The Battle against Domestic Violence in the 21st Century
“So let us honor their courage to fight for the equality that we deserve and by doing so our children’s future will become better and different from ours.” Jacqui Joseph
The WHO classified intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women as a public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.1 It is estimated that about 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lives.1 Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner. At times, governments fail to protect their vulnerable populations.1 On February, 2017, President Putin along with the overwhelming support of the Russian parliament voted to partially de-criminalize domestic violence in order to promote conservative social values.2 The motive was to prevent the state from interfering with family matters to enable the formation of strong families. However, this law has now made it even harder for victims of domestic violence to seek legal recourse. It also validates men who violate the basic human rights of a woman.
In May 2017, Romania was criticized and fined by the European Court of Human Rights over its lack of commitment in tackling domestic violence. Romanian officials failed to protect the rights of the victim, Angelica Balsan but rather accused her of provoking the assault.3 It is surprising to see such attitudes where women still have to fear for their lives because of the persistent laws that favour patriarchy and male dominance. It is estimated that two-thirds of women in PNG have experience domestic violence. Human Rights Watch says PNG “is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman.”4 I had the privilege of discussing about this pertinent issue, on eradicating domestic violence with Jacqui Joseph.
A conversation with Jacqui on how to combat gender based violence and the root causes of this problem.
Maisha: Your strong dedication to empowering women and children and protecting them from violence is truly inspiring. How has growing up in Papua New Guinea inspired you to fight against gender based violence?
Jacqui: I spent my early childhood in Tantarekei village, which was my father’s home. Walking to the garden with my father and eating galip nuts are amongst the many best memories I can I recall. As a young girl, I followed my mother and aunties to the river to do washing or followed girls my age to fetch water for cooking and drinking. Due to the background I hail from, my early impression of being a girl and a woman was influenced by the social norms of my community.
However, it was an incident that I witnessed one afternoon in 1994 that prompted me to question for the first time how women were treated. I was about six years old and was playing with my older sister and cousins just a short distance away from the main road that led to the local town. Amidst our fun, we froze the moment we heard the siren of an ambulance driving past us. Inside were a number of women with shaven heads. My older sister turned around to satisfy my inquisitiveness and explained, “That’s what they do to women who misbehave”.
Several days later, news spread that some women had been entertaining soldiers from the nearby army barracks and were caught by family members. As punishment, their heads were shaven. I couldn’t understand why these women were treated in this manner. I recently asked my mother about this incident again and she delved into further detail; that some of these women were bribed to entertain the soldiers that they had been found with.
This was the incident that first triggered my six year-old mind on gender equality. In my work with EPF today I hope that the attitudes that allow violence against women to occur will end by working with the young generation. I envision that boys and girls will grow up knowing the difference between sex and gender and be able to question the attitudes and behaviour that allow the perpetration of violence against women.
Maisha: You have made strong and positive impacts on women and men in your community through your organization Equal Playing Field. Please share with us how your organization has changed the climate of gender based violence in Papua New Guinea?
Jacqui: The work of Equal Playing Field focuses primarily on the ‘prevention’ aspect of gender based violence in Papua New Guinea. This is why our target audiences are twelve to fifteen year old girls and boys in schools in Port Moresby and Bougainville. This is the age of adolescence where puberty begins in these teenagers. At this stage, we introduce to them Respectful Relationships Education. Boys and girls learn about good qualities that make up a good relationship and they learn about their rights and those of others as well. They learn how to set and communicate their boundaries. Moreover, they learn about the support networks they have access to, which are made up of people they can trust and can help them. They learn that they will have access to help when they are going through a difficult time.
In the last two years we have worked with over three thousand boys and girls and 83 per cent of these students all want to become advocates for reducing violence against women in their communities. More so, there is deep appreciation of their new-found knowledge. Many are surprised to find out that if the head of their household gambles with money intended for expenditure on family necessities, it is recognized as a form of financial abuse.
Maisha: How does your team in Equal Playing Field involve youths and adults who can help to identify and prevent gender based violence?
Jacqui: In EPF, we also work with youths (18-30 years of age) and teachers who are trained in Child Protection, Understanding Violence against Women and undergo the 8-week Equal Playing Field Respectful Relationships Education module. The training in Child Protection is core as most responses from teachers confirm that information and sessions shared during the workshops are new and practical for them in their field as teachers.
