3 December 2013
Remarks by Minister Development Cooperation, Australian High Commission, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Mr Stuart Schaefer
Conference: “Sorcery and Witchcraft Accusations” Developing a National Response to overcome the Violence
3-5 December 2013
It is a pleasure to be with you this morning at this important event.
I wish to congratulate the organisers of this conference – a conference that is addressing a critical issue that demands urgent action.
In supporting this conference, the PNG Government is taking a holistic and creative approach to helping to eliminate the problem of violence associated with witchcraft and sorcery accusations.
We are very pleased to be able to support your efforts in alleviating this form of destructive violence.
We understand and respect that many Papua New Guineans believe in sorcery and acknowledge it is not up to development partners to pass judgement on traditional beliefs.
In the next three days you will discuss the non-traditional aspects of sorcery and witchcraft that have manifested and grown in recent years, becoming intolerable and placing intolerable strains on families and communities across the country.
Increases in violence
Evidence suggests that sorcery related violence against women is growing in certain areas of the country.
This may well reflect the strains and stresses of a country that is experiencing rapid and profound change.
There are limited opportunities for employment outside of urban areas. Young men and women may be losing their sense of identity and opportunity, despite the significant economic growth we have seen in recent years.
These stresses and strains could be contributing factors to frustration that can lead to violence.
Whatever the causes are, we need to identify and respond to them with renewed energy.
Dealing with the consequences of violence only is unsustainable and morally untenable.
Preventing violence from occurring in the first place must be the ultimate goal of any actions to end violence against women.
Challenging violence against women requires a community response, involving all parts of the community, including both men and women.
Central to this is changing community attitudes that see violence against women as being acceptable or a private matter.
So too is increasing the status of women in society and promoting gender equality.
Examples from other countries
PNG is not alone in the world in struggling with this issue of violence associated with beliefs in witchcraft and sorcery.
These beliefs are also found in African countries, in India and closer to home in other Melanesian countries.
In some cases these beliefs have resulted in violence and abuse, and there have been a variety of responses from legislation to economic reforms to more holistic interventions.
In South Africa, elderly women were often the targets of witch-hunts. They were a particularly vulnerable group, with younger people beginning to feel they caused a burden on families.
In the 1990s, the government started to pay elderly people a monthly pension, benefitting all family members. The witch killings apparently disappeared as older people were restored to their respected place. This creative government approach changed the motivating factors.
Belief in sorcery and witchcraft is also found amongst a number of communities living in the United Kingdom, and in some instances, these beliefs have led to child abuse.
As a result, the UK established a National Working Group composed of central government and local statutory partners, faith-based leaders, civil society organisations and the Metropolitan Police to address the problem.
In 2013, the Working Group produced a National Action Plan that recognises that government and community each have roles to play to stop sorcery related violence.
The critical success factor though, is the role government has in coordinating and supporting the efforts of all, and making sure that government services respond appropriately.
While these examples may or may not be applicable in a PNG context, they are certainly worth consideration in your deliberations as they have been shown to be effective.
Positive moves to combat violence at the community level
It is important to note that at the same time this violence is occurring in PNG, there is also evidence that communities are rallying to respond to and avoid this violence through wise local leadership.
The Gor community in Chimbu is an excellent example of this, where local leaders, both men and women, have come together to agree a set of community regulations that stop sorcery accusations being made.
In other parts of the Highlands, the Catholic Church has developed an immediate response to quell accusations after someone dies unexpectedly.
Church representatives and strong women leaders visit and stay with families helping them through the grieving process and discouraging suspicions as they arise.
Across the Highlands, another effective response has been developed at community level – the Human Rights Defenders Network.
This network springs into action to help women and children escape impending violence once an accusation has been made.
All of these examples demonstrate the exceptional, commitment, heroism and ability of Papua New Guinean’s to respond effectively to this complex issue using their skills and the benefit of their local expertise and knowledge.
There are lessons to be learned from the successful community level examples around the country. They need to be documented, distributed and applied.
Piecemeal and isolated activities have limited impact in ending violence against women and can result in duplication of effort.
A more coordinated effort will ensure that funds are targeted where they are needed, good practice is shared, and links are created to respond to this type of violence.
But we recognise that government leadership is vital in stopping this violence and promoting safety for all citizens and communities, particularly women and children.
Government leadership can guide our combined efforts and multiply our effectiveness. Government leadership can communicate clearly that this violence is not a part of Papua New Guinea’s culture and future.
This year the Government of PNG repealed the Sorcery Act and passed the Family Protection Bill. We commend the government for taking this stand. This conference shows a commitment at government level to developing workable and innovative approaches based on partnerships with community based organisations, churches, NGOs and the private sector.
A coordinated effort over the long term will achieve far greater impact than individual actors working on their own.
As a long term partner, neighbour and friend of Papua New Guinea, Australia is committed to continuing to work alongside you as you develop a course of action for addressing and preventing sorcery and witchcraft related violence in this beautiful country.
Australian Government support
The Australian Government supports PNG to promote gender equality and combat all forms of violence against women through our aid program to Papua New Guinea.
Through our democratic governance, law and justice and health programs, we are supporting the efforts of government and civil society to make Papua New Guinea a safe place for women and girls.
Australia is helping to establish Family and Sexual Violence Units in police stations in around the country to provide a safe environment for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to report offences and access justice. To date, 11 of these Units have been established.
We have also provided support to Magisterial Services, which introduced Interim Protection Orders, a short-term intervention in Family and Sexual Violence cases to remove the perpetrator of violence.
Since 2010, there have been over 2,700 Interim Protection Order sought. . Australian support is also providing training for District Court Magistrates and clerks throughout the country to further improve the process of the issuing of these orders.
At the community level, Australia supports small scale, civil society, faith-based and volunteer groups across the country to prevent and respond to violence in their local contexts.
Our core funding for CIMC’s Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee helps to build networks between women’s organisations to establish services for survivors of violence.
This Committee has trained over 1,100 people on addressing gender based violence.
The Australian Government is also pleased to have partnered with the Government of Papua New Guinea - specifically the Department of Justice and Attorney General and the CIMC - to host this conference. (To note - K200,000 was provided by the Gender Program)
At the end of this three day Conference, an outcome statement outlining the Government of PNG’s response to ending this horrific phenomena will be developed.
I look forward to seeing this statement, and seeing early and sustained actions flowing from it.
I hope this statement will speak about the leadership in government, the private and community sectors that will be needed.
Leadership means more than calling for more funding; it is about taking responsibility for finding and implementing innovative solutions that address the causes as well as the consequences of violence. It is about building and tangibly supporting coalitions and targeting efforts where they are needed.
What are the risks of not responding to this issue?
Sorcery related violence is part of the broad spectrum of violence that many women in this country experience.
We know that this generalized violence has many hidden costs – such as reduced chances to earn income and live productive lives. Children witnesses are permanently affected by violence at home, with girls more likely to become victims in turn as they get older, and boys more likely to grow into perpetrators.
We can only imagine the affect such brutal sorcery related violence has on the children left behind when their mothers are killed in front of them.
Everyone in this room has a vital role to play. I wish you well in the next three days.