The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Sept. 6) - "Lack of political will and the Government’s tendency to dwell on difficulties and to dredge up old excuses means that very little has changed for women in the last 20 years."

Those are comments made about Papua New Guinea, and they come from the Asia-Pacific director of global human rights group Amnesty International (AI).

The group is long established, and it is frequently accused of exaggerating the often horrific abuses it seeks to eliminate.

Often those who attack AI most bitterly are the modern-day tyrants and dictators, the military leaders of death squads, and the legal and medical professionals, whose silence has been well paid for.

Nobody familiar with the role of PNG women can criticize the organization’s comments. Indeed, the truth is that the environment for women in this country not only is "very little changed in the past 20 years" but has worsened dramatically.

Women are now afraid to leave their houses to visit relatives and neighbors, to go shopping, to attend medical clinics or even to go to church.

Twenty-five years ago, such a scenario would have been regarded as an outrageous and indefensible prediction of a future that would simply never come about.

Time has proven that it wasn’t, and it has.

If women are town or city dwellers, the majority will experience an element of apprehension or even stark fear on a daily basis.

Women, who dare venture out of their homes to try and boost the family earnings by carrying out an often menial and ill-paid task, scuttle to work, stay there often without leaving the office all day, and full of apprehension, scuttle home again, when the day ends.

Those who dare to challenge a threatening society, often the younger women, may succeed for a time in living some semblance of a normal life. Too many end up as another statistic at morgues, in hospitals or adding to the burgeoning HIV/AIDS figures as a result of rape.

On the other hand, if they are rural dwellers, indeed very little has changed, not just in the past 20 years, but in many areas, over the past 60 or 80 years.

Women are expected to obey without question the dictates of their husbands. Only their men will determine how many children they bear, in total disregard of their physical condition.

Only their men will decide whether they even have the chance to sometimes leave the village and make the trip to town. If they do gain this boon, they must take great care not to smile or even look at another man; their lives may depend upon that.

More than two-thirds of these women live in daily terror of the next bashing at the hands of "men" whose cowardice, when confronted by a male adversary, has been proven again and again.

As girls, these women may well have been removed from school at Grade 6, or even denied the right to attend school at all. The logic is age-old and fundamentally flawed -- who needs an educated woman?

And so the young and gifted rural women find themselves, in the age of Paris Hilton and Venus Williams, condemned to digging PNG’s inhospitable soil, giving birth, feeding an ever-growing number of children and without complaint, bearing the scars of endless violence in proof of it all.

Governments, since independence, had fallen over themselves in glowing empty praise of the women of PNG.

Our women are "assured" of equal opportunity to access education -- it’s just that nobody told their fathers or elder brothers.

Our women are "guaranteed" equality under the Constitution. Tell that to a woman who would like to exercise her right to vote, but dare not do so for fear of a savage bashing from her spouse.

No government has made any realistic effort to lift the status of women in this country. There is not even a political party prepared to take up the place of women in our society and campaign on that basis.

Election 2007 should see huge inroads made against the savage cruelties of this society strangled by men.

September 7, 2006

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

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