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The dangers of defending women accused of witchcraft in Papua New Guinea – Global Issues

“When we try to help other people, or when we go to court to settle someone’s case, we are faced with words,” says Mary Kini, of the Highland Human Rights Defenders Network. threats and threats.

Human rights defender Mary Kini, Papua New Guinea.

© Spotlight Initiative / Rachel Donovan

Human rights defender Mary Kini, Papua New Guinea.

Personal costs

For over 14 years, she has worked to support victims of magic-related and gender-based violence, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), despite the personal costs that often come with it. .

Ms. Kini recently joined human rights defenders Eriko Fuferefa, of the Kafe Urban Settlement Women’s Association, and Angela Apa, of Mount Hagen Women for Peace at Kup, for a lengthy consultation. three days on the development of Human Rights Defenders. bill.

“For so many years we were left unprotected and a number of human rights defenders were killed along the way,” said Ms. Fuferefa. “Some of them were abused, or tortured. We have a lot of bruises.”

After lobbying from the Spotlight Initiative, now greater political ownership over issues of violence against women and children, demonstrated through the first Congressional Special Inquiry on gender-based violence, made recommendations to parliament, and made notable legislative progress in the region. violence related to accusations of magic.

Peer educators distribute condoms and SRH information at Kokopo markets, Papua New Guinea.

© Spotlight / Rachel EASY Initiative

Peer educators distribute condoms and SRH information at Kokopo markets, Papua New Guinea.

‘They just want to kill me’

Practices for identifying people accused of witchcraft vary from county to county, but generally, when someone dies suddenly, the deceased’s family consults with Glasman (male) or Glasmeri (female) to determine who in the community is responsible.

Accusations of magic by a glasman or glasmeri have resulted in the torture and murder of dozens of women across PNG. Although accusations can be made in both men and women, most victims of violence are women.

“When my husband died, we took him back to his village and there his family started to suspect that I killed him so they planned to cut off my head and bury it with my late husband.” , one survivor explained. “That’s not true, they just want to kill me.”

“People have these norms, these beliefs,” Kini said. “When a Glasman or Glasmeri comes along and says something, people automatically react to what they are saying.”

Human rights defender Eriko Furerefa, Kafe Urban Settlement Women's Association, Goroka, East Central Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea

© Spotlight Initiative / Rachel Donovan

Human rights defender Eriko Furerefa, Kafe Urban Settlement Women’s Association, Goroka, East Central Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea

A long overdue change

Amendments to the Penal Code make it illegal to use, attempt to use or threaten to use their services. Penalties include up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to 10,000 PGK.

In its submission to the Parliament’s Special Inquiry in 2021, the Spotlight Civil Society Reference Group (of which Kini is co-chair) recommended that the Government review policies and legislation to address Social norms permit violence related to magic, including the use of glasman and glasmeri.

Kini concludes: “This is very important and I am really pleased that this has passed as this is something we have been asking for for a long time.

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