Rape and Domestic Violence: Violence against women, including gang rape and domestic violence, was a serious and prevalent problem.
Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by imprisonment, and prison sentences were imposed on convicted assailants, but few rapists were apprehended. The willingness of some communities to settle incidents of rape through material compensation rather than criminal prosecution made the crime difficult to combat. The legal system allows village chiefs to negotiate the payment of compensation in lieu of trials for rapists.
Domestic violence is criminalized yet existed at high levels throughout the country and was generally committed with impunity. Since most communities viewed domestic violence as a private matter, few victims pressed charges, and prosecutions were rare. Widespread sexual violence committed by police officials and their unresponsiveness to complaints of sexual or domestic violence deterred reporting by both women and men. Traditional village mores, which served as deterrents against violence, were weak and largely absent when youths moved from their villages to larger towns or to the capital. According to Amnesty International (AI), approximately two-thirds of women in the country have been struck by their partners, with the number approaching 100 percent in parts of the Highlands. AI reported that there were only three shelters for abused women in Port Moresby, all privately run; the situation was even worse outside the capital.
Violence committed against women by other women frequently stemmed from domestic disputes. In areas where polygyny was customary, an increasing number of women were charged with murdering one of their husband’s other wives. Independent observers indicated that approximately 90 percent of women in prison had been convicted for attacking or killing another woman.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal, and it was a widespread problem.
Reproductive Rights: Under the country’s family planning policy, couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children free from violence and coercion. However, in practice the decision of the husband or male partner on such matters usually prevailed over the wishes of the woman. Access in practice to contraception and adequate prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal care was hindered by logistical problems faced by the Health Department in distributing supplies. Medical facilities also were limited in their capacity to provide adequate services to the growing population. According to indicators published by the Population Research Bureau, 26 percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 used some form of contraception. The country’s estimated maternal mortality ratio exceeded 250 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Discrimination: Although laws have provisions for extensive rights for women dealing with family, marriage, and property disputes, gender discrimination existed at all levels. Although some women have achieved senior positions in business, the professions, and the civil service, traditional discrimination against women persisted. Many women, even in urban areas, were considered second-class citizens. Women continued to face severe inequalities in all spheres of life: social, cultural, economic, and political. There is no employment antidiscrimination law.
Village courts tended to impose jail terms on women found guilty of adultery while penalizing men lightly or not at all. By law a district court must endorse orders for imprisonment before the sentence is imposed, and circuit-riding National Court justices frequently annulled such village-court sentences. Polygyny and the custom in many tribal cultures of paying a "bride price" tended to reinforce the view that women were property. In addition being purchased as brides, women sometimes were given as compensation to settle disputes between clans, although the courts have ruled that such settlements denied the women their constitutional rights.
According to statistics published by the UN Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization, women continued to lag behind men in literacy and education; 53 percent of women were literate, compared with 62 percent of men. The Ministry of Community Development, Religion and Family Affairs was responsible for women’s issues and had considerable influence over the government’s policy toward women.