News World Coronavirus cases rise in PNG, but for women it’s only half the battle

Coronavirus cases rise in PNG, but for women it’s only half the battle

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As a surge in coronavirus cases in Papua New Guinea has authorities worried that the nation’s fragile health system could soon be overwhelmed, Clarence Burain warns that for many women, the coronavirus is a battle on two fronts.

Every Thursday I wear black in support of equality.

It’s a sign of support, but it’s also a protest against the violence inflicted against women in our society.

Violence inflicted by men.

Thursdays in Black, is a global movement of solidarity with victims and survivors of gender-based violence.

The campaign has been gathering momentum for several years now, but in my country, Papua New Guinea, it is only just starting to gain traction.

Many of us, male and female, are finally finding our collective voice and the courage to say out loud what so many of us have thought for so long; that the endless brutal violence against women and girls in our young nation must be stopped.

Like many other men I know, I started wearing black in response to the horrific murder of 19-year-old Jenelyn Kennedy in June.

An act so brutal it cannot go unchallenged. Jenelyn Kennedy was one woman, but she represents the plight of so many women in this country.

I needed to do something.

For the men that take part it’s about saying enough is enough. It’s about doing something highly visible that people can’t ignore.

Nothing nurtures violence more than eyes that look the other way. We need to shine a light on the violence that has been thriving in the dark, behind closed doors across PNG.

As a child growing up, my parents encouraged strong family values.

I’ve grown up in an environment where I learnt to respect my mum, my sisters, and the women who were around me, and that has become a natural part of me. I was taught by my family to respect women as equals to men.

When I talk to other men who don’t see the world this way, it always seems to go back to how they were raised.

It’s cooked into our culture.

A march to oppose violence against women in Papua New Guinea. Photo: New Ireland Provincial Government

A culture where many men want to be superior to women. Some men actively feel that women need to be suppressed in our society.

Abuse and violence are contagious like a virus. It is passed from man to man and from father to son.

I believe in my heart that love and respect are also contagious.

I believe that if men can speak up about violence, men who are like-minded and who stand for equality, then one-by-one we will change attitudes, we will change minds and we will save lives.

I can’t see what the future holds, but I can tell you it will be better than today if all the different organisations across PNG come together in collaboration and push very hard, we will see change.

If we really want to make an impact on the violence against women, we need to start thinking about interventions. We need to learn from our mistakes.

Change old ways of thinking. And when all else fails we need legislation, policies and laws—that are enforced—to protect women against violence.

Change is already happening.

For many women, the coronavirus is a battle on two frontsA new report from Save the Children has found that financial stress, widespread unemployment, and lockdowns has led to a significant increase in gender-based violence in many parts of the world.

The Shine a Light campaign is the first time where we have actually seen men come out in a group in solidarity standing together to voice their concerns.

The challenge now is to continue this momentum in new ways as we adjust our lives to the coronavirus wave currently bearing down on Port Moresby and other parts of the country.

Many are speaking out to oppose violence against women in PNG. Photo: New Ireland Provincial Government

We want to see women enjoy the same freedom and safety that men enjoy in this country.

I’ve had men come up to me and they talk about how Save the Children programs have actually changed their perceptions of women.

I know one man—a security guard—who has made his home a shelter for women who have experienced violence in his village.

When men truly understand and recognise the inequalities that exist within society they come to the conclusion that there is an urgent need for change.

What Jenelyn went through is a reflection of our society and the perceptions that some men have of women. The men of PNG owe it to Jenelyn, and we owe it to our mothers, sisters and daughters to do everything we can to bring about change.

We need to be steadfast, clear-eyed, and never look away.

Clarence Burain is Save the Children’s area manager for the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (‘AROB’) in Papua New Guinea