*Jane was medevacked by MAF to Kompiam District Hospital after her husband attacked her with a machete (credit: Mandy Glass)
In January, during the ‘PNG-Australia Annual Leaders’ Dialogue’ in Port Moresby, PNG Prime Minister James Marape called combatting gender-based violence (GBV) a ‘priority’. Besides frequently medevacking severely abused rural women and girls to hospital, MAF also helps prevent GBV by enabling the ‘PNG Tribal Foundation’ and ‘Bread for the World’ to deliver their ‘Change Your Ways’ campaign
Did you know that every 30 seconds, a woman gets physically assaulted in Papua New Guinea and that 81% of perpetrators who commit rape, sexual assault or domestic violence are in fact their partners? According to the ‘Coalition of Parliamentarians to End GBV’, 1.5 million women and girls are violated in PNG every year.
In January, MAF medevacked 10-year-old *Esther from Malaumanda to Kompiam District Hospital in northern PNG who was raped by two members of her extended family who were staying in her home.
Although MAF’s 30-minute flight saved *Esther and her family days of trekking through the bush to access medical treatment, the girl was too afraid to tell anyone about her ordeal for three months for fear of reprisals.
After weeks of vomiting, fever, poor appetite and fatigue, she finally collapsed in front of her older sister. When she came round, the truth came out after persistent questioning, but the perpetrators had long gone. The parents are currently seeking justice.
1.5M women & girls are violated in PNG every year (credit: Landen Kelly)
‘The cut was almost down to the femur bone’
MAF partner Dr Rebecca Williams who works at Kompiam District Hospital recalls another MAF medevac of a newly-wed young woman *Jane who was attacked by her husband:
‘She was out with her husband harvesting marita (a red fruit, which is wrapped in leaves and cooked in the oven).
‘He asked her to prepare a leaf to put the fruit on. They argued and he chopped her leg (probably with the machete used for cutting fruit).
‘Her wound was large – about 10cm by 5cm on her mid-thigh. The cut was almost down to the femur bone but fortunately, there was no nerve damage. If MAF hadn’t brought her in to treat and dress the wound, there would have been an infection.
‘*Jane had only been married for two months. Even before this incident, there was a history of verbal and physical abuse.
‘The family said, that once she had recovered, they would talk with the husband and his relatives. Most likely, compensation will be paid by the husband to his wife – that’s how they deal with the problem.’
In *Jane’s case, an argument over a fruit led to horrific violence (credit: Mandy Glass)
‘Change your ways!’
‘Sorcery accusation related violence’ is also on the rise with some provinces reporting as many as seven incidents per week. Many women and girls are tortured or killed simply because of perceived links to witchcraft (source: The PNG Tribal Foundation).
In a bid to reduce these horrifically high figures, MAF has been working with the PNG Tribal Foundation and ‘Bread for the Word’ to deliver their ‘Senisim Pasin’ (Tok Pisin for ‘Change Your Ways’) campaign to six isolated communities – only accessible by foot or by plane.
The ‘Senisim Pasin’ team (L to R): Mathias Glass, Daniel Kingal, Alex Lewa, Yanamlyn Yana, Solo Yokopyao, Ephraim Kukyuwa, Joshua Wari and Philip Sutter (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)
Starting with Pyarulama in November, MAF flew the eight-strong team to deliver culturally appropriate training to nearly 300 people.
Pyarulama can only be accessed by foot or by plane (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)
Each session comprises of sports participation, interviewing villagers, a film screening, discussion and an invitation to sign a public declaration all aimed at changing attitudes towards women and girls. Other remote villages will follow.
Nearly 300 people in Pyarulama saw the anti-GBV film (credit: Landen Kelly)
Pyarulama’s children absorb Senisim Pasin’s life-changing film (credit: Landen Kelly)
Senisim Pasin reinforces the values of respect, responsibility and dignity and explains that human life is God-given and precious, so no one has the right to harm or kill another person.
