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GEWE Committee meets to discuss priorities for 2023: focus on ensuring justice for GBV survivors

The Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) met yesterday to discuss the range of issues facing the women and girls of PNG and decide on their priorities over the coming months. Chaired by NCD Governor Powes Parkop, the Committee has the mandate to review any and all laws, policies, programmes and other issues related to ensuring that women and girls can lives safe, healthy and prosperous lives.

Governor Parkop welcomed members with a call for action, stating: “We have been given a critical mandate to use our oversight powers to hold government agencies at all levels accountable for what they are doing – and not doing – to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. I want us to use our Committee’s powers proactively to focus on the issue most important to our women and girls. We need to stop just talking about what needs to be done and ensure our oversight forces officials to more effectively use Government resources to bring real improvement to our people across the country.”

GEWE Committee members participate in induction briefing by Parliamentary Secterariat & UNDP on 22 March 2023

Six of seven Committee Members came together at Parliament Haus yesterday for a briefing provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). UNDP previously supported the Special Parliamentary Committee on GBV to hold two public hearings and produce two reports to Parliament, with funding from the EU Spotlight Initiative. The briefing by UNDP covered a wide range of GEWE issues, including the gaps in existing institutional structures, laws and policy frameworks guiding GEWE efforts, challenges with women’s leadership, priorities in relation to promoting women’s economic empowerment, the importance of ensuring women’s access to health and education services, and the ongoing challenges with properly addressing gender-based violence (GBV) and sorcery accusation related violence (SARV). UNDP Resident Representative Dirk Wagener pledged ongoing support to the Committee, including through a new UNDP Parliamentary Strengthening Project funded by the Australian Government.

Following the briefing by UNDP, Governor Parkop stated: “It is very clear that there are many issues facing the women and girls of PNG but it is still very clear that ensuring their basic safety in their home and communities is absolutely essential. I was a member of the former Special Parliamentary Committee on GBV, under Hon Charles Abel’s chairmanship. We used our powers to draw attention to the lack of services and justice for the many survivors of gender-based violence and sorcery accusation related violence across the country. I want to continue to use our powers to make sure that every agency responsible for helping survivors does their jobs properly.”

The Governor was supported by other members of the Committee in recognising that GBV and SARV continue to be their top priority for action. Deputy Chair, East Sepik Governor Allan Bird commented: “I want to continue to focus heavily on the importance of strengthening the justice system to ensure justice for survivors of GBV and SARV. The Royal PNG Constabulary and the rest of the justice system must be held to account for delivering justice for survivors of violence. They have to do proper investigations and bring perpetrators to trial.” New Member of the Committee, Hon Marsh Narewec (Member for Wau-Waria) confirmed that the plight of women and girls facing GBV and SARV was a key priority he wanted to focus on. He stated: “I want the Committee to drill down into the heart of these matters, in terms of the investigation and criminalization of violence against women and girls. Perpetrators must face the full force of the law; there must be justice.”

Central Province Governor, Hon. Rufina Peter, the only women on the Committee, also acknowledged that GBV and SARV was a systemic problem across the country that needed to be better tackled by agencies at all levels. She also observed that there were broader strategies that could also make a different stating: “I believe that if we want to tackle these problems at their root and in a sustainable way we also need to address women’s political participation and leadership. Having more women leaders in decision-making positions could curb some of these issues, by bringing different perspectives and approaches to combat these long-term problems.”

Governor Bird also put officials on notice that they would be held to account for using Government resources for maximum impact stating: “I also want to make sure that all the agencies involved in addressing GEWE issues are using their resources properly. We will review only the justice services but key bodies like the National GBV Secretariat at the Department for Community Development and Religion. They had a budget of K 7.9 million in 2022 to address GBV and SARV and I want to know whether it was used for impact.”

Committee member, Hon. Lohia Boe Samuel (Member for Moresby North-West), expresses his support for the Deputy Chair’s statement, re-affirming that it will be critical for the Committee to also focus on institutional strengthening of key government agencies, many of which clearly have weaknesses in staffing and expertise that is undermining efforts to help women and girls. Committee member, Hon. Ricky Morris also committed to actively working as a member of the Committee to act as “an extra voice for women and girls”, pushing at the highest levels for more progress to be made.

The Committee adjourned with a commitment to coming back together again in the coming weeks for a more detailed discussion on the core issues they want to address. They have tentatively agreed to dedicate their first public hearings to reviewing progress by Government to address GBV and SARV, with hearings likely to be held some time in May 2023.

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