New Years’ Eve 2014 was not a cause for celebration for Mona, a 22 year-old villager from northern Papua New Guinea. Her farther who suffers from alcohol addiction repeatedly assaulted her sexually and violently. Fearing for her life she ran to her aunt in a neighbouring village. Fortunately for Mona, her aunt had heard of a new facility, the Family Support Centre (FSC), at the local hospital in nearest town Maprik, where Mona was able to get proper treatment.
Six months after the terrible incident, I met Mona at the FSC in Maprik, run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Holland. This quiet young woman was brutally honest about her experience. Although her physical scars had healed well, she was still too afraid to return to her home village, fearing further attacks by her father. “Men get drunk and then they beat women or children,” she explains. “They just think that because they are men they can do anything they want.”
Indeed, Mona is not alone in her fears and experiences. MSF confirms a horrifyingly wide spread of sexual and gender-based Violence. According to a recent UN study, one in five women’s first experience of sex was rape, 30% of men had experienced sexual abuse as children and 12% had been forced into sex as a child. MSF, nurses and doctors have treated more than 18,000 victims of sexual and gender-based Violence since December 2007.
These figures become stark reality when interviewing young brave women like Mona who are willing to speak of their ordeal. But even during the interview there was a sudden commotion in the FSC. The nurses rushed to the entrance as a woman stumbled in the clinic, her shirt blood-soaked from a bad wound to her head. Quickly the nurses treated her physical wounds. The victim explained that her husband hit her with a rock at the market in an alcohol-fueled rage.
The FSC acts as a “one-stop” service centre for victims of such violence, able to immediately provide medical first aid, preventive measures against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like HIV, emergency contraception and psycho-social assistance. The FSC have been so successful that the National Department of Health – in close collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), MSF and other partners – decided to provide intensive attachment training on how to set-up and run much-needed medical emergency services for survivors.
This crisis in Papua New Guinea is hardly noticed outside the country. The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) decided to support MSF-Holland in establishing Family Support Centres in 2014 with a grant of € 1.5 million. “The funds are being used to support local medical staff and institutions on how to treat victims of sexual- and gender-based violence and run these centres efficiently” MSF’s Elisa Galli explains. “This will help guarantee that the service will continue once we hand over to the local authorities.”
Much progress has been made not only in trying to treat the victims of this violence but also in addressing its causes. This includes a stringent Family Protection law, passed by the Papua New Guinean government in September 2013. Furthermore, country-wide information campaigns are trying to influence men’s attitudes and behaviours. Not soon enough for the thousands of women such as Mona who live in fear…
Mathias Eick, Regional Information Officer, South-east Asia and the Pacific, European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection deparment (ECHO)