A series of brutal attacks in recent weeks, including the torture and burning of a woman suspected of being a witch, and the rape of a nurse in Lae, have drawn international attention to the scale of the problem.
Now an organisation called Women Arise is poised to take the country by storm, with branches already active in Lae and Port Moresby, and more to follow in Hagen and the other major centres.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Sarah Haoda Todd, Group co-ordinator Women Arise
TODD: The idea about Women Arise is just to awaken the mindset of every Papua New Guinean, from the villagers to communities to business houses, even the government, for the women to rise up and say 'listen, we want to be counted, we are important to this society and enough of all the violence, do something about it'.
EWART: So how do you intend to go about achieving your aims? I know you've already had a number of marches for example I believe in Lae and also in Port Moresby, but plainly it's going to take more than protest action?
TODD: We had a sit-in protest and we did a call for action paper because petitions get forgotten. So we thought if we go with a call for action paper and after that we keep the momentum going, we had meetings right throughout the country, so we had some meetings in Port Moresby and Esther Igo my colleague there, she led those meetings, and they came up with a strategic paper, a roadmap encompassing everything, we did a little bit of research and who has done what so far, because we have to get to the bottom of everything and see where we are at now, where we want to go. And it needs to come from an inclusive information where all the women involved are speaking, all the women involved are rising up, everybody who in the past had something to do, we come back and we say here's what we want to do going forward, here's how we want to contribute. No longer looking out and saying, 'when will they do something, when will the government do something, when will the NGOs do something?' This is our problem, we have to own it, we have to be responsible for it, it starts with educating our children. If we're going to have a good future we need to educate our sons and our daughters what it is really like today and what we want them to be. And we need to be training them so they have a different mindset to what it is now. Right now we're not funded, we're funding it by ourselves with help from everybody else like the women ourselves, but we've come to Lae and then the next time we hit maybe Hagen, and then we have a roadmap and we're presenting this to different key government ministers who are embracing us, the Prime Minister has embraced us through our Community Development Minister, Loujaya Toni, which we're very thankful for. We know now that he knows what's going on and he appreciates that the ordinary woman in Papua New Guinea is arising.
EWART: So with that degree of support that you're talking about and the fact that you say that you have government ministers on board, can that support be converted into making crucial changes to the way for example that the judicial system operates in Papua New Guinea? Earlier this week on Pacific Beat we were talking to an Australian researcher who's been working in Lae and told us that the chances of a woman who's been assaulted, of that case going to court and a conviction being achieved, one in 338, which is scandalous?
TODD: This is the reason why Women Arise approach it has to be holistic, it has to be strategic. It's not about sitting down and screaming, no, no, no, we can't do that. We've got to approach it intelligently, we've got to cover all bases and say, ok so what happens after the crime happens, or this sort of crime happens, can we prevent it? Ok where does it go and if it's going to the court, are they taking it seriously? What are the penalties, what are the charges and all that? Are the police resourced? So we are trying to cover every centre of our nation, we can go and sit with the police, sit with the courts, sit with the churches, sit with the schools, and we can say listen, how can you engage Women Arise, how can we arise in a child, often we arise through the teachers, how can we arise through the pastors, how can we arise through the magistrate? So everyone needs to know that this is an urgency, we need to start doing something, that's what we're going to be doing.
EWART: Your impact I imagine will be significant in the urban areas of Papua New Guinea, you've talked about Lae, you've talking about Port Moresby and you mentioned Hagen as well. Will the hard part of what you're trying to do be spreading the message into the rural areas of Papua New Guinea where perhaps cultural influences are much stronger?
TODD: There are already existing agencies that already work there so we will partner with them to get our mission and objectives to them. We will embrace that, we do not forget that 80 per cent of the majority of our population are women living in the rural areas. In fact Women Arise is about rising up for these very people, the people that don't have voice, they do not even know the difference, they think that maybe it's cultural, maybe it's their business that they shouldn't have this hideous crime and
and after it's done they don't know where to go or they don't know whether there's any rules out there or laws out there that may help them. And so we do realise that, when we arise, we arise for the woman who was burned, the woman who was gang raped, the woman who was chopped up and left to die. We realise those are of us who are learned and in positions of leadership and business, we owe it to our sisters, they're just living a basic existence and they are going to their gardens and they're being raped in the gardens for example. We've heard stories and we know these accounts are happening. So it is really for them that we rise up!