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Family and sexual violence

24 March 2014

Stephanie Copus-Campbell in PNG

Imagine living in a country where you find yourself “routinely described as having one of the world’s worst records of family and sexual violence”? Or where, if you are a woman, the studies have shown that for “one in every five women, rape is their first sexual experience and 50 percent of women experience sexual violence”.

Papua New Guinea is such a country.

However, for a growing number of Papuan New Guineans this is going to change. They are fed up with the state of affairs for women and children in their country, and they have begun mobilising themselves to curb the violence. They are also beginning the process of educating men, women and children around the fact that violence is not a way of life – it is not something with which you just have to live.

One of the country’s strongest voices on the Family Sexual Violence (FSV) issue is Papua New Guinea’s Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee, and its National Coordinator Ume Wainetti. Ume works on the ground and at policy level to make a difference, informing PNG and the world about what is being done to curb the abuse.

Falling in behind these motivated Papuan people are a number of external bodies willing to support them in their efforts, including the Australian National University, the  Harold Mitchell Foundation and the Australian Federal Government.

In 2014, the Australian Federal Government announced the provision of $3million over three years to fund the new case management centre (CMC) in the country’s second largest city of Lae.

The CMC will coordinate with the community to provide shelter and support for victims of violence, as well as medical and legal support, and training for other service providers. It will also advocate for change, and raise awareness around family and sexual violence.

The newly minted PNG Family and Sexual Violence Case Management Centre (CMC) in Lae is the first of a number of centres being planned to bring about change for women and children in PNG.

Stephanie Copus-Campbell, Executive Director, Harold Mitchell Foundation, and International Adviser to Harold Mitchell (pictured above in Papua New Guinea), has supported the development of the new Centre. She recently attended a Ruby CARE Australia International Women’s Day breakfast in Melbourne with CARE CEO Julia Newton-Howes, an Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence awardee. We caught up with Stephanie to find out about her work and the PNG Family and Sexual Violence CMC.

Stephanie has worked in the field of aid and international development since 1993. Her experience in has included a secondment to CARE Australia as the Principal Executive for International Programs.

Stephanie was the head of Australia’s $470 million aid program to Papua New Guinea from 2009-2011.

“Apart from the very real physical and human rights repercussions, what really has to be noted,” says Stephanie, “is women who are victims of violence cannot fully contribute to society, the workplace, the economy or family life.

“When I was in PNG, and I’ve had two postings to the country, violence was everywhere. It was visible in hospitals, in the faces of women and girls. Running a team of 500 people during my second stint with Australia’s aid program, I knew it affected the way the women could do their work.

“For example, I always worried when I promoted women because it could put them at risk, with jealous  husbands or other families members wanting their money. That was an issue for us in terms of how we supported the women who worked for us and it affected efficiency, and effectiveness,” Stephanie notes.

Violence also undermined what the aid program set out to do in all sectors, including law and justice, health and HIV, and education.

What struck Stephanie was the lack of a comprehensive centre to address the issue.

Worldwide, effective management of family and sexual violence requires a criminal justice response, as well as a range of support services.

The Angau General Hospital Family Support Centre (FSC) in Lae was providing treatment to about 3000 survivors a year. However, the explicit focus of these activities was medical and psychosocial care, and success in this area only served to highlight the weaknesses in other sectors. It was why it made sense to start expanding services for survivors in Lae .

The CMC project also raises awareness in the community and further afield with the express purpose of gaining further funds both from government and the private sector.

Back when Stephanie was involved with the aid program there were areas she found challenging and difficult in such a large reform initiative.

“I wanted a mentor, someone in the private sector, and I approached Harold [Mitchell],” she says.

“He agreed to help me with the business side of things if I would help him better understand development,” continues Stephanie.

Harold Mitchell was about to become chair of Care Australia, and he also wanted to refocus his foundation to make a difference in Australia and our near region. Stephanie enjoyed the mentoring experience so much she joined the Foundation in a full time capacity.

The Harold Mitchell Foundation funds the Development Policy Centre at ANU which has been designing the Lae CMC project.

“The CMC operates under a robust governance model. That robustness can be hard to find in PNG,” says Stephanie.

“There are proper regular board meetings, a chair and various sub committees,” Stephanie continues, explaining that Australian government support will be administered through Oxfam.

“Oxfam is a highly regarded, transparent organisation and its involvement further assures donors that there are transparent well-governed financial channels,” says Stephanie, acknowledging the importance of security for donors.

“Contributions like those from the Australian Government mean we’re now in the do-it phase. We’re kicking goals,” finishes Stephanie enthusiastically.

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