The youth who are recognized as Changemakers have become a dynamic group of individuals who have been trained with valuable knowledge on violence against women and child protection. Through their work they have gained valuable insights into working with school students on respectful relationships. Six of these Changemakers have since become staff members while more than five have become casual staff members who now take on leading roles in facilitation, school action groups and child protection because of their undeniable abilities to deliver and support the program. The Changemakers and staff have overtime built a good working relationship and this is evident in the full attendance of volunteers in the eight-week program and toolkit review workshops organized by EPF.
A Facebook group was specifically created for these Changemakers as a space for them to remain connected with the organization and be informed about the events and important notices that EPF needs to share with them. Changemakers have shared personal testimonies of surviving violence and these stories have helped the team of volunteers to work together and understand why their work is especially important for the future of Papua New Guinea as a nation.
Maisha: How would you define gender based violence? Reports have shown that victims of domestic violence find it a very big challenge to leave their abusive relationships. Why do you think so?
Jacqui: Gender Based Violence is recognized as violence that is targeted towards one form of gender due to their vulnerability and value in society. In the Papua New Guinean context, women and children are the most vulnerable. Culturally and societally influenced norms make it even more challenging for women to have the same rights that men have.
Victims of domestic violence in many cases find it so difficult to leave their abusive relationships due to the consequences of violence that not only affects them on an individual level but also on a community and societal level. There is also power dynamics that comes to play in this situation where a lot of imbalance of power and control has taken place. It is not the easiest of situations to abandon an abusive relationship especially when victims have been exposed to simultaneous physiological, physical, sexual abuses. In the case of a woman experiencing violence, her vulnerability lies in not knowing how to protect herself or to even support herself. When children are involved in an abusive relationship, not having the capacity to look after her own children will always bring her back to the abusive partner. In most cases women think it is worth the pain of putting up with all abuses for the sake of the children involved.
Maisha: What do you feel are the root causes of gender based violence? What can be done to prevent or minimize domestic violence?
Jacqui: Domestic violence is a cycle or rather a pattern that has existed in all societies regardless of sex, gender, class or race. The role that a man and woman perform in the community is largely influenced by social norms. What is evident in this is that the confusion between sex and gender roles makes society think that particular role is only to be performed by man or woman. For example household duties are only done by woman and the man is the sole decision maker in the household. These cultural and social norms influence the way men and women are viewed and hence, largely determines the status and value of men and women. In Papua New Guinea and also in other countries it is believed that a woman’s role in society is inferior to a man; that their rights cannot be the same as a man’s. Herein lies the inequality of the genders.
This is where a lot of work needs to be done to combat gender inequality. It is not just a responsibility of one person but everyone in society including men, women, the youth, boys, girls, governments, etc. Leadership in this area is key if we want the future generation to live in a world where both men and women are treated equally. Both men and women need to work hand-in-hand to allow for genuine consensus in our society.
Maisha: How important in your opinion, is the role of the government in helping to eradicate domestic violence?
Jacqui: Governments around the world have a big role to play to protect the most vulnerable. Why? Because no nobody else has enough mandated authority than the State has. The support of the government, especially on the policy level, is critical because it can make the biggest difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and affected by domestic violence. The government is the body that makes the most important decisions for its people. The State should not see itself as separate from the family. The functions of the State can indirectly or directly affect the way a family functions as well.
Maisha: It has been such a wonderful time discussing about this pertinent problem with a powerhouse like you. What advice would you give to someone who is a victim of domestic violence?
Jacqui: To those who are experiencing domestic violence, the first and foremost advice I would give is that you never accept any of these abuses. You are caught in a cycle that needs to be broken and please believe that we can break this cycle. To give up is never an option because if we gave up then our next generation will get trapped in the same cycle. I understand and know too well that the road taken by the survivors of abuse was not easy but I also know that it can be possible. So let us honor their courage to fight for the equality that we deserve and by doing so our children’s future will become better and different from ours.
This interview series with outstanding young women aims to promote Sustainable Development Goal 5: to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls.
- Violence against women. (2016, November). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/, World Health Organization
- Oliphant, R. (2017, February 7). Vladimir Putin signs controversial law partially decriminalising domestic violence. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/07/vladimir-putin-signs-controversial-law-partially-decriminalizing/
- Romania criticised over domestic violence ‘failures’ (2017, May 23). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40010890, BBC
- Kama, S. (2017, April 27). Young Adventist honored by The Commonwealth for fighting gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea. Retrieved from https://news.adventist.org/fr/toute-lactualite/actualites/go/2017-04-27/young-adventist-honored-by-the-commonwealth-for-fighting-gender-based-violence-in-papua-new-guinea/