would be arrested by massive awareness and media campaigns, we thought, but they too continue their rampage through our population, uninterrupted it seems.
That is why this year’s theme for World AIDS Day “Getting to zero, zero infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths” is really a wish-list, nothing more. It is going to take a long time happening, if at all.
Domestic violence and the spread of the virus that causes AIDS are grounded in the behaviour and habits of humans, Papua New Guineans.
Devising programmes to arrest problems that are grounded in our very habits requires far more than just good sounding slogans and clever media campaigns.
They are alright as a first step to raise awareness but now there is a need to take a good hard look at the people, at their psyche and their social behaviours.
Let us take a look at the violence against women issue. The focus often appears to be on empowering women to take up the cause of women. This approach, whether intentional or inadvertent, is combative.
The message seems to be: “The man is the guilty party. He is the perpetrator of violence against the woman. We must empower the woman to stand up to him.”
And that is where the campaign has met resistance and stagnated at all levels.
The campaign will succeed when the man becomes an interested partner, when he participates and believes that what he is doing is right and is appreciated.
When the man takes it out to the community people will sit up because it is new. The message must become sex-neutral. It must not be seen as a women issue but a human issue, a family issue, a community and national issue.
A similar approach is needed in the HIV and AIDS campaign.
The condom message that accompanied the campaign right from the start was meant to inject reality. Promiscuity cannot be arrested so if you must be promiscuous at least use a condom.
That is a good enough message except that it promoted promiscuity itself. With a condom, one does not have to stop having multiple partners. And that rubbed the churches and those stoutly Christian members of the community up the wrong way. They refused to come to the table and declared that those who contracted the virus deserved it, that it was a choice disease and those who went seeking it contracted it, and even that it was punishment from God for people’s iniquities.
The AIDS message is only now trickling into some communities but slowly because Papua New Guineans saw it as an outside agenda, something that belong to the United Nations or UNAIDS or AusAID.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. There is no one size fits all policy or way of doing things. It would be best if programmes and campaigns were developed with much consultation and taking on board the wishes and the ways and lifestyle of the people.
The PNG theme this year is a good start. “Zero HIV in PNG! Protect yourself. Protect your family!” The first part is wishful thinking but protecting yourself and protecting your family is something that everyone can warm towards.
The HIV/AIDS message must be inclusive, it must be Christian, it must be family-based, and it must be PNG-generated. That is when we begin to see people pay serious attention and take ownership.