Warning: This story talks about experiences of domestic violence.
In the Pacific, almost two-thirds of women and girls experience violence at the hand of a family member or intimate partner.
In Papua New Guinea, the statistics are even more grim, with a woman beaten every 30 seconds.
Lydia Gah was one of those women.
Her husband of 12 years controlled her every move, abusing her verbally, emotionally, financially and physically.
“He used to do it just secretly in the house. But then once I had two kids, he started abusing me publicly,” she explains.
“On many occasions he tore my clothes publicly.”
Lydia says she could never understand her husband’s anger or violence.
“I would often say, ‘Can you tell me the problem? Why are you angry?’ I never could fathom any reason why he would hit me or he would burn me.”
Lydia has shared her story with ABC podcast Sistas Let’s Talk, along with other women who are speaking out about domestic violence in PNG.
‘Men need to step up’
Lydia sought help from police “countless times” over the years she experienced violence.
“I would run to … [the] police station, [but] they would just tell me, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you. It’s domestic affairs, we can’t interfere’.”
She says in the end she was tired of being turned away.
“You have just wasted your time either getting a bus or walking there … and I walked there many, many times. Countless times, seeking help.”
That was in the 1980s, but women are still facing an epidemic of violence in PNG, explains journalist and advocate Tania Nugent.
She says while more and more women are speaking out and sharing their stories, men need to step up.
“These violent acts that are perpetrated in our society from one citizen on another: these are all crimes,” she says.
“But for some reason, when it comes into the space of a husband and his wife, it’s not looked at anymore as a crime. It’s not viewed culturally as a crime. It’s viewed as the right of the husband to do what he wants to his wife.
“The people that can fix this are the men of our country.
“Because the statistics show overwhelmingly that the perpetrators of violence from one citizen upon another is men.”
Tania says it was “really exciting” to see PNG’s parliamentary committee on gender-based violence set up, with a three-day inquiry held to investigate measures to prevent violence against women and girls.
But she questions why “nothing seems to [have] come out of it”, with little follow-up on 71 recommendations that were made as a result of the inquiry, including that justice be applied equally to perpetrators, regardless of their profile or status.
“Nothing seems to have happened,” Tania says.
“It just seems to be a lot of money spent on organising these things where we get together and talk and talk and talk.”
Time to leave
Lydia’s abuser often burned her with a soldering iron, but she says the catalyst for escaping the violence was when he poured boiling water over her head.
“All that flesh was just bare … I was always trying to keep the flies away around my head and my chest and shoulders,” she says.
“It was a very traumatic experience.”
After Lydia was discharged from hospital, she contacted the university where she worked.
“I said that I will need an accommodation for me and my two children.
“When I came out, I got an affidavit. I reported the matter to the police. And I also asked them to register the case in court.”
Lydia filed for divorce and sole custody of their two children.
She says she drew strength and comfort from prayer.
“I lost completely my life and my identity. I lived in the 12 years as he wanted me to live.
“I lost myself and I lost my voice. I lost everything that defines who Lydia was at that time.”
‘Violence against women is a male issue’
Lydia is happily married to her second husband and they live in Australia.
She says she’s forgiven herself, and her abuser.
“It’s for my own healing. If I don’t forgive him, I’m still indebted to him. He’s still in control of my emotions.”
Tania says she is hopeful for the future of women in PNG.
“Women are becoming more and more empowered,” she says.
“[But] we only have so much power.
“Men have the problem. Violence against women is a male issue, not a female issue.”
- KELLIE SCOTT is a digital journalist with the ABC. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.