By Barbara Tomi (June 29, 2012)
GENDER based violence (GBV) against women is deeply entrenched in PNG culture thus contributing in a large part to the inequality and low status of women that exists today. For progress towards equality between men and women in contributing to development and especially in agriculture, GBV must be addressed. It is also proven that where there is high rate of GBV, the spread of HIV/AIDS is also rife. GBV and HIV/AIDS go hand in hand. To reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, GBV must first be addressed. GBV is the hidden and neglected aspect of society nobody wants to recognise as a problem that everyone has to be responsible to fight against.
Agriculture is a major economic activity of many people in rural PNG. Over 80% of the country’s 7 million people depend wholly or partially on agriculture. Women make up 50% of the population with nearly 90% engaged in agriculture and related activities. Women contribute between 50-70% of agricultural labour such as clearing, planting, weeding, harvesting, transporting, stocking and marketing. They produce the bulk of the nation’s food. Cash income received by women from agriculture is mostly spent on food, health and education. These are done in spite of limited or no access to resources such as land, water, labour, and basic services.
Annastasia Wakon of the Family Support Centre at Angau Hospital says GBV is the hidden and neglected aspect of society nobody wants to recognise as a problem that everyone has to be responsible to reduce its prevalence. GBV is widespread and is causing injury, suffering, long-term harm and sometimes even death. For those who survive GBV their medical and emotional needs remain hidden and are neglected due to unavailability of services in health facilities. Statistics collected by the Medecins Sans Forentieres’ run Centre in Lae show 49% of sexual violence survivors are below the age of 18. Of this 5% are below the age of 5, 17% are between 5-12 years and 26% are between the ages of 13-17. Health risks of sexual, physical and emotional violence include physical injuries, some of which can require surgery, sexually transmitted diseases and even death.
Sr Wakon said GBV is the hidden and neglected disease that manifests itself as HIV/AIDS. Speaking to staff of the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) which included PNG Cocoa Coconut Institute, Coffee Industry Corporation, Oil Palm Research Association, Bris Kanda, National Agricultural Research Institute and PNG Women in Agriculture Development Foundation who came together in a workshop from last month to mainstream gender and HIV/AIDS issues in their organizational policies, she emphasised that to effectively address HIV/AIDS, GBV must be given first priority for interventions.
Sr Wakon described GBV as similar to taro beetle and the damage it makes to the taro crop. The taro grower won’t know that the taro crop is infested until it is harvested. Destruction made by the beetle is similar to the extent of GBV, in many cases the end result is HIV/AIDS if treatment is not properly accorded.
The National AIDS Council Secretariat (NACS) statistics show that women and girls are more vulnerable to contracting HIV. Young girls aged 15-24 years are 2-3 times more infected than boys in the same age group. Also lack of access to basic services (education, health, information) exacerbates vulnerability and lack of opportunity for self advancement creates conditions for the spread of HIV.
The NARS are critical to improving the status of women. Most women in PNG are the main food producers and providers of the family’s daily meals. Empowering them with skills to improve their agricultural practices and access to information, technologies and financial support to grow their agricultural business will go a long way in addressing gender and HIV/AIDS issues facing women. Another factor which the NARS need to be wary about is the complex migration patterns of especially the labour force into plantations which fuels HIV spread.
The 2010 statistics recorded 4,208 new HIV cases. The cumulative total by end of December 2010 stands at 31,609. Of this statistics, women and girls especially those at child bearing ages (15-24 yrs) are infected most compared to men (25-35 yrs).
As a starting point, it was recommended that NARS organisations’ workforce must be sensitized and trained on gender and HIV/AIDS related issues. A trained workforce will enable GHA policies are adhered to, implemented and mainstreamed into programme and project activities. The NARS are already mainstreaming gender and HIV/AIDS (GHA) issues into their core activities without realizing it. Such activities include development and implementation of GHA workplace policy and programmes and economic empowerment programmes of women. However, there is still a lot more to do in the areas of quantity and quality of staff to cope with issues relating to GHA, addressing GBA, addressing stigma and discrimination in the workplace, legal protection for PLHIV and families, and nutrition for PLHIV.
The efforts by NARS are critical to improving the status of women. Empowering them with skills to improve their agricultural practices and access to information, technologies and financial support to grow their agricultural business will go a long way in addressing gender and HIV/AIDS issues facing women and young girls.
Photo: NARS Gender HIV/AIDS Workshop participants visit women farmer Edith Babul’s Guava farm at Munum Village near Lae, Morobe province. Photo: Kumaino Wioga