Blood of your blood: The enemy within

By PNG Echo

There is a humanitarian crisis in the Pacific…well there’s more than one… but it’s not with the plight of the West Papuan people that this article is concerned. This article is about the violence against women in Papua New Guinea.

These men call their gang ÒDirty Dons 585Ó and admit to rapes and armed robberies in the Port Moresby area. They say two-thirds of their victims are women.
These men call their gang ÒDirty Dons 585Ó and admit to rapes and armed robberies in the Port Moresby area. They say two-thirds of their victims are women.

A recent article in the Brisbane Courier (and replicated around Australia) reported many instances of gut-churning abuse in Papua New Guinea where the perpetrators proudly boasted and showed off their brutality – Including the gang on the left.

It ended with a video of a young mother who had sought refuge in a ‘safe house’ after the physical abuse from her husband culminated in the husband’s rape of their 3-month-old baby.

It’s not pretty – but neither are the abuses in West Papua.

Inherent in the West Papuan crisis are both differences and similarities.

So, is there a reason why the West Papua struggle is becoming a cause célèbre whereas, in the main, apathy is the reaction to the horrific violence against women in Papua New Guinea?

West Papua

Indonesian soldiers pose with their West Papuan trophy kill.
Indonesian soldiers pose with their West Papuan trophy kill.

As far as West Papua is concerned, increasingly people in the region (and all over the world) are adding their voice to the abhorrence of the atrocities and human rights’ abuses that are occurring there – and rightly so.

Of course, there are those with pecuniary interests in the Grasberg Mine (the largest goldmine in the world and the third largest copper mine) and those that trade internationally with Indonesia that don’t want to see the status quo changed, so have been happy to turn a blind eye. Moreover, there is a genuine fear and reluctance internationally to confront, head on, the military might of Indonesia – that single factor makes international relations diplomatically sensitive.

Yet, vested interests notwithstanding, no one could continue to condone the human rights abuses and violent opposition to the peoples’ fight for self-determination – that many consider a fundamental human right?

For the people of Papua New Guinea, in their support for West Papua, it is cut and dried:

  • The underlying context is a battle between good and evil.
  • The West Papuans are only fighting for what is rightfully theirs. They are the oppressed not the oppressors.
  • The West Papuans are the righteous. They are the ‘good guys’.
  • They are our Melanesian brothers, they are like us – ergo: we too are the good guys.
  • In this battle, there is a clearly defined and oppositional enemy that in no way resembles ‘us’: the Indonesians – they are ‘the bad guys’.
  • We are clearly not them (the Indonesians) so we can afford our righteous indignation in this struggle of the metaphorical David (West Papua) against the giant Goliath (Indonesia).

But it’s really not that simple, is it?

The majority of Indonesians do not commit these atrocities against the West Papuans – yet it is ‘the Indonesians’ – without qualification – who are blamed.

One can argue that by their silence and by association all Indonesians are to blame – although, I doubt the majority of them would see it that way.

Some would be against what’s happening while others would justify and make excuses for their government’s and their army’s actions – some might even say that the West Papuans are asking for it and are only getting what’s coming to them.

What’s the difference?

The difference in the two situations (West Papua and violence against women), simply stated, is that the enemy is within when we’re talking about the problem of violence against women generally and particularly in Papua New Guinea. (ie domestic violence – or violence committed by intimates or ‘people like us’).

In this situation, there is no oppositional ‘other’ that is clearly not ‘us’ to blame. The perpetrators are not ‘Indonesians’ or any other foreign entity. Apart from gender, they are indeed ‘us’.

Men of Papua New Guinea
Men of Papua New Guinea

They are the fathers, the brothers, the sons, and the uncles of every Papua New Guinean of whatever gender.  Their blood is the same blood that runs through our veins. We share common ancestors. They look like you. – they look like her.

As PNG women, we have nurtured these men, sacrificed for them, too many of us have died giving life to them…we have loved them. Most women do not have the capacity to condemn those they’ve loved so fiercely – so they put up with the violence and wonder what they’ve done wrong.

As for the menfolk, when, as in Papua New Guinea, the reported statistics say that 70% of women are beaten by their husbands – the figure rising to 100% of those surveyed in the Highlands – it becomes ever more difficult for those professing innocence to maintain any credibility.

