Making “secret plans” to stop tribal fighting and end violence against women

Mary Kini, a human rights defender and a peace builder from Papua New Guinea, made “secret plans” to bring peace to her community. After years of intertribal violence that engulfed the district of Kup, in the mountains of Papua New Guinea, she teamed up with two other women to end fighting.

Mary Kini, a human rights defender from Papua New Guinea © OHCHRMary, Angela Apa and Agnes Sil belong to three enemy tribes. In 1999, after one of the worst tribal clashes, they decided to take action. “We were all affected by the fighting. We lost our loved ones,” says Mary. “Our people had been fighting for so long: enough was enough, so we made secret plans to bring peace to our communities.” According to tribal laws, women of enemy tribes were not allowed to talk to one another. Risking their lives, the three women came up with clandestine and innovative ways to meet and strategize, such as discussing their peace plans while shopping at the local market.

Mary, Angela and Agnes succeeded in mobilising others to join peace to the district. They even walked out onto the battlefields to send out messages of peace. This led to the creation, in 2002, of the Kup Women for Peace (KWP), which works on promoting peace between communities and ending violence against women.

Mary’s decision to work towards building peace and promoting women’s rights came after experiencing first-hand the consequences of inter-tribal violence. Because of the fighting, Mary was not able to regularly attend school.

“I did not complete my studies because of tribal fighting, but I want young women who come after me to have a good life,” she says.

Ten years later and thanks to the KWP’s work, the district of Kup is now a land of peace.

The KWP works in partnership with the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) and other women’s organisations from the region and is part of the Papua New Guinea Highlands Women's Human Rights Defenders Network which was initiated by OHCHR. Its activities and projects are assisted by OHCHR and Oxfam, a confederation of 15 organizations working together to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice.

In 2007 Mary Kini and the KWP received the 7th Pacific Human Rights Award from the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team of the UN Development Programme. The award honours extraordinary efforts in advancing human rights and peace building throughout the Pacific and was given to the KWP for its outstanding work in situations of conflict, for its intrepid dedication to the cause of peace in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and for its bravery in challenging discriminatory customs and norms, including widespread violence against women.

16 January 2012

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