- Written by Fiona Hukula, Senior Research Fellow and Program Leader, Building Safer Communities Research Program, PNG National Research Institute Fiona Hukula, Senior Research Fellow and Program Leader, Building Safer Communities Research Program, PNG National Research Institute
A large portion of 2020 has been occupied with trying to respond to and keep Papua New Guinea safe from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The lockdowns, in various provinces this year as a result of positive detections of COVID-19, has had an effect on the economy as well as the health and well-being of the general population.
During these times, it is important to make sure that the most vulnerable groups of people in our communities are cared for. Over the last few months, there has been feeding programs in the main centers like Port Moresby as well as distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the vulnerable groups of people.
Even though the lockdown is over, it is still important to monitor and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable groups of people because the effects of COVID-19 will still be felt for some time. Central to these concerns is the increase in gender-based violence (GBV), more specifically, violence within homes.
In cities, job losses will affect income generation activities and thus, put a strain on family relations. During the lockdowns and with the downturn in the economy, many women and families who depend on the informal economy and small and medium enterprise (SME) sector will feel the effects of COVID-19. This may affect the ability of the survivors of violence to obtain help as household needs may be prioritised over justice and health needs of the survivors.
Social distancing is also proving to be difficult to practise in some places in urban centres due to overcrowding. In cases where families are separated, this may be a cause for concern. Community human rights defenders, local leaders, church pastoral workers and village court officials should also be included as frontline social service providers.
The uplifting of travel restrictions has made it easier for survivors of domestic violence to move around and obtain assistance and for first responders such as community activists and human rights defenders to provide support. However, there is still danger in travelling on public transport and moving around in public places due to overcrowding and lack of social distancing. The fact that PNG is reporting positive cases almost everyday also puts survivors and frontline GBV workers at risk of catching the virus.
Earlier this year, I wrote an National Reseach Institute Spotlight piece on the effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable people. In that piece, I advocated for frontline workers and responders of GBV to be categorised as essential service providers. Some of the key points in that piece include the purchase and distribution of PPE’s to GBV first responders such as family support centre staff, police and community activists. This has happened. However, it must continue for as long as the pandemic measures are in place.
The health system has a majority of female workers. It is important to make sure that their health and safety is guaranteed, not only in the place of work but also in their homes. Women working long hours might lead to tensions at home. Stigma around COVID-19 may also put health workers at risk.
During this time, other GBV related services such as the 1 Talk Kaunsellin help line is proving to be a vital service not only for GBV referrals but for supporting COVID-19 related queries and referrals. This is the kind of service that needs operational support during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond as it provides an opportunity for survivors and perpetrators to receive non-judgmental counselling and referrals.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the way people all over the world live. The effects of isolation, income loss and stress will manifest themselves in different forms, domestic violence being one of them. It is important that those who require assistance are attended to during this niupla pasin times.
This article was first published in the Post-Courier’s 16 September 2020 edition and on its website’s commentaries and features page.