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FEATURE STORY March 5, 2019

Thinking Equal in Papua New Guinea: Alicia’s Path to Supporting Survivors of Domestic Violence


On International Women’s Day 2019, we are sharing stories of women doing inspiring work across East Asia and Pacific. Whether in the business world, advocacy, media or countless other sectors, their contributions highlight the transformative power of women in the region. Alicia Sahib is the Head of Support Services for the Bank of South Pacific (BSP), based in Port Moresby. Since 2014, Alicia has been the driving force behind a safe house that assists BSP female staff. She is now pursuing another passion project in her spare time; supporting the community of people living in drains in Port Moresby.

How would you describe your work?

The core area of my work at BSP is Properties and Facilities Management. The rather interesting part of my job is recreating new spaces; whether it is for banking purposes or commercial office spaces, and finding solutions that are unique to the challenges we are faced with in PNG.

My day to day work also allows me access to witness the struggles of everyday Papua New Guineans which further drives me and keeps me motivated to do something that can improve lives.

Through a new passion project of mine, which I’ve named the Baret Project [Baret means drain in PNG Tok Pisin], I have been mapping out the people living in the drains of Port Moresby. It’s self-funded at this point in time. Since October 2018, with the help of friends and colleagues, we have mapped out two drains and we are now in our third drain, and to date we have recorded 118  people living in the drains who have all been victims of violence and abuse. After visiting those living in the drains, I have come to realise that violence and abuse does not discriminate: children, youths, women and men all experience it.

You were instrumental in setting up the first safe house for women from the private sector. What inspired that work?

I was brought up in a household of strong thinking independent women, despite our low socioeconomic background. My grandmother was a seamstress. I have experienced firsthand what struggle looks like through the eyes of a child and the importance of women earning a living.

In the first couple of months of my employment in BSP, I let a female staff go due to absenteeism as per our policy only to find out later that as a result of domestic violence she unable to attend work. I really set out in this journey to ensure women do not lose employment as a result of family and sexual violence.

With ‘community’ being one of BSP’s core values, our CEO Robin Fleming made the decision to provide help and assistance to at BSP who are survivors of family and sexual violence. His belief in this project galvanized for me that the need is seen and that help is possible.

BSP donated a building and land for premises as a safe house for survivors of family and sexual violence, providing case management and counselling services. From this initial work, the idea has now expanded and the initiative is now known as Bel isi PNG. It has support from the Business Coalition for Women (BCWF), International Finance Corporation (IFC), and partners including Oil Search Foundation, BCFW, Steamships and Australian and PNG government’s Pacific Women Program.

How much of a problem is family and sexual violence against women in PNG?

In trying to understand the issue of family and sexual violence in PNG, I researched extensively and I read a report by Human Rights Watch which suggested two thirds of the women in PNG faced some sort of violence and the disturbing part of the report was that 80 percent of the men interviewed claimed to have perpetrated sexual violence against women.

What inspires you?

I am grateful for the life I have in PNG and the opportunity that is here to help people who are less fortunate. I believe anyone, if they are willing to sacrifice personal time, with the right intentions, can make a difference. Hence the slogan for Baret: ‘the time you give can change a life.’

Anyone that we can help immediately, we take action. There is one boy, just 14 years old, who has been homeless since 2017. We found him in the first drain we entered in October 2018. Within a month we found him a temporary home and he was re-united with his family in December 2018.  He has just started schooling through the funding support we provide. Another nine-year-old boy whom we found in the third drain is also starting school through the project’s support.

What do you see as important for the future of the Pacific?

As a Pacific Islander and a Melanesian woman, and since women are predominantly the most common victims of family and sexual violence, I do believe that if we teach our sons to respect women and our daughters to stand up for themselves, we will see a change in our cultural mentality.

Many may call me naïve to have such a view, but I think if we all tried our best and not actively find reasons to oppose this, we would improve the future of our children one step at a time.

**The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.