Papua New Guinea needs to act now to stop gender violence [opinion]


In an open letter, Dame Meg Taylor, the Papua New Guinea-born Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, says it’s time to act against gender violence in PNG.

I write this as a Papua New Guinean and a daughter of this nation.

I believe in the rights of women. I believe that the Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, the Mama Lo, safeguards the place of women in our nation.

I understand the strengths and limitations of our cultures and customs. It is with this in mind that I must acknowledge, at the outset, the women of my homeland; the mothers, sisters and girls that make-up the silent majority that serve our families and communities on a daily basis.

As will be the case with many Papua New Guineans today, I too have followed with deep regret and great sadness the stories surrounding the brutal death of a young girl and mother, Jenelyn Kennedy. Hers was a death so violent that it brought me to my knees.

And yet, hers is not a death of an extraordinary nature. The frequency of cases like hers is why I have decided to pen this letter. I believe that our society has reached a pivotal juncture where we must determine for ourselves if we, as a nation, will stand by and continue to tolerate these acts of horrendous violence or if we will take a stand and make a commitment towards real societal and behavioural change.

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We need to dig deep into our hearts and minds and ask ourselves how many more vicious and violent deaths need to happen in our homeland before we wake up to this serious social issue? How can we, as individuals and communities, stand up for and speak out on violence against women – violence in all forms.

How can we encourage women to speak up? How can we encourage men to speak up with no fear of retribution – of payback?

Blinded by complacency?

Dame Meg Taylor. Credit: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

These acts of violence and our related silence are demonstration of our disrespect and disingenuousness towards our Christian faith. It calls into question how our society values women and girls.

I firmly believe that women are the core of all societies – women birth life, they are the primary caregivers in all families, the conduit of societal teachings and values, the very core of all economies.

To look at our society today, I cannot help but ask: what kind of country are we building for the future generation when women and girls are tortured, abused and killed and where families know about abuse and torture and say nothing? This is exactly what is happening on a daily basis in our country.

In the most part, where we have failed is that my generation and the mothers and fathers of today have not guided our children, especially our sons, and instilled in them the values of caring, hard work and the honouring of family and community.

‘Laws are part of our solution to protect those who are assaulted and attacked but that is not enough. The responsibility rests with every citizen.’

We have not instilled in our sons the primary values of respect. We make excuses and we go the extra mile for our sons whilst our daughters, from a very young age, carry burdens of responsibility.

When there is violence against women, we settle the situation with compensation payments, but we do little or nothing to help young families seek help and heal.

Laws are part of our solution to protect those who are assaulted and attacked but that is not enough. The responsibility rests with every citizen. Our behaviour and our attitude and how we fashion the society we want to live in will deliver this homeland of ours.

Invest in the next generation

Two Meri Safe buses are transporting women and children in Lae. Credit: Meri Safe

We have a duty and obligation to invest in the future of our country and the only way we can be assured of a safe place, is to invest in our children.

We have many good and decent people who want the best for our society and our future. We have so many kind and generous people who help others and work to build a better home.

Indeed, power and money has bred a new culture of greed and entitlement in pockets of our society – people who walk all over others and are not accountable for what they do.

This is not right. Don’t let the death of this young woman and others who have died in such circumstance be in vain. Do your bit each day. Our shame is everybody’s shame and we carry this burden until we are rid of it.

‘Don’t let the death of this young woman and others who have died in such circumstance be in vain. Our shame is everybody’s shame.’

This country – our nation of a thousand tribes – is made up of each one of us and we are each responsible for how we live and how we care and protect women and girls.

Papua New Guinea, we are better than this. We can be a strong and confident people, but it will take a whole of society effort for all of us to stand up and be counted. Carry our shame and be rid of the brutality and violence toward women. We can do this, all together.

Let’s speak up, speak out and be a form of strength in our communities as we advocate for change in our societies and homes. At the end of the day we must hold strong to the fact that the Kumul can only be magnificent and proud when both wings are strong – we need each other – this is all we have.

Dame Meg Taylor is Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum, Papua New Guinea. This letter is published with permission.


  1. Lawrence Wuest says

    The business community in PNG and internationally shares responsibility for the perpetuation of gender based violence in PNG. The violence to women in proximity to international mining facilities is well known internationally. As a Canadian, I am appalled by the lack of action on GBV by mining corporations based in Canada. Thank you to Meg Taylor for speaking out so forcefully on the issue. Hopefully, the business community will heed the call.

    Lawrence Wuest

  2. Lucy Bossard says

    Thank you Dame Meg Taylor for putting to paper your frustrations that are silently shared by many PNG women and respectable men who have had enough of gender violence mostly perpetrated by specific group of men and boys who I deemed as “ being out of control.” Hence, the need to control blinded them of rationality. The disease of the “need to control” the weaker gender (physically) should be addressed with the primary care givers, and addressed conveniently within schools and churches. We need to be addressing the root causes from where the behavior springs from. I am suggesting that “psycho-education” classes should be taught in Primary, High Schools and Higher Learning Institutions. I will put my hand up for that if someone would like to get in touch with me via this address:
    To say the least, children should be endowed with ethical values and moral principals such as learning to respect oneself before you respect others, owning up to one’s responsibilities and learning to be accountable are just some of the moral fabrics of healthy flourishing societies; whereby the child being socialised is learning to contribute meaningfully as part of the community, the country …

    Lucy Bossard (Degree Qualified Mental Health Counsellor, Life Coach).

  3. The comments of Dame Meg Taylor and very true. We need more PNG Leaders at all levels in their communities to voice these views and be counted. Justine Mills (PNGJOBSEEK.COM)

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