Violence begins at home

Domestic Violence (audio)

Pasira was only once on the receiving end of a blow and not from her husband but her uncle when  growing up in Morobe province in the late 1970s. That was when, while staying with her aunt on  school  holidays, she was hit trying to protect her aunt from her violent husband. She witnessed  beatings against  all three of her aunts over many years.

Now living in Brisbane, Pasira has tried to make sense of it all. In her home village of Garaine, inland from  Lae, she remembers wife-beating being treated seriously by village elders.

"The man will be dealt with if they know that the man is in the wrong. And if it's severe, what needs to  happen is the family from each side will have to make some kind of feast and they try to work out why  these things happen," she told Telinga Media.

But she believes this system is breaking down and problems are worse in the towns than in the villages.

 "How the family is structured in town is really hard. You find that only one person is earning the money  and looking after the whole family and with the extended family we have in PNG, it's hard. Whereas in the  village, there is occasional domestic violence, but they have their own land, their own houses, so it's not  so bad," she says.

Not having lived permanently in PNG for more than thirty years, Pasira doesn't know how much attitudes  have changed, but on a recent visit to Port Moresby, she was pleasantly surprised when a young man stood up and offered her his seat on a public bus.

Change, however, is not coming fast enough for highland women, according to Veronica from the Eastern Highlands who stayed in an abusive marriage for more than twenty years. Leaving her husband and moving to Australia also meant walking away from substantial business interests that she helped him establish over 24 years. Her problems start when she follows highland custom by entering a polygamous marriage at a young age.

"Polygamy life is not that good. When you see your husband going and spending the night with another woman, or if he decides to take her to Australia for a holiday, you have to hold your head high, swallow your pride and just go on as [if] life is normal," she says. "What can you do? He just beats you up if you try to raise your voice against him."

Veronica swallowed her pride and took the beatings up until about five years ago when she decided to move to Australia. She understands why these arrangements are seen as attractive to young women.

"The man can be a big man with four or five houses all over town stationing his wives in each and every one of those houses. They'd have a car to their own name and they are all on his payroll. But they are like in a little prison where they are not free to express or do whatever they want to do but just live for that man alone," she says.

But the problem runs deeper, even for educated women: "I don't think they are educated enough to realise it is domestic violence," Pasira says. "They think it's just a normal part of being me - woman. Because there's a cultural thing. Man is in charge of what's happening in the family household and culturally woman are looked down [on] in education, in anything."

As a result, much of the woman's energy is spent on dealing with the immediate problem of protecting herself from the assaults while the pain and suffering goes undiscussed. Pasira cannot recall ever having this kind of talk with any of her abused aunts. Since so many of these marriages remain intact while the violence continues, Veronica hopes that the hard decisions will come before abusive patterns become established. Her advice is directed especially at highland women of marriageable age: seek a qualification, she urges them, and get experience in the paid workforce before making a lifelong commitment.

"Life as a second or third wife to a politician or a businessman or a man who already has wealth, if you think that's a short-cut, then it sadly is not," she warns. "Once you get in there you'll find out it's too late, you'll be a victim in there, you'll have no free choice. You may have a roof over your head, you may have a nice car to drive, you may be on his payroll, but you'll be more or less like his toy or a plaything. You'll have no freedom to go where you want to go, do what you want to do. So think carefully before you become number three or number four."

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