By Sarah Byrne
THERE are calls for businesses to address violence against female staff as it occurs at home, with a recent report finding “Domestic violence in particular intrudes into the workplace.”
The concern, highlighted in the 2014 Socio-economic cost of crime and violence in Papua New Guinea report, published by the World Bank, has been echoed by the PNG business community.
It is far from the first time such an issue has been aired, with a 2008 study referred to in the Hidden and Neglected: The medical and emotional needs of survivors of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea report by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) also making serious discoveries.
From 415 women interviewed from the National Capital District, Western Highlands, Morobe and Western Province, 58 per cent had suffered physical or emotional abuse in relationships, 47% reported financial abuse, 44% reported sexual abuse and 38% of those interviewed reported social isolation.
Statistics such as these have prompted some PNG organisations to begin addressing gender violence in PNG and looking at how it impacts businesses.
The chair of the Business Coalition For Women’s Addressing Violence Working Group Linda Van Leeuwen, told PNG Resources there was a need to treat gender violence as a workplace health and safety issue.
Dr Van Leeuwen, also a capacity building specialist at Anitua, said statistics indicated roughly three quarters of female staff in the mining industry are likely to be victims of gender violence.
Considering the importance put on occupational health and safety particularly within the mining industry, Dr Van Leeuwen said she could not understand why more companies were not treating gender violence as a serious workplace health and safety issue.
Gender violence can impact the mental and physical health of victims, perpetrators and bystanders, meaning employees may be unfit to work safely due to being distracted, from feeling scared, concerned, angry and even unable to complete his or her role due to physical injuries from a physical attack, Dr Van Leeuwen said.
“These are ‘fit for work’ issues,” she said.
Gender violence, even that which occurs in the home, impacts the safety of the workplace and has a flow on effect often resulting in reduced productivity, higher absenteeism and even accidents in the workplace, Dr Van Leeuwen said.
But addressing this in the workplace meant overcoming a culture of gender inequality and challenging the belief that such violence was a private issue, to be dealt with privately, she said.
Asking that gender based violence be managed as a workplace occupational health and safety issue, Dr Van Leeuwen said she would like to see the initial granting of mining licences and licence renewal made conditional on a company’s implementation of an anti-gender violence program in the workplace.
“Each company must have a gender program where they look at gender violence and consider ways to maximise the safety of their female staff, make sure there is support for victims, programs for perpetrators and the communities in which the company operates in,” she said.
Dr Van Leeuwen also stressed the importance of leadership on the issue from business leaders and organisations in PNG.
One company which has acknowledged that gender violence is a workplace health and safety issue is Oil Search, which launched a women’s empowerment and protection unit as part of the company’s Health Foundation in February as the latest step in a long running anti-gender violence campaign.
Speaking with PNG Resources, Oil Search Health Foundation board director, Stephanie Copus-Campbell said the private sector needs to take a bigger role in addressing gender violence.
She said businesses must take seriously the unintended effects it may have on employees, such as those caused by bringing men away from their homes for period of time, changes to a family’s lifestyle or a significant amount of additional money earned by an employee.
“There is a responsibility to understand no matter what business you are in what unintended consequences will come from being in that business,” Ms Copus-Campbell said.
“It is important for companies to invest and give their employees the tools and also the support,” she added.
Used as a way to prioritise the issue for the company, the women’s protection and empowerment unit will tackle the issue of gender based violence from a company policy level.
This will see it help employees address the issue in their own lives, if appropriate, and also providing men and women with the tools to be champions for change in their communities.
“We would like to see some good practical outcomes of funding programs through our foundation. We are exploring how to better support women’s literacy.”
“I think it is well known that the more literate a woman is the more likely a survivor of family and sexual violence can deal with their situation. Literacy is a very important tool,” Ms Copus-Campbell said.
With almost 3000 people working for Oil Search or as contractors, the potential to be a leader in this area and drive change is significant, Ms Copus-Campbell said.
“Imagine if every one of them [employees] influenced at least one of person in the community.”
“The private sector has a lot of untapped potential to take a significant role,” she said.
Going forward, Ms Copus-Campbell said it was important for PNG businesses and those in the community to implement a zero tolerance approach to violence in the workplace and carry this into communities.
Ms Copus-Campbell said people in PNG have started to open up a conversation about gender based violence and she sees the issue driven by Oil Search employees and supported by management, with the hope that change will start in the workplace and flow on into the broader community.
Haus Krai, held in May, is a gender violence protest event, also known as a day of mourning where people in PNG take to the streets to march in protest of gender violence.
The 2015 Lihir Ailan Haus Krai was a success with not just a march, but a series of speeches and prayers by key stakeholders.
In addition, this year the Lihir Ailan Haus Krai provided an information tent where people could find out more about gender violence support services and obtain advice on the Family Protection Act.
Commenting on the Lihir Ailan Haus Krai, Dr Van Leeuwen said Anitua’s support of Haus Krai and lobbying for gender violence services on Lihir is just one way the company tries to support women and combat gender based violence.
If you or someone you know is affected by gender based violence please visit meritoksave.org, where you will find a Directory of Emergency Services for those Affected by Family and Sexual Violence should you require further assistance.