Welcome to part one of our October 2020 Inspirational Interview with Konnie Yoifa, the Port Moresby Operations Director of the Bel isi PNG Initiative case management centre and safe house, both operated by Femili PNG.
Ms. Yoifa worked as a nurse until 2008 when she decided to take up the challenge and work in mental health counseling with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). She worked with MSF as a Mental Health Counselor from 2008-2012 while they were operating the Family Support Centre in Lae, Morobe Province. Through in-house training provided by MSF, Ms. Yoifa developed an interest in counseling. In 2013-2014, she attained a Diploma in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Goroka. She has been with Femili PNG since 2014, working as a Child Protection Officer then Training Coordinator. In 2019, she transferred to Port Moresby when Femili PNG set up operations there, starting as the Case Work Manager and then Operations Director for that office.
Part 2 of this interview will be published 26 October 2o20.
Photos courtesy of Femili PNG.
1. How and why did you join the movement to end violence against women (VAW) and how did you come to be part of Femili PNG?
I did not really understand gender-based violence (GBV) until I was introduced to sex workers and same sex marriage partners by a family friend who was working with Save the Children. As time went by, I came to understand the difficulties and challenges that these vulnerable groups of people faced. I started reading IEC (information, education, communication) materials on different forms of abuse and from there, I started to have an interest and began advocating in my own peer groups.
When I was given the opportunity to work as a mental health counsellor with Medecins Sans Frontieres, I took up the challenge. The ongoing in-house training helped me to understand the impact of the violence on women and children. This was when I first had the desire to work with people to prevent VAW.
I came to Femili PNG after I was selected to work as a Child Protection Officer.
2. Papua New Guinea has one of the highest rates of VAW in the world with two-thirds of women facing domestic violence and up to 70% of women and girls experiencing or being at risk of rape in their lifetime. Could you give us an overview of Femili PNG’s approach to addressing VAW in the country?
Femili PNG addresses VAW is by providing case management services to the survivors of child abuse, all forms of sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, and sorcery accusation-related violence. Our caseworkers assist survivors to access services that are available within the context they are living in. These services include emergency accommodation, medical services, and law and justice interventions, among others. We are a survivor-centered organisation, and our caseworkers work with clients to help them develop short-term and long-term objectives for their safety.
Femili PNG’s national office in Lae also conducts other activities like providing family and sexual violence (FSV) sensitisation training to community leaders, church leaders, and service providers and partners. This training looks at issues with the cycles of violence, different forms of abuse, child safety, related laws, and assists participants to develop action plans to prevent and respond to FSV in their communities.
Femili PNG’s Outreach team also conducts awareness activities – which are generally information sessions on FSV and where survivors can seek help – at different community markets, health centres, schools and businesses. Over the last two years, the Outreach team has reached over 30,000 people each year through these sessions.
3. What are some of the particular challenges that Femili PNG faces when tackling VAW in Port Moresby and Lae, especially since Port Moresby has been described as “the world’s most dangerous city to be a woman”?
In the referral pathway for FSV survivors, service providers have challenges and limitations. With case management, Femili PNG facilitates the process in which clients have access to the services that are available. We collaborate with the service providers so that clients receive the services they need.
In Port Moresby, one of our challenges is dealing with high-profile cases. These cases are usually where the perpetrators are high-profile people, officials, or businessmen who have a great deal of influence in their communities. Though there are referral pathways and systems in place, sometimes the influence of high-profile perpetrators means that cases do not get processed and perpetrators are not prosecuted.
4. According one of the latest pieces of news on the Femili PNG website, your organisation has been noted as a significant partner in the progress against family, sexual and gender-based violence in PNG in a report by Pacific Women. Could you tell us more about the services that Femili PNG provides for the victims, survivors, and communities that you serve?
Case management is the primary service that Femili PNG provides in both project locations in Lae and Port Moresby. In Port Moresby, under the initiative of Bel isi PNG, we operate a case management centre and the Bel Isi Safe House.
In addition to accessing safe accommodation, medical services, and justice, Femili PNG provides other services to survivors of FSV. This can include repatriation or relocation if the client feels that it is not safe to live in the same house or community where the perpetrator lives. We also assist survivors with business start-up kits if they do not have any financial support. Femili PNG’s in-house lawyers provide legal advice and assistance. We also provide emergency food supplies and basic necessities to clients who want to temporarily move to a safe location while waiting for their court cases.
5. Over the years, what sort of impact has Femili PNG had on Papua New Guinea’s approach and attitudes towards violence against women?
Femili PNG, like any other organisation working in the field of VAW, has one way or another influenced how Papua New Guinea approaches VAW. We do this by ensuring that our staff advocate accordingly and our clients receive the services they deserve.
Many people in PNG think that physical violence was the only form of abuse but through Femili PNG’s awareness activities, people are starting to understand the different forms of abuse. With the ongoing awareness-raising, people have started to seek help for different forms of abuse. Also, through Femili PNG’s training, more community and church leaders, teachers, and officials are becoming sensitised to and developing a deeper understanding of family and sexual abuse as well as laws relating to these issues.
Femili PNG is also involved in research and surveys around VAW and the related laws. Reports from these surveys are evidence-based and used to advocate on approaches and attitudes towards VAW.