Violence against women and girls is a pervasive problem in Papua New Guinea and has a profound impact on all aspects of development. FHI 360 is addressing this serious issue through the Komuniti Lukautim Ol Meri Project, funded by Australian Aid. The project offers support to women and girls who are survivors of violence in two of the country’s provinces.
In the narrative below, a staff member at FHI 360’s Papua New Guinea office and a survivor of violence against women describes a time in which violence affected her personally and how she tried to stop it. “I was motivated to tell my story because most women keep silent on violence,” she said. “I felt that if I tell my story, it will help others to speak up.”
“I will not let you hit your wife!” I yelled. “I work for an organization that is empowering women to end violence in their lives.” Moments earlier, my older brother had joined his wife (my sister-in-law), daughter and me on the balcony of his house. As he ate, he complained that his wife was using the charger for his mobile phone. He grew so angry that he threw his plate of food on the floor and stood up to confront her. He tried to punch her, but I pushed him away.
This was not the first time I had experienced violence. My former partner and the father of my two children threatened to kill me when I was 24 years old. He physically abused me, treating me like I was his punching bag. He often struck my face so people would know he “owned” me. With all of the bruises, I always felt ashamed to walk in public. My past experience with my former partner made me more sensitive to what was happening in my family.
During the confrontation with my brother, I called to the other young men in the house and asked them to help my sister-in-law. My cousin and younger brother tried to stop my older brother while I took my niece, who was scared and crying, inside the house. My older brother started punching my younger brother. I screamed that he should stop, and my older brother left the house.
After what seemed like hours, my older brother returned and hit his mother-in-law. I tried again to stop my older brother and told my sister-in-law that she and her mother should leave the house for their own safety. My older brother told my younger brother and me that we had no right to interfere with his marital problems and that we should leave his house.
Having no place to go, my younger brother and I slept on the dirt under our older brother’s house for four nights. We used the FHI 360 office to shower and ate at fast food outlets. My older brother locked himself in the house and did not come out.
On the fifth day, I knocked on my brother’s door to see if he would let us in. I was scared but pretended to be brave. After a minute, my brother opened the door and told us to come inside.
I sat down on the couch and explained to him that, as a survivor of violence against women, I could not let him hit his wife. I told him that when he hit her, it felt like he was hitting me and that I could not accept it, as it made me experience my own trauma again. I told him the organization I work for does not accept violence against women and that I could not work for this organization and let him hit his wife. Afterwards, my brother apologized, and we were allowed to stay in the house again.
The next day, I proudly wore a T-shirt that calls for ending violence against women, produced as part of World AIDS Day to raise awareness of how violence contributes to HIV infection.
Violence against women is a serious problem for a lot of women in Papua New Guinea. Many are ashamed of what is happening and will not speak about it. Working on the Komuniti Lukautim Ol Meri Project has helped me to realize that it is okay to speak out, because there are people to help you when you need it.
The author prefers to remain anonymous.