Jenelyn Kennedy and Women Empowerment
Updated: Jul 31
Once again, Human Rights Watch has confirmed that domestic and sexual violence has prevailed over the last year in Papua New Guinea (PNG). These issues are certainly not new, nor reducing in number or brutality. The techniques and methods used to inflict domestic violence in PNG reach inhumane levels. It is common to see or hear about woman being pointed at with guns, breaking bones in a repetitive way, punching with metal objects in the face and in front of family members and neighbours, burning body parts with fire, destroying jaws, knife stabbing pregnant woman, lips or ears cut off and cases where hot cassava mixed with chili is shoved into the woman's vagina.
The severity of the techniques used by partners to inflict violence on women is outrageous, to the point it can most likely be classified as torture rather than simply domestic violence. The inhumane reality, experienced by more than ⅔ of the Population in PNG has sparked anger, discontent and frustration in many women, especially in Port Moresby.
Domestic Violence or Domestic Torture? The case of Jenelyn Kennedy
Recently, the case of Jenelyn Kennedy addressed these feelings of anger, discontent and frustration. It deeply resonated in many women and men while causing manifestations to spread across the capital. Jenelyn Kennedy, mother of two, was 19 years old at the moment of her murder in June of this year. She was chained and tortured for six days during which she was constantly beaten by her husband Bospi Kaiwi.
The investigation of the case pointed out two very concerning realities. First, Jenelyn had previously experienced domestic violence. Months before her death she filed a complaint to the police and left home to seek refuge at a safe house. Sadly, a month after she withdrew her complaint and returned to her abusive husband. Second, the legal system failed to address her complaints before they escalated and neighbours as well as health workers were fully aware that she was a victim of violence. This means that the whole arguably ‘support system’ she had available was outstandingly inefficient.
Sam Yockopua, the doctor that attended her during her last moments, reported the hell she experienced was planned to cause her “a slow, deliberate, painful, death”. For many, this would be classified as a case of domestic torture, not domestic violence. The popular response to the death of Jenelyn was clear and concise: Enough is enough.
Discontent and Anger: Protests in Port Moresby Mourning Jenelyn
Protests took place in Port Moresby condemning gender based violence (GBV) and demanding the government to focus their efforts on addressing this pressing issue. Fortunately, social media was a great facilitator to quickly spread the news and gather support. This caused organizations and businesses to implement staged vigils, wear black and share photos to manifest their support to the cause. Surprisingly, this was the first time the Prime Minister, Mr. Marape, publicly condemned an act of domestic violence and led the protest along with other men under the motto ‘PNG MAN UP’ encouraging young and old generations of men to assess their actions and put an end to violence.
Although the death of Jenelyn was an outrageous and tragic event, it has sparked local mobilization and brought light to the movement against domestic violence. This eventually brings hope to many women experiencing a similar situation, allowing them to know they are not alone in this struggle. Hope leads to empowerment and this is what is now taking place in PNG. Women are realizing they can be independent and empowered. The movement against domestic violence is experiencing a momentum of expansion. It cannot not die as a trend in social media and anti violence must be taught from generation to generation.
Protests in Port Moresby (Source: Australia Broadcasting Corporation)
Female Empowerment Gathering Momentum in Port Moresby
Many programmes are taking place to empower women and give them back control over their lives. For example, Debbie Kaore, the professional boxer and rugby player, has led the Kamapim Boxing Meri initiative. This aims to teach women how to box and defend themselves from potential threats. Along with her sister Rafaela Cara they aim to physically empower women to feel they can stand for themselves against violence.
Debbie, herself has recently been a victim of violence by her partner, who hit her in the face with a hot clothing iron in front of her children. She recorded the attack and publicly demanded justice while calling out domestic violence in PNG as unacceptable. Her demands were successful since her partner was arrested.
Furthermore, women are being empowered not only by standing up individually but also collectively. Women across many communities have organized ‘policing groups’ to protect themselves and take matters in their own hands. With the help of NGOs they have built safe houses, started projects as a day care centre, created awareness on child violence and HIV/AIDS among the community and they usually use blue uniforms to present themselves as protectors of women.
Along with community empowerment, businesses are showing initiative to protect and help women develop their careers. The PNG Business Coalition for Women made up of 17 male led or male owned is offering courses and certifications to allow women become skilled workers, gain financial independence and show themselves as active and competitive members of the national labourforce. Plus, new human resource policies are starting to protect women in labour spaces from harassment and male aggression.
Rose, star performer at Olmin Holdings, logistics management company. (Source: World Bank Blog)
Future Hope: Young Generations
Now that small steps are taking place, it is time to address the new generations. The particular case of PNG shows a very young population where the average age across the country is 22.4 years. Young men and women are the hope of the country and should not be ‘neglected’ as Chief Inspector Kamiak points out while looking at Mount Hagen, an area dominated by PNG’s youth.
Young Papua New Guineans have grown in violent homes, where abuse is a constant. They play a key role in the development of the country. Since they have been witnesses of violence they have two options: either becoming future perpetrators of this cycle or decide to change their futures and ultimately the country’s future. If we want change to take place these generations must unlearn violence as the only way to live.