Spotlight on violence against women

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday March 3rd, 2016

 IN 2011, amidst much local publicity on violence against women, international humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) published a report on the widespread problem. 

The report, Hidden and Neglected: The medical and emotional needs of survivors of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea, highlighted the urgent, unmet medical and emotional needs of survivors across the country.

A year after the publication of that report Dr Unni Karunakara, then international president of MSF based in Geneva, visited the country to see the work MSF carried out in Lae and Tari.  

He also held discussions with government ministers and departments about MSF and how its services could be replicated in all provincial hospitals and health centres in the country.

Having had discussions with his staff on the ground, Karunakara said he wanted to see what MSF was doing decentralised to district hospitals and in some cases to health centres so that people living in villages and remote areas that count for high levels of violence can also access services.  

What struck the visiting doctor in that visit was the high prevalence of violence and the number of victims reporting to MSF facilities in Tari and Lae seeking care. 

He noted that there was still a long way to go in providing a full package of services – medical, shelter and protection by the law.

The issue of violence remains a concern to the international non-governmental organisation and was raised this again yesterday.  

MSF’s operating theatre nurse in Tari hospital Aoife Ni Mhurchu brought to light the degree of damage that was done and the level of threat and terror to women and children.

Speaking to the media yesterday, the MSF official called for government intervention in providing not just medical care but protection and safe havens for victims of abuse where they can recover.

 “They can get very good treatment with MSF in terms of medical care and psychological care, but then they go home, back into the cycle of violence where they have no control,” she said. 

“There are no structures in place to prevent it happening again.

“My greatest concern and what I think I have begun to see, is that early exposure to such violence, leads to acceptance that it is part of society and that it is normal. 

“There is no end to the violence and I am not seeing the authorities addressing it.”

“I urge the Government and the donor countries to take action on these issues for the sake of the many women and children that I see every single day suffering this cycle of abuse.”

Another concern raised by MSF is the use of traditional forms of justice to solve serious family and sexual violence cases which often leave survivors at great risk.

MSF operational manager Christian Katzer said that the widespread tradition of ‘compensation’, whereby victims’ families were paid for crimes committed, meant that perpetrators often remained within their communities, and survivors still had to live alongside their abusers.

Victims of violence need a safe roof over their heads, somewhere to stay and a refuge or safe house. And apart from the five operating in Port Moresby and one in Lae with community and corporate support, there are none in the provinces.

Without these safe havens, women and children abused by family members have no way to go.  And the cycle of violence is allowed to continue.

Cultural practices, such as the payment and repayment of bride price’ do not help and the courts and police have time and again discouraged these cultural practices of justice which only helped in maintaining peace among communities but the welfare of victims is  compromised.

Katzer related, as an example, just last week MSF nurses treated a young woman whose own father had cut off her fingers when she and her children tried to leave her abusive husband.

The father said he could not afford to feed another three mouths, nor repay the bride price, so his own daughter, must return to her abusive husband.

That is the kind of reality facing victims of family and sexual violence when the country lacks the ability to provide protection for them. 

Providing such protection under the country’s welfare laws is a crucial need highlighted by an NGO which deals daily with victims of violence. It needs addressing urgently.