A Papua New Guinean man is guilty – either by his actions, his associations or by his inactions and acceptance. In Papua New Guinea it would be drawing a very long bow to claim ignorance of the problem – or be very far removed from first-hand knowledge of it.

Indeed, it has been stated that the violence against women in Papua New Guinea is as bad as that in any war zone. However, the crimes in a war zone are perpetrated by the enemy.

Denial

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that many Papua New Guinean men look for a scapegoat. The excuses include:

  • The surveys are flawed
  • It is the press sensationalizing the problem
  • It happens everywhere
  • It’s the fault of the women, who don’t know their place (Wherever that is!)
  • People who bring the situation to light are exploiting us for fame and fortune – therefore their reports should be negated.

There is so much energy expended on looking for the aberrant ‘other’ to blame. For, if there isn’t one, then it must be the fault of every Papua New Guinean man and Papua New Guinea is resisting that reality.

While Indonesia will never gain the moral high-ground while they continue to commit atrocities in West Papua, neither will PNG men gain it while so many of them beat women… and it doesn’t matter how many excuses and how much scapegoating they practice.  The moral high ground is not theirs.

What’s the solution

While ultimately, in West Papua, the Indonesians hold the solution. It’s easy, they simply stop committing the atrocities. Blind Freddy knows that this won’t happen without considerable international pressure. There is just no will.

It’s similarly simple in Papua New Guinea.

The men just stop beating the women. But like West Papua this is not going to happen organically. There’s no will there either and precious few consequences.

Parliament of Papua New Guinea (with a few late adjustments)
Parliament of Papua New Guinea (with a few adjustments)

When the statistics tell us that 70% of Papua New Guinean men are perpetrators, it means that fully 75.8 of the male Members of Parliament are probably themselves guilty and thus hardly likely to take kindly to legislation that will make their aberrant practices effectively actionable in law.   (The operative word in that sentence being ‘effectively’.)

No. Perhaps more good PNG men (and there are already some) should forget that they are being tarred with the same brush as the perpetrators, stop with the defensive nonsense and be man enough to reject the poison chalice handed to them by their fathers, uncles brothers and sons and fix the situation.

After all, she’s the blood of your blood.

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10 thoughts on “Blood of your blood: The enemy within

  1. Susan,
    I have been following your blogs on topics in Papua New Guinea and have a lot of respect for your contributions and blunt statements on a broad spectrum of issues affecting PNGs image in the wider world. Corruption in the government and the public service, murder blamed on witchcraft, wife/women beating and political crisis to name some. Im not really happy now on how you are comparing the West Papuan issue with the wife beating issues in PNG which I believe are completely two different things. You may be trivializing the West Papuan issue here which don’t forget a lot of Papua New Guineans raise their voice about, because there are “blood of our blood” as you put it. The Indonesian military and the police have been carrying out a genocide campaign in West Papua for over half a century while very sad to say, the worlds has been watching. Don’t the perpetrators represent the Government and the people of Indonesia?
    Yes we have a serious problem with wife and women beating in the country and I wouldn’t put it like it is in a war zone as you put it but it is a very very sad situation and my thought of an immediate and partial solution to this would be for the government to increase the jail term for this offence to over 20yrs in with no parole for half of that. Thanks.

    • These two problems, in my opinion, are humanitarian crises – and neither are trivial. That I am trivializing the West Papua situation by comparing it to the violence against women in PNG is to suggest that violence against women in PNG is trivial. I don’t think so. The brutality against both the West Papuans and PNG women cannot go on. The difference between the two is that it is easier to achieve the moral high ground in the case of West Papua and therefore more comfortable for PNGeans to acknowledge. Aren’t the perpetrators in PNG of the violence against women representative too? Or is it just ‘Indonesians’ that are just a mass to be referred to collectively and blamed for each others sins but PNGeans are individuals that carry no such responsibility? That notion is offensive. As for the ‘war zone’ comment: I am not saying that PNG is a war zone but that certain commentators have said that the violence against women in PNG is at similar levels to those experienced in a war zone. However, in a war zone it is the enemy carrying out the violence – in PNG it’s not. She’s the blood of your blood.

