I got my start in the international development industry working for a faith based NGO managing its Pacific projects. One of the countries under my remit at the time was Papua New Guinea. A nation which despite its wonderfully kind, humble and giving people has become synonymous with poverty, corruption and a never ending cycle of violence. Let’s be honest, the country has been fractured and gutted by international players whose presence serves only their own vested self interests. What shocked me more than anything else was the endemic and horrific stories of sexual violence which PNG’s women are attributed to day in and day out, every single day of their lives.
The accounts of sexual violence are harrowing, endemic and rampant. Whilst being in country I was told about notorious gangs in Port Moresby, the nation’s capital who proudly admitted to gang rape as initiation tools and those to reaffirm their manhood, strength and force within their own groups. Then there are the retribution attacks against women associated with rival gang members. There’s also the element of rape as sport when the continued usage of drugs and alcohol just isn’t hitting the right spot anymore.
The entire concept of proving one’s manhood through terrorising women is firmly rooted in an environment where harmful forms of masculinity and ideas of toxix machismo have perverted the minds of the masses. The entitlement involved here assumes that it’s a woman place to serve as a tool in which a man is measured against his masculinity. The more brutal and violent the attack, the higher the points tallied in favour of the offenders masculinity.
In Papua New Guinea alone two thirds of women are subjected to physical or sexual violence. The culture of rape, intimidation and violent behaviour that is directed at women is one that doesn’t seem to be letting up. Many point to the thinking around inferiority associated with the female form as the motivating factor to the disturbing levels of violence. However, what seems to be more of the problem resonates around the perceived infallibity of men in general and an entrenched level of constitutionalised patriarchy.
It’s been said many times before but right now I will say it again. Violence against women and girls represents not only a humanitarian crises to the situation on the ground, but also in PNG’s context a significant stumbling block to the country’s advancement and development. The social and cultural drivers to this kind of violence cannot be hidden or swept under the carpet anymore.
In moving away from simply telling the story in terms of inhibiting factors to the development context of this nation, I want to highlight the situation as one crucial to that of appealing to your humanity. These women are being systematically targeted due to their gender. They are being subjected to some of the most gruesome, cruel and abhorrent forms of violence I have ever come across. I am writing this piece as a reminder to everyone that these events are happening on our doorstep. Whilst you might feel somewhat helpless in reading this and assuming you cannot do anything about it, simply getting the word out there that these forms of violence against women are unacceptable is the first step in the journey to eradicate them.
End – Day 1.
Please check out Vlad Sokhin’s work documenting the pervasive culture of violence against women in PNG, told by the women themselves.
*Image © Vlad Sokhin