By Vanessa Gordon

On Friday the 17th of November a six year old child was tortured sustaining wounds and burns all over her body.

This child is the daughter of Leniata Kepari.

In 2013 Leniata was burned to death by a mob in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea she was accused of practicing witchcraft and sorcery. The mob that burned Leniata to death have never been charged for her murder.

Her death caused international exposure and a global uproar. Women across the pacific and around the world band together to fight for gender equality and protest against gender based violence.

Leniata’s death introduced this new terminology of “Accusation Based Violence” in Papua New Guinea.

The country mourned her death. There were marches and campaigns around the world. We had enough! No more we cried! In true Melanesian spirit we sobbed and we wept. We lit candles and had twenty four hour vigils to commemorate a woman that no-one knew.

She was our sister, our mother, our daughter, she was our wife our neighbour and our friend. We shed tears. Genuine tears. Leniata’s death was mourned globally. We also mourned another death the death of our moral values, our principles and ideals.

This ignited a passion to make a change. There have been many changes with the introduction of new policies, programs and initiatives that have been working towards protecting the women and children of Papua New Guinea. Despite our attempts to make progress all our hard work seemed meaningless on the 17th of November 2017.

The horrendous abuse inflicted on this child is unspeakable. I have sat in disbelief for almost a week trying to figure out how did this happen?

How did we let this happen?

I say “we” and I say “ours” because it is our duty of care and our responsibility as a group of citizens, countrymen and women to ensure that the next generation of citizens, countrymen and women are protected. We cried and marched for this child’s mother. We as a whole nation made public oaths to end the violence. How did this happen?

The irony is chilling that three years after her mother’s death this six year old child has been blamed for witchcraft and sorcery! She was accused of inheriting her mother’s “sanguma” or sorcery powers.

Justice is yet to be served. Thankfully Leniata’s daughter survived. Her name and her face have been protected. She has been officially nicknamed “Justice”. There is hope for Justice. The nation rose up this week. The Prime Minister Peter O’Neil has taken a stand condemning this atrocious act and he is committed to putting an end to this atrocity.

The perpetrators who committed the barbaric crime are a very small group of people. They are a minuscule minority.

Unfortunately the reality is that yes this happened, and yes it happened in our back yard ,yes there are individuals who for some reason unbeknown to me believe that burning a woman at a stake or torturing a child is acceptable. This is a very very small group of people who unfortunately have made a huge impact in how the rest of the world sees us.
The majority and I mean a vast majority of Papua New Guineans do not accept this behaviour nor do we condone these acts. This is not the Papua New Guinean way.

Do we have a problem with gender based violence? Yes. But so does the rest of the world. There are cases in parts of the world that are just as horrific that are being committed daily. There is an issue with gender based violence within the Pacific in general. Before we can address the faults of our neighbours we need to fix the problem at home.

It is an issue prevalent within our region because of our inaction or lack of education, policies and awareness. This is changing. However the change is a slow frustrating process. I suppose slow change is better than no change. But at what cost? How many torturous acts are unreported? How many victims go unnoticed because incidents are not reported. Why are they not reported? Is it the lack of resources? Is it the remoteness? Is it fear of reporting?

Will recent events hopefully reignite a passion for change? One can only hope.

We hope for change, we pray for change and we cry for change.

One group in particular who has been at the forefront of change in Papua New Guinea is The Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation. The Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation together with Lutheran Missionary Anton Lutz combined forces to rescue Justice from her attackers.
Justice is now safe and recovering. Individuals like Anton Lutz and organisations like Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation work tirelessly and passionately around the clock to serve communities in some of the country’s most remote parts.

They have set up centres throughout the nation.These individuals commit their lives to our people. They are Justice’s saving grace. If they had not been on the ground and present Justice could have faced the same fate her mother faced. Justice is in a safe place and is receiving ongoing care thanks to Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation and Anton Lutz.

The time and resources they invest into the people of Papua New Guinea is one hundred percent authentic. They are good people who dedicate their lives to serving our people. They are to be commended for their unconditional support and presence in the region.

Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation released a short film in 2016 titled Senisim Pasin ( Change Your Ways) The Senisim Pasin campaign advocates gender equality, economic empowerment and fighting the good fight to end gender based violence throughout Papua New Guinea.

Too many critics scrutinise organisations that enter Papua New Guinea to help Papua New Guineans. The truth is that without organisations like Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation, without individuals who sacrifice their lives to live in harsh conditions thousands of miles away from home all in the name of hope, kindness, compassion and change there would be no aid posts, medical centres, safe houses, training facilities and basic ammenities provided on a grassroots level.

These groups move mountains and are dedicated to positive change.

We too need to be equally dedicated and committed to change. Our drums need to be heard they need to be louder. We need to collaborate and work together instead of against each other. And we need to be consistent if we want change. There are so many catch phrases and slogans for change in Papua New Guinea. And thats great. A slogan is just that a slogan, they are just words and meaningless words without effective action. We the people both at home and abroad need to pick up our game. Raise the bar. All our attempts to raise awareness on the internet means nothing if we don’t take the resources and the message out of the confines of your own home.
Lets defend the weak. Lets shine a light in the darkness.

You want to see an end to gender based violence and accusation based violence?

Then end it!

You end it by speaking up, by calling out the perpetrators, by using your voice and by raising awareness within your family, your clan, your tribe and region. You end it by intervening when a woman is being vilified, victimised and scrutinised for being a woman. You end it by fostering a culture that makes an individual feel safe and secure.

On March 8 1965 Martin Luther King Jr spoke from his pulpit about courage he spoke about those who recognise that there is something wrong or witness a wrongful act being committed but fail to act “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

We need to act.

Failing to act is costing lives.

Failing to act is killing our humanity!

Failing to act is killing our integrity!

Failing to act is killing our morality!

For Justice