Campaign Coordinator Yanamlyn Yana explains the extent of GBV within these communities:
‘There is an understanding that violence is normal, especially gender-based violence. There are a lot of polygamous marriages, which specifically contribute to domestic violence.
‘Of the men I’ve had one-on-one conversations with, they think that every man in the country must be doing it. That’s how they see it.
‘There’s a lot of work to do to help them understand that this is not the way to solve issues. A misunderstanding or quarrel can be solved through proper ways of communication.’
Yanamlyn Yana, Senisim Pasin Campaign Coordinator
The team assess the campaign (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)
MAF’s Joshua Wari interviews one of the men about GBV (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)
Breaking the cycle of violence
MAF’s Ground Ops Deputy Manager Joshua Wari – a PNG native who’s been talking to some of the men – says that old habits need to be broken:
‘The culture of the male figure – of being dominant in the community – is there. Because the man feels superior, he wants to dominate everything and unfortunately the wife submits to that. This is the challenge that Senisim Pasin has to fight. It might take some time.’
Toxic masculinity is rife in Papua New Guinea (credit: Landen Kelly)
Signing a public declaration to ‘change your ways’ is key to success (credit: Landen Kelly)
As part of their commitment to change, men are encouraged to sign a public declaration, which is a powerful act continues Yanamlyn:
‘During the pledge signing, many men said, “We don’t want to fight anymore. We want to sign up for peace!”
‘They’ve seen the evidence of what violence has done to the people in the film and now they’re asking, “What can I do?”
‘We’re giving them an opportunity to stand with us. They are pledging not to start any fight, to make peace and be a peaceful person.
‘Everyone who pledges is seen by everyone else because they are in front of their community signing a public declaration. As a community member, they are taking a stand against violence. The entire community has seen him sign, so they will have to hold him accountable.’
In Pyarulama, 43 people signed the declaration to change.
The people of Pyarulama gather round MAF’s plane (credit: Landen Kelly)
‘MAF goes where others do not go’ (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)
Prevention is better than cure
Todd Aebischer, MAF PNG’s Country Director, is excited by Senisim Pasin’s potential:
‘I am overjoyed to see how this could potentially impact communities. MAF goes where others do not go. In the 500 or so medevacs that we do a year, many of the women and children involved have been subjected to gender-based violence.
‘Now we can do something preventative instead of just responding to the incident. We can go out with this film and – with this training – actually give communities an alternative way to deal with disagreements.’
Yanamlyn wouldn’t be able to do her work without MAF (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)
Yanamlyn concludes that her work would not be possible without MAF:
‘MAF is doing incredible work serving lots of communities and we’re glad to partner with them. We look for partnerships that have a strategic and lasting impact on people’s lives.
‘God is behind MAF! I believe that MAF can reach many people who need to be educated about gender-based violence and sorcery accusation related violence.
‘Together, we’ll reach as many small communities as possible because it’s the small communities who miss out.
When boys hear the message, there’s hope for the future (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)
Hope for the future
Yanamlyn sincerely hopes that this campaign will foster peace and transform communities marred by GBV:
‘I’m hoping that our visit here will start a conversation. When they see this film and hear about Senisim Pasin’s message of value, respect and responsibility, they will be able to look at themselves and self-reflect.
‘They will begin to take accountability of their own lives and when they take responsibility, they will be able to create the community they will want to live in and prosper.
‘I hope that communities will be transformed, and that champions rise up to guide, protect and make their community a safer place for their children and future generations.’
Change is in their hands! – MAF’s Ephraim Kukyuwa surrounded by Pyarulama’s villagers (credit: Annelie Edsmyr)
To date, the Senisim Pasin campaign has reached over 250,000 people across PNG, but thanks to MAF, isolated villages like Pyarulama and *Esther’s village, Malaumanda have now been targeted.
In the coming months, there are plans to roll out the campaign in Yambaitok, Wanakipa, Yenkisa and Megau.
MAF’s role is critical. Delivering this message to the unreached may prevent other women and girls like *Esther and *Jane from experiencing unfathomable trauma in future.
*The names of GBV survivors have been changed to protect their identity.