OPEN LETTER: From Dame Meg Taylor to the people of Papua New Guinea via the PNG Institute of National Affairs.
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 – Ms 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. Indeed, the frequency of cases like hers is why I have decided to pen this letter today. 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.
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?
So blinded by complacency?
Have we become so blinded by complacency, truly believing and trusting of the values that we as Christians share – love, respect, humility and generosity towards each other? 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.
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 at all 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.
A duty and obligation
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 Jenelyn 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.
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, DBE
This open letter has been republished from Asia Pacific Report with permission. David Robie is editor of APR.