A suite of measures first introduced by Barrick in 2011 to improve the lives of women in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Porgera Valley is starting to show early signs of progress. Based on a multi-stakeholder approach, these programs aim to help prevent gender violence and improve resources and services available to local women.
The company provided enhanced funding to the Porgera District Women’s Association to hire a women’s welfare liaison officer, and is supporting the establishment of a Family and Sexual violence unit by the local police. Barrick also recently announced a commitment of $1 million to build a dedicated Women’s Resource Centre near the Porgera mine.
Along with these measures, Barrick has partnered on a training initiative with the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, located in Suva, Fiji. The four-week Regional Training Program offers an in-depth review of the cultural, social, economic and political factors related to gender violence. It also covers counseling for survivors and examines prevention strategies, offering instruction on how to initiate lobbying and public education campaigns that raise awareness about women’s rights. “We teach about gender, basic human rights and compassion,” says Shamima Ali, Coordinator of the Centre’s Regional Training Program. “We hope participants take this message back to their communities, and that the message resonates.”
Barrick has sponsored two delegations of women’s welfare practitioners to attend the Centre’s training program to date. A third delegation will attend the upcoming session in October. Gender violence is a serious issue across much of the South Pacific and exacerbated by limited judicial and law enforcement capacity in many countries, says Ali. “Men feel as if they can act with impunity,” she says.
Independent studies by human rights groups and development agencies document a pervasive social problem that permeates the daily lives of women and girls.
Everlyn Sapp, who serves as Women’s Welfare liaison Officer at the Porgera District Women’s Association, is a graduate of the Regional Training program. “Everything I learned was useful to me and boosted my professional development,” she says.
Sapp reports she now receives invitations from churches and schools to speak about domestic violence and its impact on women. Teachers are better able to identify children in their school with problems, and refer parents for counseling. Male perpetrators are respecting invitations to attend counseling sessions and some have made moves to support their wives and children.
Ali, who began working at the Women’s Crisis Centre in 1985 just months after it opened, says she is also seeing progress. “It can be very frustrating, but we are seeing more women reporting domestic violence, and improvements in domestic violence legislation in some countries,” she says. “We’re also seeing new players like Barrick come into the field. They recognized that this was an issue around their mine and said, ‘We have to do something about it.’ ”
Ali says she derives great satisfaction when male participants open up to her. “I’ve had men walk up to me crying and say, ‘Now I know why my wife left me… and I want to meet her face to face and apologize,’ ” says Ali, who is a survivor of gender violence.
John Smith, (not his real name), who lives near the Porgera mine, is another Barrick-sponsored participant who took the Regional Training program. Already active in the community working with youth, he redoubled his activities upon completing the course, raising awareness about gender violence. “He is about to start engaging in an awareness campaign among senior leaders in the Porgera valley,” says Virginia Perkins, Community Development Specialist for Barrick at Porgera.
Smith also made changes in his own life. Married twice previously, both of his wives left him and took their children with them due to the abuse suffered at his hands. Upon completing the course last year, Smith sought out both women, made reparations — the traditional way to make amends in PNG — and apologized for the pain he had caused. He also asked the women how he could help them, and agreed to take back some of his children. “He told me he hit his wives because that’s what his father had done,” Perkins says. “Now, he sees the world through a different lens. He has eight children living with him, all in school, and he is working full time. He went through the training and it changed his life.”