Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 31, December 2012

Margaret Jolly, Christine Stewart
with Carolyn Brewer (eds)

Engendering Violence
in Papua New Guinea

Canberra: ANU E Press Download
ISBN 9781921862854 (pbk) xxvii + 280 pp

reviewed by Nicole George

  1. It is a great honour to review this edited book Engendering Violence in Papua New Guinea. It's a work that had me engrossed, well perhaps it's more accurate to say, shocked and engrossed. Engrossed because the chapters together allowed me to understand in ways that I had not before, the varying influences global, local, customary, religious, mythical and material that come together in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to legitimate engendered forms of violence. That might sound like a strange claim to make. However, in her chapter Naomi Mcpherson describes these complex processes as making violence 'look and feel right' in her particular research context. And I think the rest of the chapters in this book also deliberate on this idea in some detail. They recount, very often to a shocking extent, how violence is engendered within communities but the chapters also seek to understand the complex reasons which explain how communities live with and understand this violence in their daily lives.
  2. The authors choose to use the term engendered violence rather than the more common terms gender violence or violence against women or domestic violence because they are seeking to understand relational aspects of violence as it is manifest between women and men, but also amongst groups of men and groups of women. This provides a broad framework for understanding how gendered norms within social groups evolve and contribute to the emergence of violent behaviour.
  3. Most importantly, however, this book demonstrates that PNG does not experience the phenomenon of gendered violence simply as a result of homegrown influences, and particularly as a result of custom, even though such ideas are strongly evident in a great deal of regional anti-violence advocacy and they are certainly of profound importance to aid policy design on this question. Rather, Margaret Jolly's introduction reminds us that violence against women is a problem of our world, and that to understand it we need to recognise the complex web of economic and developmental influences that emanate from beyond national boundaries, which re-shape gender relations within those boundaries, and which combine with local factors in ways which seem to make gendered violence immanent within local communities.
  4. This book, Engendering Violence in Papua New Guinea demonstrates the complexity of this phenomenon and its apparent unimpeded impact within contemporary PNG societies. It discusses engendered forms of violence in many hues and from a rich variety of perspectives. In total it offers us a fine-grained analysis of how violent norms evolve, and are understood, in social life.
  5. From Naomi Mcpherson we learn about the links between tribal spiritualities, notions of sacred space and how these can make women vulnerable to violence in some contexts. From Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi we learn about the impact of mining and how competition to access mining royalties encourages engendered practices which often have violent outcomes. From Phillip Gibbs, we learn about the links between notions of witchcraft, social power and vulnerability and violence perpetrated against the socially marginal. From Anna-Karina Hermkins, we learn about the power of the church and its ability to provide a faith-based sanction of violence in the home. From Jean Zorn, we learn about the judicial responses of the PNG court system to crimes of gendered violence which, even with programs of law reform, seem resistant to imposing heavy penalties for this class of offences. From Fiona Hukula, we learn about the 'blame-shifting' explanations put forward by male perpetrators of sexualised violence. And from Christine Stewart, we learn how a moral panic against sex work translated into sexualised violence perpetrated against sex workers in a raid on the Three Mile Guest house in Port Moresby in 2004.
  6. The final chapter of the book by Martha Macintyre offers us an extended critique of aid and international policy responses to this problem. Martha writes as someone who has absorbed a lot of policy shift in this area but not very much real change. She seems exhausted and unconvinced about the rhetoric of women's rights based responses to gender violence, the notion of aid agency partnership with local preventative efforts, and the continual pressure put upon development practitioners to fulfill accountability reporting requirements. She is also highly critical of those who treat the issue of gender violence in isolation from the broader socio-cultural, economic and political phenomena that perpetuate women's subordinate status more generally.
  7. Both Margaret Jolly's very comprehensive introductory chapter and Martha Macintyre's closing chapter remind us that despite all that the reader has absorbed and been shocked by so far, gender violence is a pervasive and pernicious international problem. Gender violence may look and feel right in PNG clan villages, courts, churches and the media because particular influences come together in particular ways to make this so. But these influences—cultural, economic, developmental, political—are evident in all societies around the globe and work to legitimise violence in similarly devastating ways.
  8. While I was reading the final chapters of this book I also came across a series of articles published in the Melbourne Age newspaper in April 2012 on the subject of violence in Australia. In Victoria alone, police had responded to over 40,000 family violence-related call outs in the previous twelve months. Further, they have nominated family violence as the number one cause of death, disability and illness for women between the ages of fifteen and forty. These sobering statistics remind us that PNG women are not alone in facing the problem of engendered violence and that in all levels of society gendered violence is too high. And so I'd like to finish by saying that this is not simply a book that is important for scholars of Pacific studies because at a more general level it provides us with an extended deliberation on a contemporary global phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that wreaks havoc, and challenges the best intentions in many communities. We can therefore read this book as an authoritative text on engendered violence in PNG but we can also read this book more broadly to gain greater understanding of the ways that global and local influences combine to shape gender relations and legitimate violence. For this reason this work makes a significant and highly worthy contribution to the policy and academic debate on gender violence, masculinity, modernity and development and the status of women, in a global as well as regional context.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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Page constructed by Carolyn Brewer.
Last modified: 19 October 2012 1405