Gender-based violence in Bougainville: Stories of change
Gender-based violence throughout Papua New Guinea is a well documented concern across disciplines. Within the field of development, gender-based violence is not only seen as a human rights breach, but it is widely accepted that violence exacerbates poverty, and that poverty exacerbates violence. Women are particularly affected by this cyclic nature of violence. Despite numerous initiatives from development actors, the Papua New Guinean government and local agencies, the rate of violence has not shifted in the past two decades (Ganster-Breidler, 2010). Similarly, in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, reports state that the rate of violence against women is extremely high. A United Nations study from 2013 showed that over 60 per cent of Bougainville men surveyed had committed rape at some point in their lives, and that physical violence was equally prevalent (Fulu et al., 2013). In response to these worrisome reports, I began to wonder what can be done to address gender-based violence. What has been successful in the past and what can we learn from those who have firsthand experience of intimate partner violence? The research addressed these types of problems through the use of 18 interviews conducted with men and women; including former perpetrators of intimate partner violence and survivors. The study was further strengthened by my observations from working at Buka Family Support Centre, a service in Bougainville that cares for survivors of gender-based violence. I frame this research within feminist and poststructural ways of knowing. It is influenced by a four-tiered conceptual model that considers external and internal influences on individual actions. The analysis was inspired by Foucault’s discourse analysis (Foucault, 1979, 1984) and I pay special attention to dominant and discriminatory discourses and the resistance to these. In summary, this study offers intimate and detailed stories of change. It reveals that the participants primarily referred to positive change as an absence of physical violence and not necessarily other forms of gender-based violence. The study also shows that the survivors’ resisted violence throughout the abusive period, and those who eventually chose to divorce only did so because of concerns over safety. The stories are anchored to lived experiences, and the conclusion and recommendations that flow from this qualitative study contribute to knowledge of what works when trying to end violence within an intimate partnership in Bougainville.