Creating a ‘Garden of Eden’ for the rural Women of Papua New Guinea

NGOs come together in fresh bid to tackle gender-based violence in the most isolated communities.

A group of NGOs are uniting to end violence against women in some of the most isolated parts of Papua New Guinea [PNG], where it’s believed a woman is physically assaulted every 30 seconds.[1]

On 12 January 2023, the Prime Ministers of Australia and PNG issued a joint statement following a leaders’ dialogue in Port Moresby, recognising the critical importance of gender equality in a country where 1.5million women are violated every year[2]. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced Australia would continue to support women’s empowerment efforts in PNG with a new five-year investment to combat gender-based violence.

In a bid to reduce the horrifyingly high numbers of women and girls being tortured or killed in PNG – most of them at the hands of a close relative – a new initiative named ‘Senisim Pasin’ (Tok Pisin for ‘Change your Ways’) was launched by the PNG Tribal Foundation last year, which so far has reached over 250,000 people with a message of peace and equality.

Senisim Pasin sessions comprise sports, interviews, community discussion and a public screening of an anti-violence documentary, produced by local filmmakers to challenge attitudes towards women and girls. The campaign aims to inspire participants to commit to lasting change by signing a public declaration and holding one another accountable.

Local Senisim Pasin Campaign Coordinator Yanamlyn Yana said: “There is an understanding that gender-based violence is normal. There are a lot of polygamous marriages, which specifically contribute to domestic violence. Our campaign focusses on addressing values such as respect, dignity and helping people recognise that human life is God given and we don’t have the right to take that away.”

However, due to PNG’s poor transport infrastructure, with only 3,000km paved roads across the entire country compared to more than 800,000km in Australia[3], many of the remotest communities have been out of reach to the Senisim Pasin initiative until now. Yanamlyn has been concerned that these communities – who are often missed out – can be especially vulnerable to violence.

“We look for partnerships that have a strategic and lasting impact on people’s lives – and together we want to reach as many small communities as possible, because it’s the small communities who miss out. MAF is doing incredible work serving lots of communities, and we are glad to partner with them so many people who need to be educated about gender-based violence and sorcery can be reached.”

Humanitarian airline Mission Aviation Fellowship [MAF] became an official Senisim Pasin partner at the end of 2022, signing up to deliver teams from the PNG Tribal Foundation and hunger charity Bread for the World to isolated communities only accessible by aircraft to deliver anti-violence education.

It is the first time this high-tech initiative has been able to reach very rural areas, which will fly to six rural locations by the end of April 2023. The fist landing took place in November 2022 and transported eight campaigners to Pyarulama – an isolated village only accessible by foot or aircraft. At least 250 people, including young boys, attended the workshops and 43 people signed the declaration to change.

Yanamlyn explained the significance a public declaration can have for future generations: “During the pledge signing in front of their community, many men said, ‘We don’t want to fight anymore. We want to sign up for peace!’ They are taking a stand against violence and so the entire community will hold each other accountable. We hope they will create the community they will want to live and proper – one that will be a safer place for their children and future generations.”

Another Senisim Pasin landing site was the village of Malaumanda, where MAF evacuated a young rape survivor a matter of weeks ago. As Prime Ministers’ discussions were taking place in the capital in January, the charity reported a medical emergency flight to rescue a 10-year-old girl, who had been raped by two members of her extended family.

Too afraid to tell anyone about her ordeal, the girl spent three months vomiting, suffering a fever, poor appetite, and fatigue before she finally collapsed. The 30-minute flight spared days of trekking through the bush to access medical treatment which saved her life.

MAF Pilot Bridget Ingham who attended the medevac said: “The reality sunk in as the girl was carried and laid on the stretcher next to our aircraft – eyes full of emptiness looking back at me. I didn’t have the words to say how heartbroken I was for her. All I could do was to hope she knew.” Bridget is among the few female bush pilots to brave the challenging flying conditions in PNG – in an industry where 91% of pilots worldwide are men[4].

MAF says that a large proportion of the 500+ medical emergency flights in PNG are to rescue women and girls who have been subjected to gender-based violence, which is embedded in PNG society.

Local man Joshua Wari, who works in MAF’s Ground Operations team said: “The culture of the male figure – of being dominant in the community – is there because the man feels superior. He wants to dominate everything and unfortunately the wife submits to that. This is a challenge we have to fight, and it may take some time.”

MAF PNG Country Director Todd Aebischer – who leads the air service which has been flying to the most inaccessible parts of PNG for almost 75 years – said: “I am overjoyed to see how this [partnership] could potentially impact communities. MAF goes where others don’t go – and now we can do something preventative instead of just responding to emergencies. With this film, we can actually give communities an alternative way to deal with disagreements.

Senisim Pasin Coordinator Yanamlyn Yana concludes, “It is my hope that one day we can create a Garden of Eden for all the women of Papua New Guinea.”

[3] CIA World Factbook
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