Tears of Joy as Water Washes Away Years of Gender-Based Violence in Papua New Guinea

Today is the start of 16 days of global activism to work towards the elimination of violence against women. The day was chosen by the United Nations to commemorate the savage murder of the three Mirabel sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic in 1960.

Labu Tale, sitting on the edge of a deep inlet in Papua New Guinea is a very traditional Papuan village, with distinctive customs and rituals. These have deep significance even today as speedboats and mobile phones open it up to the modern world.

Despite its natural beauty, colourful culture and rich mineral resources, Papua New Guinea is blighted by natural disasters and communal violence, including violence against women, which hinders development.

In 2009, members of the Labu Tale community fled from their ancestral home of Pigwa after a conflict with a neighboring tribe. The community rebuilt their homes and lives in Labu Tale, a narrow strip of coastal land, just a few kilometres away.

The move was not without its difficulties. Apart from leaving their homes, school and land behind, Labu Tale is prone to flooding, king tides and coastal erosion, in addition to being far from the nearest source of clean water.

Twice per day, the women and girls from the village had to borrow canoes to cross the lagoon behind the village and make a difficult trek up the side of a mountain in order to collect safe clean water from the mountain spring, before hauling their heavy containers of water back down to the village to use for cooking and washing.

These journeys took hours out of the day, and added to the hard domestic burden. For many young girls, the task of carrying water became their main daily activity, and often kept them out of school. It also put them at risk of sexual assault.

Women in Labu Tale celebrate the arrival of fresh water by tap in their village. Photo: IOM 2016

When the hard-to-reach water source forced them to spend hours outside the village, husbands would at times take out their frustrations on their wives, beating them for not returning sooner to cook meals for their families. Now that the community is able to access clean water right in the village, more time can be spent by women on productive and community-building activities, with a myriad of positive consequences.

Enter IOM, funded by USAID/ODFA, and a community-based disaster risk management planning process, aimed at building community resilience. When the plan was being drawn up, women in the community identified access to a clean water supply in the village as one of their most critical needs.

Funds for the community-led project were complimented by OFDA/USAID and the Huon Gulf district of Papua New Guinea. The community collected contributions to purchase two 9,000-liter water tanks that can store extra water to prepare for seasonal droughts. Labu Tale residents supplied the labour to build the water system with technical support from the government health department. Last week, the village held a community-wide event to commission their newly installed piped water supply system.

The day the water started running from the gravity-fed tap installed in the village, some of the women literally wept with happiness. Not only do they no longer have to trek up the mountain to fetch water, they can now organize their time and their lives.

Tape Wawly, a community leader, wife and mother, said there were “years of hardship and struggle before the water system was built. Now, in addition to more time for food preparation, income-generating activities, and schooling for children, there is already a decrease in gender-based violence.”

“The water system has indeed had immediate and far-reaching impacts on the life of the community,” said George Gigauri, IOM's Chief of Mission in Papua New Guinea, at a ceremony to mark the opening of the water system. “Now that the community is able to access clean water right in the village, more time can be spent by women on productive and community-building activities, with a myriad of positive consequences, empowering them to make better choices and stand up for themselves.”

For further information, please contact Wonesai Sithole at IOM Port Moresby; Tel: +675 3213655 Email: wsithole@iom.int or Pauline Mago-King, Communications Assistant, IOM Port Moresby, Tel: (+675) 321 36 55, Email: pmagoking@iom.int