Reducing violence against women and girls in Papua New Guinea

Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In Papua New Guinea, where I work for FHI 360, violence is a serious, widespread problem that affects many women and girls on a daily basis. While exact figures are difficult to obtain, recent estimates show that violence occurs in more than two-thirds of families living in the country.

FHI 360 is tackling this pervasive problem through a new project. The Komuniti Lukautim Ol Meri Project (KLOM), funded by Australian Aid, supports women and girls who are survivors of violence in Papua New Guinea by providing community services focused on prevention, response and empowerment. The project, which is managed by FHI 360, is being implemented in ten communities in the Sandaun and Western Highlands provinces. Each community has two “mobilizers” who play a pivotal role in helping women and girls who survive violence. For example, when two primary school girls were gang-raped coming home from school in April, the girls’ families reported the incident to the two community mobilizers, who then accompanied the girls to town for medical and legal assistance. FHI 360 works closely with these mobilizers, as well as two provincial hospitals, a faith-based organization and a community-based organization.

At Well Women Clinic in Western Highlands, one of the clinics served by the project, the Family Support Centre gears services toward children. From October 2012 to June 2013, 43 percent of women and girls who accessed the Centre reported they were sexually assaulted or raped. To provide support tailored to the needs of children, this unique clinic has a designated room that is used to diagnose and treat them. Children who are traumatized are scared to come to the hospital, but a colorful room filled with toys lessens this fear for them. Young clients receive group therapy and counseling through age-appropriate techniques such as drawing and playing. These therapeutic methods help children comfortably share information related to abuse and learn about the importance of drug adherence and the difference between bad and safe touches to their bodies. To make the room more welcoming, FHI 360 has provided toys and colored pill boxes for children who need to take medications. The amenities of the room have improved follow-up with the children, leading to more visits to the centre.

After visiting the centre, one 10-year-old female survivor was given postexposure prophylaxis medication to prevent HIV after being sexually assaulted, along with a pill box for her medication. The pill box has helped the girl adhere to her medication regimen. After completing her treatment, she was later tested and was found to be HIV negative.

A recent United Nations survey conducted across several countries in the Asia Pacific region showed that between 26 percent and 80 percent of men reported using physical and/or sexual violence against a female partner. To move forward on this urgent problem and eliminate violence against women and girls in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere, we must take more steps to address gender inequitable norms and empower women and men to take action to end gender-based violence.

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