Thai cave rescue divers praise PNG at Bel isi PNG leadership forum

Two genuine Aussie heroes have thrown their weight behind Bel Isi PNG, Port Moresby’s ground-breaking public-private partnership, to tackle family and sexual violence (FSV).

Named the 2019 Australians of the Year following their role in rescuing 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in 2018, Dr Richard Harris and Dr Craig Challen took part in Bel Isi PNG’s second annual Leadership Forum held recently at the iconic APEC Haus.

In town thanks to Oil Search – an enthusiastic supporter of Bel is PNG– they were joined by many prominent figures from government, business, and civil society.

All guests heard National Capital District (NCD) Governor Powes Parkop congratulate partners on a hugely successful first year which saw the establishment of a safe house funded by BSP and a case management centre supported by Steamships. Oil Search Foundation provides all project management, and the Australian Government (in partnership with the Government of Papua New Guinea through its Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Program) provides core funding support. The local NGO, Femili PNG operates core services.

Bel isi PNG has already assisted over 200 FSV survivors, including children, to access services and has provided around 2000 people with information on where to find help through employee awareness sessions. The Governor said that while progress is very promising, challenges are daunting:

“Yes we have reduced FSV but ultimately we need to stop it,” he said. “We need to think about how we can change mindsets and behaviour, and in doing so, we need to think outside the box.”

The Governor’s words set the tone for the forum that followed – an interactive set of round-table discussions where participants shared ideas on how to protect and empower women. They put forward action plans on engaging men in preventing and addressing violence, leading change, overcoming the many constraints faced at work including every day sexism, developing corporate policies and advocating for change.

Oil Search Foundation’s Executive Director, Stephanie Copus-Campbell, described the discussions as extremely productive.

“It’s events like these that galvanize the private sector in partnership with government and civil society to drive change. As leaders and influencers within the community, we have a responsibility to raise awareness of the challenges and come up with practical solutions to address the problems.”

‘With the majority of women in Papua New Guinea having suffered from some form of physical or sexual violence, changing mindsets is a major priority – and we’re not going to do that without working in partnership,” Copus-Campbell said.

Partners established the leadership forum to bring together leading voices and perspectives on the many facets of FSV. These voices included Police Minister Bryan Kramer, who emphasised the need for effective, sensitive and well-trained police; ANZ Chair Winifred Kamit, who promoted the need for effective leadership as well as developing the capacity of local NGOs to respond; Minister-Counsellor & Consul-General for Australia, Jo Stevens, who expressed the need to prioritise working with local service providers which have family and sexual violence policies and procedures in place; and CEO of the Brian Bell Group, Cameron Mackellar, along with Bank of South Pacific’s Head of Support Services, Alicia Sahib, who both demonstrated how active leadership results in more employees seeking support and in return able to perform better at work.

Participants also heard from male champions of change including NCD Deputy Governor and Motu Koita Assembly Chairman Dadi Toka Jr, Digicel CEO Colin Stone and Ganjiki Wayne representing the Oil Search Board on the positive role men can play in combatting FSV. The group agreed there are many PNG men who are actively driving positive change and inspiring other men and boys on why respect for women is good for everyone.

The two Australians of the Year, also male champions for change, congratulated the countless every day heroes who devote their lives to a safer PNG. Both highlighted the essential role of leadership and partnership in addressing the challenges and maximising the opportunities for change.

Omar Dalagan