At the front line of the response to these acts of violence are dedicated individuals, pushing for a society free of violence.
For Thelma Hungito, being at the centre of efforts to combat family and sexual violence in one of PNG’s most heavily populated provinces is much more than just a job.
As Coordinator of Morobe’s Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee (FSVAC), Thelma is at the forefront of action to tackle everything from violence against women, children and those accused of sorcery to improving services for people living with a disability.
It is a demanding role made tougher by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a surge in calls for assistance.
Even after five years in the role, Thelma’s determination to improve lives and drive change is undiminished.
“Violence against women continues to occur at an alarming scale. Too often it is accepted as normal behaviour.
“To end violence against women, children and the vulnerable, we need to challenge the attitudes that perpetuate, rationalise and normalise violence and deny everyone’s right to safety,” she said.
After graduating with a Social Work Degree from the Divine Word University in 2013, Thelma joined the Morobe Provincial Administration’s Community Development Division where she was employed as Social Welfare Officer.
It was there that it became apparent to her just how prevalent violence against women, children and the vulnerable was and she decided to do what she could to help combat it.
Over the next two years, the idea of establishing a Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee in Morobe gained momentum and in 2016, Thelma was appointed inaugural FSVAC Coordinator.
Thelma threw herself into the role with enthusiasm, building networks, writing budgets, sourcing funding, running workshops and training sessions, working with partners, strengthening referral pathways, recording data and attending meetings.
The pressure has barely let up since and Thelma admits that at times it can almost feel overwhelming. But, she finds strength and support among Morobe’s tight-knit group of experienced women leaders campaigning against FSV.
Thelma takes the daily challenges posed by limited resources and logistics support, inadequate office space, tight budgets and attacks by critics in her stride, regarding them as steppingstones rather than obstacles.
“As long as I am doing my work holistically and people are receiving services from providers, I am happy with the work I am doing,” Thelma said.
She says one of her proudest achievements is helping oversee the decentralisation of FSV services within the province. So far, Thelma has assisted in establishing FSVACs in six of Morobe’s nine districts, with the remaining three well on their way.
“We aim to empower Village Court officials in the communities. We sensitise and train them on the Family Protection Act and how to issue Interim Protection Orders to protect survivors and their families,” Thelma said.
She views this work as essential in helping ensure FSV survivors have ready access to effective legal and support services in their communities in the districts.
“We don’t want survivors to spend huge sums of money to come into the city to get help.” Thelma says.
Thelma is just as pleased to be involved in training police officers about the importance of gender awareness in their work. “We’ve seen changes in how male officers attend to FSV complaints unlike before when they don’t prioritise these cases.”
She is expressed gratitude for the support she receives from the Australian Government through the Papa New Guinea-Australia Partnership that has helped her grow and do her job.
Thelma knows there is still a long way to go but she remains resolute.
“Shifting behaviour is hard and slow but gender equality means all of us and working with all genders is the only way to see true change,” she added.