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Girls & Women

A free ride for women and girls in PNG

Flickr: Patrick Lauke

It’s a devastating fact that 1 in 3 women will experience some form of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. Violence against women and girls occurs worldwide and is a major issue in alleviating poverty. It not only contributes to poverty but is also a consequence of it.

When 1 woman frees herself of poverty she takes 4 people with her, which is why gender equality and empowering women is essential to lifting communities out of poverty. Gender based violence prevents this.

In Papua New Guinea violence against women is particularly bad. A whopping 70 percent of women in PNG have reported experiencing gender-based violence, that’s more than two out of three.

The Human Rights Watch has described the situation in PNG as ‘severe’. There are many factors that account for such a high rate of violence, including women being marginalised, poor political representation, and cultural issues, such as women being reduced to a traditional ‘bride price’.

The women who do manage to seek help find themselves alone and unsupported. A recent report by the Human Rights Watch found that criminal charges against perpetrators of domestic violence were rarely pursued, even in the most serious instances of rape and murder. First-hand accounts show that in many cases, the authorities do not want to get involved, especially if the male perpetrator is of high standing in the community.Therefore women are repeatedly being told to return home and sort it out there.

Women facing domestic violence in PNG are often also living in poverty and cannot afford to pay the expensive court and medical fees needed to pursue matters.

The solution is complex, will take time and will need to involve both men and women to be involved in the solution. What is also needed is improved policing, increase in support services, education, and access to an honest and uncorrupted justice system.

Much of the violence in PNG occurs in the home, but women also face discrimination and violence going about their everyday business. They do not even feel safe when travelling through the capital of Port Moresby, with a staggering 90% of women reporting being victims of theft on the public transport system from criminals who specifically target women and girls. A further 87 per cent of women surveyed said they'd experienced sexual harassment on public transport.

A high school student in PNG Lily Korowa, says she doesn’t feel safe and is often scared to catch the bus.

So here’s the good news. The UN's Safe Cities program is a worldwide initiative aimed at preventing physical and sexual gender based violence. Together with Australian Aid they have funded a free female only bus providing a safe alternative transport option for women commuting to school and work. The only men allowed on board are the bus driver and a security guard. The project has been funded for three years.

The ‘free’ element of the project is to protect women from extortion. Currently there are no fixed prices for catching the bus so women are often forced to pay more than what they should.

Ms Sipusipu says, "When there's a bus like this it saves us and it makes us more comfortable and more safe to travel when there's only ladies travelling.”

The demand for the female bus is now so high they are looking to roll out more buses like it.

A safe markets campaign is also on trial in an attempt to create safe market spaces for women who are buying or selling.

Hail to the free buses! We hope to see more wheels going round and round on the streets of Port Moresby very soon.