    • Really, “increase the jail term”? Do you know the statistics here? For every man who gets to the point of having jail time of ANY kind imposed, there are hundreds whose crimes are:
      * unreported
      * excused/justified as “samting bilong tupela marit, tasol”
      * reported but not taken seriously by police
      * “disappeared” after the police have been bought off
      * bargained down to a fine, because the prosecutors have too many cases to deal with, and a restraining order that won’t be enforced, because of police being too busy selling & then confiscating buai (and other important things), unless you can pay, in which case they’ll wander over
      * withdrawn by the woman after pressure from her/his lain…

      Na i go, i go, i go moa yet. Olgeta manmeri, ol save long dispela pasin bilong ol man.

      There are two women killed per week in Australia, and the pressure from that is forcing the government to take a more serious look at VAW. If 500,000 deaths in West Papua **since 1968** constitute genocide, how many deaths of women in PNG will it take for you to consider them equal?

  2. “Humanitarian crises”: Where are the hard, reliable statistics, especially regarding violence against women in PNG to warrant it a humanitarian crisis? I can understand the hard, cold facts of violence against women in PNG, and the qualitative dimension of it cannot be denied…that is my issue with the violence hype…

    • Please see the section of the article headed ‘denial’. Why is it that you are calling for me to provide statistics on violence against women but not on the West Papuan crisis? Both have a plethora of statistical evidence available – you just need to google. But why for one and not the other? Is it because you aren’t implicated in the West Papuan crisis? Just asking.

      • IMR and LRC data sets are over 20 years. Jewkes et al’s 2013 report deals mostly with men’s violence. I particularly liked reports by Human. Rights Watch and

  3. To Dilu Okuk – I have chosen not to publish your comment because, in the main, you are trying to shoot the messenger and this forum is too important to have it sink to that level of puerility. However, you did ask one question that deserves an answer and that was what I am trying to achieve.
    I am trying to get PNG men to own the problem because it’s only then that a solution will be forthcoming – just as the international community are trying to make Indonesia acknowledge and right the problem of West Papua. Perhaps the problem of violence against women needs international pressure brought to bear too – the jury’s out on that one.
    I did email you, Dilu – but you had given an email address that doesn’t exist – I can’t imagine why. What have you to hide?

  4. From within an environment of violence against women comparing to that of the West Papua issue is unparallelled indeed! Sorry, it is pathetic an issue on the the part of violence against women especially because the causes, causes of violence against women in PNG and autocracies in West Papua do not have have any similarities at all. West Papua wants to break free from Indonesia because West Papua or the vast eastern end of Papua region in there has a very distinctive and clear demarcation and demography from the rest of Indonesia. Similarly, violence against women in PNG has a very clear cut differences between no violence against the women folks and or violence against women. Women in Papua New Guinea fight over their husbands when seen to be having an affair with another woman. Having an “affair” has many meanings: “just a smile toward a passersby, just a smile naturally, or just a quick glance at someone by the husband whilst the wife is nearby can cause a woman to fight over her husband and that we call “women versus women violence with no substance”. Similarly, we have men who attack their wives merely for looking at another man’s face, smiling at someone (men) whilst moving around, woman talking over the phone with someone the husband is not aware who could be on the other side of the line, etc. West Papua issue is totally different from violence against women in PNG.

    • Brian, I have edited out your more gratuitous personal remarks as totally unnecessary to your point, but would like to comment on your opinion that there is no correlation between the causes of violence in one context and violence in another: The link in both contexts is that there is a stronger party wishing to impose its will on the weaker. It’s about oppression in both cases. Therein lies the connection. Take off the self-imposed blinkers made necessary by the implied culpability of your nationality and gender and you will see it very clearly.

  5. australia wont stand beside png when it falls and is waitng for the moment. png flyng high can be also a ‘fall high’. auzzie runout of space to catr for ants driftn on logs to its shores,nw currently relocatn them to png and small nations of pacific creatng opptnties to pressure png on isssues like the west papuan issue. our sister is always with us bt we are all pretndng to be with her. every family member undr the roof is carried away tryn to be bettoff and indepndnt loosing carrying and loving for 1 anthr. its not too easy to teach a brain by anthr brain as you think.

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