PNG plans a comprehensive response to family and sexual violence | Pacific Beat

PNG plans a comprehensive response to family and sexual violence

PNG plans a comprehensive response to family and sexual violence

Updated 25 November 2013, 12:24 AEDT

As the world commemorates White Ribbon Day - the international day for the elimination of violence against women - Papua New Guinea has hosted a special conference looking at ways to help combat the problem.

The two-day conference brought together key national and international group to develop a specific plan to provide services.

It was co-hosted by Medicins San Frontieres and included representatives from PNG's Department of Health, the Department of Justice, the European Union, AusAID and service providers from 11 PNG provinces.

Paul Brockmann is Medicins Sans Frontieres' head of mission in PNG and says domestic violence has become a public health emergency.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Paul Brockmann, Medicins Sans Frontiers

BROCKMANN: In my career with Medicins Sans Frontieres, I've worked specifically in the issue of family and sexual violence in several countries around the world, including Nigeria, Congo and India. From my own personal experience, I think that the women and children of Papua New Guinea face this risk on a much more consistent day-to-day basis than anywhere else that I've ever worked.
EWART: Why do you think that is? What is it about Papua New Guinea? We hear a lot, of course, about culture and the culture perhaps is underlying all of this. But is it a bit simplistic to say that?
BROCKMANN: Hmm, well, yeah, of course. When you're looking at Papua New Guinea, a very large country with more than 800 original cultures, it's easy to find the simplifications and I honestly, what I tend to find is that focusing on why it happened doesn't move us down the road very much, because we get tangled up in the complex history and the complexity of cultures. What I look at is if you intervene, give the women and children and there are men that experience this as well, give them the services they need, the medical services, the legal services, the social welfare protection, you start to intervene in a cycle of violence. There's definitely cycles that happen here and I think it's in turmoil - in some ways it's self-perpetuating at this point.
EWART: Now, one of the initiatives I believe to emerge here from the conference was the PNG Government committing to establishing Family Support Centres in hospitals. Now plainly that was seen to be based on what you've just said, a significant step forward. But I suppose committing to that and actually delivering can be two very different things in PNG?
BROCKMANN: Yes, definitely, not just in PNG, it's all over the world that can be an issue. But one of the things that I really took a lot of pride out of the conference and just yesterday evening, I was starting assemble all the different provincial action plans that came. This is the first, literally the first time in the history of looking at this problem in PNG that we've had, as you said, people from social welfare or child protective services, people from the law and justice sector, people from hospitals and family support centres within hospitals, coming together from eleven different provinces. We're looking at people from New Britain, people from Western Province, people from Bougainville, people from the Highlands, Simbu and Hela Province up in Ireland, people from Port Moresby, we're I'm speaking to you from right now, all of them coming together. And on that last afternoon, I spent several hours walking into that room where they were preparing the provincial action plans - it was honestly like walking into a beehive, because they were all sitting at their provincial tables and saying, what are we going to do in 2014, what are we going to do in 2015? 
So these action plans that they came up, they're step-by-step. Now that's not a guarantee it's going to happen, but it says the cross sector people have said this is what our province needs next year and the year after and we're going to start doing it.
EWART: How significant do you think it is that over the last few months, womens groups have been standing up and voicing their position very clearly that the sexual violence against women and against young girls obviously in Papua New Guinea, has to stop. But there are some powerful women now with something to say in Papua New Guinea. Will that help to propel this kind of momentum?
BROCKMANN: I think very definitely it will and more and more - I, even before the conference, but especially now coming out of the conference and I really want to emphasis that these were people from all over the country, coming together and agreeing on, as you said earlier, some basic principles, like family support centres in every hospital, like FSC - Family Sexual Violence units in every province, that's a police response, and also the focus on safe houses. A lot of the provincial plans talked about safe houses.
As a medical group, we're focused first on that emergency medical care which is very time sensitive. But there is a lot more momentum, there's a lot more consistency of voice and I think there's a shift - I feel like it's a bit of a tidal shift and people are starting to say, we really do need to start focusing on services, service provision, getting survivors what they need, now, next year, the year after, month-by-month-improving.
EWART: And what about the role that the police can play in all this, because I gather also to emerge from this conference that the police are apparently committed to opening more family and sexual violence units. And one of the problems seems to have been overtime, over time, that perhaps certainly what you might call a lack of sympathy, lack of understanding on the part of the police about the whole issue of domestic violence?
BROCKMANN: There is definitely, not only in PNG, but in pretty much every country that I've looked at or studied on this issue. There's a tendency to say, well, that's within the family, leave it it within the family. And on one level, that's an understandable and respectable response is taking or leaving personal problems in the personal sphere. But this is really a public health emergency in this country and it needs to be addressed and there I think there's no question that there's an increased awareness of that fact and an increased commitment really coming out of this conference, an increased commitment, not just from the Department of Health, which was also a co-sponsor, but also from the Police, who were active on the Steering Committee, also from the social welfare sector that were also on the Stand Committee. 
This is a really collective effort, collaborative effort from all sectors and I'm as confident as I have ever been that in 2014 and 2015 we will see more robust, more multi-sector response for all survivors.

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