Friday, 1 March 2013

Witch Burnings in PNG

There's been a lot said over the recent witch burnings. Here in PNG, it's mostly along the lines of "Oh, the big nasty overseas press is being a bully" and the disingenuous "PNG is REALLY pretty and nice, WHY must we talk about this nastiness?" and even quite a bit of "Give that poor woman in the photos back her dignity by Photoshopping out her breasts".

I even saw a Letter to the Editor justifying witchcraft/saguma mama burnings because 'socery is real"

Bottom line.

Violence against women in PNG is a pandemic, with a UN report stating 100% of women in some Highlands Provinces will experience rape and violence.

Forums such as PNGians Against Domestic Violence struggle to get more than 50 signatures on petitions, such is the level of apathy towards violence against women.

Here in Lae, if I was to report a woman being beaten, I would be told to butt out it's a 'marriage issue".

Take the case of Joy Wartovo. Basically, she endured six years of hell at the hands of her husband, a policeman in PNG. At the time of writing this, Simon Bernard is still at large.

Why? Because Police don't have a photo of him to positively identify him.

He's an active, working, employed POLICEMAN, yet the police can't identify him to arrest him.

Welcome to PNG.

Here's a very awesome article on the recent witch burnings.

“They’re going to cook the sanguma mama!” It was a shout going up from a posse of children on February 6, 2013, as people in PNG’s western highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen gathered.  Then hundreds of  bystanders watched while Kepari Leniata, the 20-year-old mother of a young baby, was accused of sanguma (witchcraft), then stripped naked by several assailants,  bound, tortured with a hot iron rod that fused her genitals, doused in gasoline, and set alight on a pile of car tires. Spectators stood by as she writhed, screamed, and burned. Some took photographs with their mobile phones. 
However, I disagree with the author that it's 'bestial", No other animal on Earth would do this to another of its kind.

This passage, however, gets to the seminal heart of the issue:

Horrified citizens in PNG are now finally demanding repeal of the 1971 sorcery act, which criminalized sorcery (thus dignifying the superstition with recognition) and also criminalized vigilantism.  It aimed to acknowledge the tradition’s presence while providing a mechanism to have an accused sorcerer dealt with by the courts.  But the act provided legal refuge for vigilantes to argue sorcery as a mitigating factor, and, when rarely prosecuted—to get off with light sentences or none.  Meanwhile, development agencies are reluctant to touch the issue, because tradition and religion are taboos for donor agencies.  So cultural relativism lives while women are burned to death.    

It's the hoary old "cultural practises" chestnut again.

It's also cultural practise to hack off a child's clitoris and vulva and sew the resultant wound up with thorns in some countries, yet we speak about against that.

In Cameroon, we're speaking out against the cultural practise of breast ironing.

There is outrage over rapes in India, the erosion of Women's rights in the US.

But here in PNG VERY few are speaking  out against the act. Instead, the craven press are justifying it as real within a cultural norm, or whinging about being bullied.

Women like myself who speak out, or the very lovely and vocal journalist Susan Merrell, are accused of not understanding (because we're white) or even worse, accused of being witches ourselves.

Susan said recently on FB:

I cooperated in an initiative whereby I posted a photograph of me saying "I am Kepari Leniata" the woman that was tortured then burned to death whilst still alive.
Well I lied, I'm not.
Kepari Leniata was my sister - she was powerless - and I am ashamed that I couldn't protect her because I have resources.
And it will be Kepari's sisters from both near and far, that will avenge her death and put a stop to more disgusting savagery happening to women. (well done Sarah R H-Todd, Esther Igo et al).
And it won't be easy. It sickens me that in the midst of this controversy, in a public forum a [NAME WITHELD] should threaten me thus (after suggesting I'm a witch):
"She is welcomed to live in PNG. But be careful! The polarized heat of torture, hate and enmity against witchcrafts is intense and she can fall victim."
When will certain men in PNG learn that they cannot control women with violence? Well...not can't but WON'T!
Be on notice, [NAME WITHELD] I AM NOT KEPARI LENIATA - try it, punk - I have muscle power that goes way beyond your imagination.
Enough is surely enough. I'm sick and tired of latent and blatant threats and this must go tenfold for the women of PNG. Be warned. Aarlie Olson Hull has already advised that the international women's community are about to show PNG just how powerful women are.

Please, I urge you to share this issue and give it the viral exposure that the pack rape in India got. Join the "Remembering Keripari Leniata" Campaign on FB.Blog about it, talk about it. March about it. Placard about it. But whatever you do, don't ignore it and whine about how us expats don't understand. I don't need any cultural understanding to know that what was done to Kepari and the thousnads of other women who have been killed in the name of superstition is just WRONG.

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