Port Moresby: A Safer City for Women & Girls

Date: Wednesday, June 13, 2012

For the last three years, Port Moresby has been ranked as one of the five least livable cities in the world based on ranking scores in the five areas: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.


Violent crime in Port Moresby threatens the safety and security of all citizens, and particularly women and girls who live in fear of physical and verbal harassment and assault, and are too often victims of these and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV).

Public spaces and recreational areas for social integration are limited, dangerous and unwelcoming. Due to the limited availability of public spaces, markets and informal trading places are not only used for buying and selling of goods, but also to socialize, meet friends, gamble and drink, among other activities.

The National Capital District Commission – NCDC manages the city markets. However, the markets in the Moresby are characterized by weak local government presence, authority, and capacity in market planning, development of by-laws, budgeting, management, and maintenance. 

There is no clear understanding of who is responsible for maintaining public order and violence in many different forms.

Newcomers and expatriates to the city are warned about the city’s “no-go zones” and in this context are told to stay away from markets and other public spaces, which severely restricts cash flows into markets and informal sector hubs.

About 80 percent of the city of Port Moresby’s market vendors are women, and over half of them have to bring their children to the market. Women in PNG suffer disproportionately from poverty and experience major barriers to participation in their communities due to low levels of literacy and education, high incidence of domestic and other forms of GBV which severely hinder women’s ability to manage and sustain their daily economic activity, to supplement their family livelihoods.

The goal of UN Women’s Safe Cities Project in Port Moresby is to pilot new approaches to reduce violence against women and girls in public spaces. 

The project will focus in markets as the key entry point for mobilizing women’s leadership and citizens’ rights and responsibilities to set and observe new norms and standards of mutual respect of human rights, especially the right of women and girls to live, work and go about their daily lives free from all forms of discrimination and violence.

A scoping study was commissioned by UN Women in 2011 to gather and document qualitative and quantitative data on GBV and other forms of violence taking place in six markets of Port Moresby.

The results revealed that while women and girls are at most risk and are the most common victims of all forms of violence in the markets and other public spaces, men and boys also suffer from high levels of violence including sexual violence.

Fear and anxiety is prevalent amongst males and females of all ages, ethnic groups and socio-economic status.

Most men and women do not have confidence and trust that they will be adequately protected by the police or private security guards in the markets.

They also fear retaliation if they inform on or chastise wrongdoers and may be subjected to threats, abuse or further mistreatment.

Ethnic conflict is common in and around the markets, and has at times led to violent deaths.

One of the ethnic conflicts in 2011 resulted in the closure of one of the main markets in the city, the subsequent loss of incomes, as well as spill over and disruption of the other city markets.

Females also suffer from extortion on a regular basis.

In the absence of guarantees that police or security guards in the markets can and will protect women, and with high levels of unruly and provocative behavior, women are under pressure to pay public nuisances and perpetrators of violence with their produce or cash for “protection” to avoid confrontation or violent incidents.

Police and security guards are often involved in different says, both intentionally and inadvertently in the crime and violence committed against vendors and patrons at the markets.

The conditions under which most market vendors sell their goods poses severe health and security risks to both vendors and buyers.

Unemployment combined with alcohol and substance abuse, are some of the main problems amongst male youth who have been identified as constant perpetrators of violence in the market places.

Men of all ages tend to inconsiderately occupy the seats and shelters for market vendors, using these spaces to consume and sell alcohol and drugs, gamble, menace women and girls and sometimes negotiate commercial or transactional sex.

Many women vendors are displaced from the market shelters or market premises and have to sit next to busy roads, open sewage or near the trash, where they sell their fruits and vegetables, and have their children play.

The results from the scoping study indicate that commercial sex trade and sexual exploitation, in particular of young females2, is prevalent in all markets especially where gambling and drinking takes place and even the toilets are being used to have sex.

Women and girls enter the sex trade to afford school fees or simply to be able to buy food to survive.

Transactional sex is also prevalent, where vulnerable women and girls exchange sex for cigarettes, betel nut, drugs, alcohol and even food.

Lack of routine maintenance and management to meet basic health and safety standards has rendered many spaces in the market places unsafe, in particular for women and girls.

For example, criminal assault, including sexual assault has been reported in the overgrown areas and dark spaces.

The NCDC has allocated funds to this project and has committed to restructuring its Markets Division to ensure the markets of the city are safe, clean and well maintained spaces, free from all forms of violence.

New Zealand Aid and other donors are also supporting the Safe Cities project.

There are numerous achievements from the first year of implementation, including: 1) the mobilization and training of grassroots women and youth; 2) sensitization and training of the relevant Divisions in the areas of: gender, human rights, HIV preventions, working with men and boys to end violence against women, and community mobilisation; 3) the revision of market by-laws to ensure they are gender sensitive and incorporate issues of violence against women; 4) implementation of new and accountable mechanisms for the collection of fees at the markets; and 5) upgrading of infrastructure in the first pilot market.

In order to make Port Moresby city safer for women and girls, the Safe Cities project has been designed to have a holistic approach and address the underlying causes and drivers of violence and transforming the gender relations of power.

The project will contribute to women and girls (as well as men and boys) enjoying freedom of movement and the right to earn a livelihood, through decent work in public spaces based on mutual rights and respect.

As part of its commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment in PNG, NZAID in PNG recently allocated NZ$500,000 to support UN Women in this innovative and strategic intervention.

The funds are allocated under the framework of the UN Delivering as One in PNG and will support UN Women and the Gender Task Team.

The funding is critical for the UN to support the efforts of the NCDC to address the critical issues faced by women and girls in the markets of Port Moresby with aims of making the markets safer and support economic livelihoods of many in Port Moresby where the market is their only source of income.