By Regina Varolli
Monday, August 2, 2010
Papua New Guinea came to New York in July to face a U.N. inspection of its recent record on women's rights. A critical panel highlighted murders of women accused of sorcery and witchcraft and the chair of the delegation apologized for the country's poor record.
The committee also questioned the delegation about abortion, which is illegal in the predominantly Christian country.
Kidu, the delegation chair, said that despite the law, safe terminations are available through private doctors but cost a lot of money.
"I personally believe that we should review this law against abortions but I think full legalization is far off for Papua New Guinea," Kidu told the committee. "But we should liberalize it to avoid unsafe terminations."
Rape and incest are also considered a widespread problem in this largely rural country of numerous remote villages with tribal loyalties. Without legal access to abortion, Kidu expressed her concern that victims of rape and incest must "have the children of criminals."
CEDAW Committee Member Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani called the country to task for "close-to-slavery" working conditions for women. Only 5 percent of women have formal wage employment. Most work in fisheries and agriculture, subject to back-breaking physical labor, long hours and few protections. She also expressed concern about the lack of sexual-harassment labor laws.
Helen Saleu, a delegation member from the Ministry of Labor and Industrial Relations, said her minister has asked for a review of the employment act to address this and other issues concerning working women.
Committee members also expressed concern that, beyond the persecution of women as witches, other types of violence against women--such as domestic violence and rape--were all on the rise and that police, local leaders and even school teachers were all among the perpetrators.
"The new systems we have put into place for the protection of women are not necessarily working," Kidu said, adding that activists were having difficulty moving anti-violence legislation forward.
Kidu said victims often declined to follow through on charges and prosecute their perpetrators.
"It's a major issue that the police lack the capacity and motivation to pursue domestic violence cases. They will actually say to women, 'Are you serious or are you wasting our time?' because so often the charges are withdrawn," she said.
Kidu added that women are so economically dependent on the men that this has become an issue of economic independence in addition to domestic violence.
Another member on the Papua New Guinea delegation, Karen Haive, first assistant secretary in the Department for Community Development, Gender and Development Branch, reflected on the session.
"This has been a good learning experience," she said, referring to the committee's intense scrutiny. "It helps us to really think about what areas we need to work on for the future of women in our country."
"This has been a good and open discussion," agreed Saleu, another delegate.
In her closing statement, Kidu, the delegation chair, apologized for what she called "a long delay and poor progress in meeting our obligations to CEDAW."
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Regina Varolli is a freelance writer based in Manhattan, and the owner of Words by Regina Varolli and Co. She blogs about food at Culinary Sagacity.
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