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.
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?
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’.
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.
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.
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.