Ume Wainetti: Violence, mining, and philanthropy remedies in Papua New Guinea

Only one week to go before Beyond Good Business! Ahead of the event, we’ve had the pleasure to interview Ume Wainetti, National Coordinator of the Papua New Guinea Family and Sexual Violence Commitee (SVAC), a body that acts to coordinate public and civil society programs in Papua New Guinea that target the unacceptably high rates of family and sexual violence found in the country. Since 2012 Ume has been a Board Member of the Porgera Remediation Framework Association, an independent entity that was set up to provide a means for obtaining redress and reparations for women who were subject to sexual abuse perpetrated by security guards at the giant Porgera Mine in the remote Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Here’s what she told us:

The Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee (SVAC) has been working for over a decade towards the elimination of violence against women in Papua New Guinea. Do you think it is appropriate to talk about a culture of violence? How common and normalised is family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea’s society?

Family Sexual Violence is culturally accepted and women’s status in society is low, contributing to incidents often under-reported. High levels of violence in general are experienced by both men and women. In PNG, violence towards women seems to be the norm. It is a daily occurrence as it is accepted that husbands can discipline wives by beating them up. For example, a pastor from the Anglican Church in February 2015 said at a FSV National Strategy consultation workshop held in Alotau-Milne Bay province: “While in every village you will find none or one or two cases of HIV/AIDS, you will find, in every household, problems of family sexual violence”. That is how prevalent family sexual violence is in Papua New Guinea. This statement is further confirmed by the PNG Statistical Office Household Survey (2009-2010) that found 82% of women reported experiencing some form of violence.

What is FSVAC’s biggest achievements and what issue in particular are you working on at the moment?

FSVAC’s biggest achievements so far are:

    • For the first time the PNG National Parliament in August 2015 created a Committee Chaired by a National Politician to look into violence against women
    • Continued roll out of Family Support Centers in s Provincial Hospitals with the National Department of Health (who provide medical treatment to survivors).
    • Continued roll out of the Family Sexual Violence Unites with Provincial Police Stations – providing legal support to survivors
    • Establishment of a National Network of Partners– now every province has a Provincial Family Sexual Violence Action Committee.
    • Legislations passed: Amended Criminal Code and Evidence Act 2002, Family Protection Act 2013, Amended Criminal Code on Sorcery – 2013, Trafficking and Human Smuggling Act 2013.
    • National Sorcery Action Plan August 2015 developed and funded by Government.

However, we are currently working on a series of issues:

    • Establishment of Provincial FSVAC Secretariats in the Provinces within the Divisions of the Provincial Community Development Offices and developing the capacity of the staff and referral partners on case management and other skills required to provide services.
    • Developing referral Pathways
    • National Seif Haus (safe house) Guidelines and Policy
    • Review National Strategy on Family Sexual Violence for National Executive Committee to endorse.
    • Establishment of PNG National Counselor’s Association and development of Counseling Curriculum and protocol.
    • Developing Community/Male Advocates Training modules contextualizing to PNG
    • Will be working in 2016 with the World Bank to address Family Sexual Violence in mining areas of PNG to provide services to survivors and advocacy programs.

What is your personal experience with regards to the relation between extractivism and violence against women?

I worked in the Office of Village Development which was then established within Prime Ministers Department. I was the senior projects officer coordinating NGO funds for programs and supervised the Community Development Fellowship Scheme (CDFS). This Scheme engaged university students who wanted to take time off from studies to do community work. I travelled extensively into rural areas working with communities. During this time I was asked by the National Council of Women to help establish a network of Women’s Provincial Councils throughout PNG. I co-foundered (with Susan Setae) Papua Hahine Social Action Forum, which is now a recognized NGO in PNG which supports women’s advancement.

I have served as General Secretary of the National Council of Women, PNG’s peak women’s body, under four National Presidents. During which I helped establish the Regional Women’s Council and later I was one of the founders of the Papua Hahine Social Action Forum. The work with National Council of Women required me to coordinate national forums for women where we hear the problems facing the women and children of PNG. I have helped prepare PNG delegations participating in international forums (e.g. the Beijing forum). I was active in lobbying for legislation, for example by including women nominated positions into the Amended Provincial Local Level Government Act – under this provision 600 women are appointed into Wards, Development Committees, Local Level Government and Provincial Assemblies.

Working in this environment I am face to face with women’s problems in relation to extractive industries and the violence that women and children face. I continue this engagement in my current role as the National Program Coordinator for Family Sexual Violence Action Committee. Hence my background and experience has enabled me to represent women and children participating in the Remedy Framework.

In April 2015, 11 women in Porgera received compensation payments for the rapes they suffered by members of the mine’s security workforce. Do you consider monetary compensation to be a fair answer to the violation of human rights?

No, because usually if anything is given to women in the highlands region of Papua New Guinea men will control and distribute funds. The victim is unlikely to receive any benefit or support. It also further commodifies women. Many women who tried to hold onto their funds have suffered physical abuse, as we witnessed in Porgera. And because of the way it is distributed it does not have long term benefits for the woman. We still have a lot of educational awareness to do to change attitudes.

When cash was given, although I did not agree, I thought it was only fair because it was their right to determine how they should use their cash. In some cases, women were able to make investments and purchases that benefited them.

What is your opinion on the UNGPs and how do you think it could be improved?

I believe the UNGPs are good, however many of us were not aware of UNGP until now. We need to make them known to governments, civil society partners, and private sector to ensure we comply with the core tenets. I cannot say how it can be improved because we have been ignorant of the existence UNGPs and only now have some experience with them.

Over the last few years there has been increasing awareness of the persecution of human rights defenders in mining areas worldwide. In your opinion, what role can companies play to promote a constructive dialogue between parties involved?

I am sure that many companies do have grievance mechanism that could be used to hear issues that Human Rights Defenders raise. In PNG we have failed to consistently provide such mechanism, but now there is a lot of effort being put into this by relevant government agencies. Companies too need to know of the government services and laws so that perpetrators are not just dismissed but referred to the justice process. Human Rights Defenders need training on mediation and conflict resolution to know how to negotiate and not use violence to get what they want.

International Human Rights Defender need to understand the local context, the local dynamics, and in-particular the role and function of women in the particular communities they are defending to ensure they are not doing more harm than good. They also need to understand that although Human Rights are universal in nature, they need to be interpreted locally in order to gain acceptance.

What are your expectations on “Beyond Good Business” and what burning issues do you think should be addressed first, especially in relation to the implementation of the UNGPs?

This has made me realise that the PNG Government needs to develop guidelines that are consistent with the UNGPs to ensure companies mitigate and remedy human rights abuses. Our ignorance should not be an excuse, so I hope an immediate priority would be to look at how countries can be assisted to work towards developing such guidelines.

(Interview by Camilla Capasso)

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