COVID Leadership: Gender-Based Violence & Hygiene Capacity Building in PNG
Papua New Guinean (PNG) Australia Awards alumni Clera Sam, Wendy Wahe and Mavis Jimbudo are empowering Port Moresby communities to respond to gender-based violence (GBV) and prevent disease transmission during the pandemic.
By informing women and girls of GBV support services available and promoting good hygiene at food vending sites in Port Moresby, the project aims to build the capacity of communities to stay safe.
Now, the PNG-native Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) team is appealing for support from the GBV-prevention sector to continue their project and meet the demand of surrounding communities.
About GBV Capacity Building and Promoting WASH at Street Food Vending Sites
The GBV Capacity Building and Promoting WASH at Street Food Vending Sites Project addresses the increase in gender-based violence in PNG communities, and the heightened need to practise WASH at food vending sites, during the pandemic.
Project Lead Clera Sam explains that with COVID-19 resulting in more or enforced time spent at home, many women and children experience increased family violence, but lack knowledge of the support options available to them – aside from often complicated police intervention.
“Because they live in settlements, there’s a high rate of unemployment, internet connectivity is slow, people live below the poverty line … it’s very difficult for them to reach out to the right people for help,” Clera explains, “Because if they go to the police station, their husbands will see them."
To address this, Clera, Wendy and Mavis partnered with the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee (FSVAC) to conduct gender-based violence outreach, providing resources on how to get help safely and discretely, in three settlements around Port Moresby.
“Engaging women and equipping them with useful resources also enables them to spread messages in their own community networks," Clera adds.
The project team also worked with World Vision PNG and other local providers to source and distribute coolers and food storage containers, sun umbrellas, soap, and easy-to-install handwashing ‘happy taps’ to 30 (men and women) vendors selling food at Port Moresby market sites.
According to Clera, who last year led another WLI Leadership for COVID-19 Response & Recovery project empowering women sewers and market vendors to work safely through the pandemic, the impacts of COVID-19 are continuing to hurt communities in PNG reliant on informal work.
“COVID-19 has affected many street food vendors because most times, they are restricted to sell food in public due to health and safety measures of the pandemic,” Clera explains, “Many of them could not afford to buy new proper food storage containers so they used old storage containers that were damaged or broken, posing health risks for their customers.”
GBV outreach provided ‘something that was missing’
Since the first GBV capacity building session was delivered with support from facilitators, Clera has received such positive feedback from women participants who until then, had never experienced any groups or individuals coming in to discuss the topic.
“We really broke into that area with something that was missing; it was like bringing the light across to them …. to finally know where they can go for help,” says Clera.
The women participants Clera spoke with, for example, had never heard of the 1-Tok Counselling Hotline (PNG’s free, nationally-funded GBV support line) prior to the outreach session.
“From the three sessions, I found out that it was something new in communities … and they were so happy that we brought that information to them,” Clera adds, “Because for them, living in settlements, it’s difficult; maybe they don’t find it easy to travel to the city to seek that information.”
Now, Clera feels confident that the women who took part in the outreach sessions will have a safe, easily accessible outlet to get help, or know where to refer a friend or family member experiencing intimate partner violence.
Appealing to GBV sector partners to continue much-needed community outreach
Based on the positive feedback from participants and the requests for outreach support in other settlements surrounding Port Moresby, Clera is now seeking to forge a partnership with individuals, groups or organisations carrying out similar GBV work in settlement communities.
“I want to make an appeal to anyone who’s out there who works in the gender-based violence space,” she says, “We’re now winding down our project, but we want to continue it going forward to reach other communities based on the interest of other women telling us they want us to intervene in their communities,” says Clera.
During 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (25 November to 10 December 2021), Clera and her team will also return to the three outreach communities to distribute printed t-shirts, information brochures and posters to participants, so they can continue to pass on the information they learned through their own community outreach.
“They really want us to include them and make this gender-based violence activity ongoing, and we must constantly involve them in our future training opportunities," adds Clera.
Clera, Wendy and Mavis’ GBV Capacity Building and Promoting WASH at Street Food Vending Sites Project is scheduled for completion in December 2021.
This project is funded through the WLI Leadership for COVID-19 Response & Recovery program, which launched in 2020 to enable WLI participants and alumni to work together to make a direct positive contribution to the COVID-19 response in their countries.
All images supplied by project team.