The National: Sunday, February 27, 2005 Posted Feb 27, 2005 5:40 PM
Marital rape, deadly violence ˇX and AIDS
THE Australian High Commissioner is not one to make frequent and insubstantial public statements.
When High Commissioner Michael Potts speaks, his remarks usually have relevance to current situations and to the role of his country in Papua New Guinea.
Such was again the case on Wednesday, when Mr Potts spoke during the observance of World AIDS Day in the capital.
The High Commissionerˇ¦s message was simple and blunt.
Mr Potts noted that the preventive measures that are being put in place to fight HIV/AIDS are doomed to failure unless violence against women ceased, and women were effectively empowered to practice safe sex.
Referring to rape in marriage, and to the growing number of women dependent on sex as a major source of income, Mr Potts commented that abstinence under such circumstances is virtually impossible.
Abstinence is obviously the most effective way of fighting and defeating HIV/AIDS.
In PNG, individuals who refrain from sex are virtually guaranteed immunity from HIV/AIDS.
But if we are honest, few men are prepared to make what is for most an unacceptable sacrifice.
The High Commissioner touched on an important issue when he observed that violence against women is ˇ§both a cause and a consequenceˇ¨ of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
It is no co-incidence that the current level of aggression against wives and girl friends reaches new peaks each year.
A recent survey showed that of a cross-section of women questioned throughout PNG, nearly 70 percent acknowledged that they were the subject of moderate to serious beatings, at times on a daily basis.
Reports from hospitals and clinics, in both urban and rural areas, underline the truth of these figures.
Doctors and senior nurses are expressing growing concern at the numbers of women seeking medical treatment.
These women are not simply scratched and bruised.
They have been beaten with a brutality that sometimes defies belief. Many are clearly lucky to still be alive.
Women with savage inflicted burns, with deep stab wounds, with rope marks around their throats, with permanent damage to arms, legs and all too often vaginas, have become commonplace at medical centres and clinics throughout our country.
Even sub-teenage children are increasingly presenting for treatment, having been either the victims of sexual assault, or of violent thrashings, often at the hands of a drunken relative.
Uneducated rural men are not the sole perpetrators of this kind of violence. Urban men, frequently with a moderate to high level of education, are as involved in dishing-out ˇ§punishmentˇ¨ as their country cousins. There can be little surprise that HIV/AIDS takes enthusiastic root in such fertile ground.
There have been many learned treatises written that have sought to explain PNGˇ¦s burgeoning wave of violence within relationships.
One major reason advanced has been sub-conscious jealousy on the part of men.
There is truth in this assertion, particularly in the case of better-educated women, or women who are making headway in the work force.
There is still an undercurrent of belief in PNG that women should grow the food, cook it, unfailingly sleep on demand with their often drunk and violent husbands, and have children.
Full stop. The idea that the same women can do most of those tasks, especially if the man of the family is prepared to help, and still have a career, even one that earns a good salary, is poison in the ears of many men.
To these men, violence becomes the only way they can appear to assert ˇ§controlˇ¨ over their families. It is, of course, the control of terror, a domestic kingdom skilfully built and sustained by pure fear. In such a fraught and terrorised family climate, what chance does even a well-educated woman have of defining the kind of sexual relations she is entitled to, as an equal partner in a married relationship?
Far too many women would not dare to say anything about sex to their husbands for fear of an outbreak of that physical violence they have learned to dread.
The result is sex at the wrong times and under the wrong circumstances. It is sex without protection of any kind.
And with increasing certainty, it is sex that carries with it the dreadful reward of HIV/AIDS.