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Dec 7 2009

It has been a tense week in Madang town. The response to the brutal home invasion, rape and torture of a woman who has been a pillar of the community for decades has been shock, anger and deep sadness. One of the few women in PNG to receive an OBE, Madang’s only “Dame” has contributed so much to the people of Madang Province. From hospital beds to rural school supplies to children’s education to support for the fledgling Provincial AIDS Committee, she has been there for Papua New Guineans. Now a rather frail, yet feisty septuagenarian, the lady was an easy target for the hooligans known to be living in the Provincial Health Department’s compound near her home.  The same thugs are suspected to have assaulted the Fred Hollow’s Eye Clinic Physician a few months ago, while he was on duty in the hospital.  In this same week, other women in Madang have been raped or murdered, and this form of violence against women has been increasing over the past two years. The fact that this latest attack was against someone who has done so much for the people has brought the escalation of violence, and in particular violence against women, to the forefront of public attention.  It has also made the international NGOs reconsider their position on being in Madang, and whether they should bring female staff or volunteers to Madang. Fred Hollows evacuated their staff. It is unclear when – or if – they will return to reopen Madang’s eye clinic.

Women’s groups, local politicians and grassroots ‘mamas’  and ‘papas’ mobilised to demand stronger support from the provincial administration. A protest was planned for this morning (Monday Dec 7’09), to march from Bates Oval in the centre of Madang town, to the Provincial Assembly. Late Sunday night, rumours and sms messages circulated, saying  that the protest was to be postponed until Thursday afternoon.  Consequently, this morning, many of us stayed home. We grumbled that changing the plan for a popular protest was a great way to dilute the action and weaken the need for government response. However, many Madang-ites did not hear that rumour. They showed up in force at Bates Oval and decided to hold the march anyway. As soon as news spread that the protest march was on, I  jumped in a vehicle with Nancy Sullivan and we raced toward the marchers. We arrived just as they were parading around the Assembly grounds, yelling “no more rape!” The governor Sir Arnold Amet, Provincial Administrator Joseph Dorpar and two members of Parliament, Ken Fairweather and John Hickey were ready to listen to the crowd, and receive a petition.  For the first hour, various women and men spoke, using a loud hailer. Women described being shot by their husbands, of having a child murdered. They reminded the crown and the politicians that women were the fundamental basis of the family, the community and life itself. We could not stay long enough to hear if people got around to calling for better community policing, more justice, and peace, as I hope they did.

The results of the protest are as yet unclear. But the mood of the crowd was not. People are clear that Enough is Enough. Handmade signs called on men to recognise that their son’s behaviour was modelled on their own, and that women deserved respect.  This may be Madang’s first popular protest against violence against women.  Meanwhile, the woman who was attacked is under medical care in her home, suffering the side affects from post-exposure prophylaxis against STIs, HIV, and the multiple physical injuries she suffered at the hands of men who local people are referring to as “the animals”.

For more commentary see:

www.messersmith.name/wordpress

and

www.nancysullivan.typepad.com/

photos I took with my iphone:

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