Witnessing the extremely high levels of gender-based violence in her home country of Papua New Guinea prompted Ayesha Lutschini to found Meri Toksave, an organisation which helps spread vital information on the emergency services available for victims of domestic and family violence in PNG.

Globally, violence against women traverses the boundaries of cultural and ethnic identity, age, religious faith and socioeconomic status. Real men, not monsters, perpetrate gender violence – men who are spouses, intimate partners, family members and strangers. Political, economic and social structures, women, men and children are all burdened by gender-based violence and the consequent weight it lends to entrenching gender inequality. Gender-based violence and in particular, violence against women in Papua New Guinea, is where I have attempted to contribute to progressing gender equality.

I believe there is a culture of socialised indifference surrounding the issue of gender-based violence in PNG and also in Australia. When I refer to indifference I am referring to the attitude that gender-based violence is expected, normal or acceptable. In PNG I have seen this manifest in various forms; crowds of bystanders who make no attempt to intervene when a man inflicts physical violence on a woman or when women accused of sorcery are tortured in public spaces. I would like to acknowledge, however, that intervention within these contexts is often unsafe. In Australia, and in PNG, another way this indifference is evident is in the unconscious bias of gender roles and what is considered acceptable behaviour for women and girls, men and boys. For example, statements such as “boys will be boys” are a troubling simplification of aggressive behaviour that attempts to justify it by blaming biological impulses and hormones.

I believe we all have varying levels of indifference and unconscious bias within us. At one point or another, we have all been bystanders to gender inequality. Maybe it was witnessing acts of violence (taking into consideration that violence is not just physical but psychological, emotional and financial) and dismissing them out of a legitimate fear of speaking up. Or perhaps it was the casually sexist joke at work or among our social groups and networks that we felt too uncomfortable to address. The space surrounding intervention in regards to gender violence and gender inequality can cause feelings of discomfort and vulnerability, and because of this it is becoming increasingly important to re-define this space and bystander behaviour. There is phenomenal work being done by the Mentors in Violence program in Brisbane, Australia, through the utilisation of bystander behaviour.

Meri Toksave co-founders and executive team in Port Moresby with Milcah Xkenjik, the Meri Toksave PNG Engagement Coordinator.

It was the acknowledgement of my own indifference towards gender inequality and a desire to challenge it that led me to co-found Meri Toksave. Meri Toksave is a youth-led, non-profit organisation based in Australia that seeks to provide a platform for youth-created solutions for the empowerment of women and the ending of gender-based, domestic, family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea. The organisation was co-founded by Courtney Price, Tasman Bain and myself in early 2013, as students of the University of Queensland attending the Harvard World Model United Nations Conference. This trio came together to formulate a plan of action and enter the Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge because we believe that ultimately young people are more than just tomorrow’s leaders, we are today’s partners. Fortunately, Resolution Project saw value in the Meri Toksave initiative and we were awarded the Resolution Fellowship, which began our journey. Meri Toksave has since grown to a team of 10 volunteers based between Brisbane, Australia and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Co-Founders – Tasman Bain, Courtney Price and Ayesha Lutschini and the Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge.

The organisation aims to address and minimise the incidences and impacts of gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea through harnessing youth leadership. It fosters the relationship between young Papua New Guineans and young Australians to encourage them to work together, pioneer and implement solutions and in doing so raise the profile of youth engagement within the development sphere. The overall vision and mission of Meri Toksave is for a Papua New Guinea where violence against women is no longer the norm, where stigma and impunity are no longer barriers to justice, where young people are empowered to be positive agents of change, where women are empowered to make their own decisions about their bodies and sexual and reproductive health, where men are allied with women, and where high quality services and information are provided to those affected by violence.

Meri Toksave’s main project to date has been to address the lack of information on emergency support services within Papua New Guinea, through the creation and distribution of the first ever, countrywide Directory of Emergency Services for Those Affected by Violence. The directory covers all 22 provinces and provides valuable information on multisectoral services. It has been accessed online over 1500 times and through much-appreciated sponsorship by Moore Printing in PNG, 5000 hard copy books have been distributed to members of the public, partner organisations, private businesses and service providers throughout the country. The Meri Toksave team is currently developing new collateral to include discreet, pocket-sized directories that will also be available in Tok-Pisin. The team also works hard to keep the Directory as a living document online by re-verifying and updating its valuable information.

The Meri Toksave executive team with Representatives from The Voice Inc. In Port Moresby while distributing hard copies of “The Directory Of Emergency Services for Those Affected by Family and Sexual Violence”.

We have received countless stories and testimonies from individuals within PNG and abroad who have been able to seek assistance or help family members access support services because of the information within the directory. It is by no means exhaustive; there are many services we could not include – especially safe houses so as to not compromise their safety. The issue of addressing and overcoming gender-based violence in PNG is far more complex than providing a directory, however it is a part of the solution that we are capable of contributing.

If ever you thought that the youth of today were incapable or downright disinterested in global affairs and being active agents for meaningful change, I hope the incredible volunteers of Meri Toksave have been able to prove you wrong. It is my belief that gender equality and women’s empowerment is achievable, especially when young people are asked to sit at the table and contribute.

All photos are courtesy of Ayesha Lutschini. 

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Ayesha Lutschini - Executive Director, Meri Toksave - Lowy Institute

Ayesha Lutschini

Executive Director, Meri Toksave

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Ayesha Lutschini, 25 years old, is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Meri Toksave. Ayesha is of mixed PNG and Australian heritage and was born and raised in Papua New Guinea, which has shaped her passion for social justice and international development. In November 2014, Ayesha graduated from her Dual Degree: Bachelor of Arts (International Relations & Peace and Conflict) and Bachelor of Social Science (Development) from the University of Queensland. Meri Toksave was born out of Ayesha's commitment and drive to address social justice issues and her love of her home country, Papua New Guinea. Ayesha is humbled and honoured to work with some of the brightest young minds in Australia and Papua New Guinea through her involvement with Meri Toksave.