By PNG Echo
It’s funny what gets etched into memory and what gets forgotten – I remember that today, February 6, is the birthday of the now adult twin boys of my childhood friend, whom I have not seen for decades.
Today is also the anniversary of the brutal slaying of Kepari Leniata – and I had forgotten.
Yet it was just one short year ago that this young mother, from Papua New Guinea was accused of witchcraft and publicly burned alive.
How she suffered is unimaginable.
After many hours of torture, with the perpetrators committing unspeakable acts of sexual violence on the young woman, she was tethered by her hands and her feet to planks of wood and carried to a public place where she was thrown on a rubbish tip and set alight.
It happened in the Western Highlands town of Mt. Hagen.
The assembled public watched. They did nothing. No one lifted a finger to help, even though some spectators with ringside seats were purportedly police officers.
All this they captured on the cameras of their smart phones.
How could they?
Too soon forgotten
The anniversary of this atrocious event has sneaked up on me. There’s been little to remind me.
I am surprised that the women’s movements, (which this incident originally spawned) with the exception of some low-key mentions, have not chosen this date to really hammer home the anti-violence-against-women message – because it certainly still needs hammering home.
The unspeakable acts of violence go on unabated in PNG.
The most high profile recent incidents have been the beheading of the Bougainvillean women soon after the death of Kepari; then the gang rape of the young girl by police in Wewak and the subsequent imprisonment and abuse of the female complainants from the NGO by Wewak police.
In another inglorious moment, there was the public allegation, aired on EMTV, by the battered and bruised mother in law of prominent lawyer, Wass Korowi.
Korowi was allegedly the perpetrator of such extreme violence on his wife’s mother that his victim lost one of her fingers – her face was bruised and bloodied.
The allegations against Korowi have added a new dimension to domestic violence and redefined its boundaries to include any of his in-laws that take his fancy or incite his ire.
He allegedly also raped his sister in law.
But albeit horrific, my list is not even nearly exhaustive.
In reality, very little has changed for women in PNG since the ‘witch burning’ and this is in spite of the parliament passing the ‘Family Protection Bill’, that makes domestic violence an offence under PNG law.
What use is legislation with no means or will towards enforcement? And what if the law enforcers are themselves perpetrators? Both scenarios are well known in PNG.
I believe there have been no consequences for the perpetrators of Kepari’s murder, nor the Bougainvillean atrocities. The Prime Minister did intervene in his capacity as Minister for Police in the Wewak rape (after a bit of a prod) but I have yet to hear of the results of his inquiries and if anyone has been brought to justice.
Ditto for the Wass Korowi allegations.
A symbol of hope?
I thought (hoped) that the sickening death of Kepari Leniata would prove a watershed moment in the history of PNG women, but since, I have had serious misgivings.
Kepari Leniata, the catalyst for the cry ‘enough is enough’ (and it is) by women, seems to have been subsumed beneath various agendas co-opting the nascent movement.
Agendas such as ‘nationalism/racism’ – “you’re not from PNG, you wouldn’t understand.” Notwithstanding these barbs are thrown at women – surely, it is they that would understand.
Then there are the men themselves.
While I think it is desirable to recruit men into the movement and the movement has attracted many admirable and dedicated men, it wouldn’t be the first time a women’s movement has been used to further a man’s agenda – be it political or otherwise.
I suspect some motives are less that altruistic of some of the men who have been embraced by the PNG women’s movement. They’re the unscrupulous who co-opted and basked in the glow of the initial popularity that the movement had garnered.
It’s not new: the PNG male MPs made themselves the champions of women’s rights in 2012 when they promised to back the 22 reserved seats for women in parliament, being fully cognisant that women are approximately 50% of the voting public.
Alas, it was a well-manipulated moment of callous calculation for short-term political expediency.
The 22 seats were always a pipe dream of women who hoped that men would willingly change a very desirable (to them) status quo.
Then there is the cloak of religion.
I’ve no wish to deny anyone their faith, but there are many churches in which to practice it, perhaps a women’s movement is not the place – especially given the mixed messages contained in the scriptures, some of which have been used for many centuries to subjugate women – making religion often part of the problem not the solution.
And then again, I wonder how many of the women who express a desire to stop the violence really understand the root of the problem?
There have been various discussions led on numerous facebook sites defining what constitutes a ‘real’ woman (often by women themselves).
The postings invariably describe a woman’s enriched femininity by the extent of the services she provides to her man – unquestioning loyalty, absolute fidelity (even in the face of his infidelity)…and other ‘services’ and devotions that more aptly describe a doormat than a human being.
The comments usually come thick and fast:
Amen to that susa.
– these postings and the proffered notion are nothing if not popular. I remain the dissenting voice yelling “no, no, NO!”
The notion that you have no intrinsic worth as a woman other than to ‘add value’ to your husband’s status is insupportable and under this premise the violence will never stop.
You’ll fail – he’ll hit you for failing.
You’re not worth anything, except to enhance his ego, remember?
Lest we forget
In conclusion I’d like to recognise Philly Kelegai for her post-a-photo-of-Kepari-Leniata campaign to mark the anniversary of the atrocity, which should never be allowed to happen ever again.
I would also like to recognise Judy Atkinson and Lydia Kailap for the work they do physically amongst the victims and perpetrators of violence against women.
To the campaigners against domestic violence and violence against women generally, I’d like to inquire: “where the bloody hell are you?” This macabre anniversary should have been heralded with a roar, not a whimper.