Port Moresby (AFP) Nov 3, 2010
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for an end to the "culture of violence" against women in impoverished Papua New Guinea Wednesday during a lightning stop in the South Pacific nation.
Clinton, who was greeted by bare-chested men beating drums and face-painted women in grass skirts, announced a new initiative to help the island's women, who suffer staggering levels of violence, according to rights groups.
She also discussed ways of avoiding the "resource curse" with Prime Minister Michael Somare as PNG grapples with a huge influx of wealth from an upcoming gas project, as well as ways of fighting climate change.
Clinton spent just a few hours in the lush, mountainous country before leaving for New Zealand as part of a nine-stop Asia-Pacific tour which will also take her to Australia and American Samoa.
"No country in the 21st century can advance if half the population is left behind," she told an audience of mainly women during a visit to the country's parliament.
"Giving women access to education, health services, economic opportunities, and the structures of power is critical for alleviating poverty and disease in every part of the world."
Clinton said the United States, PNG government and World Bank would bring together senior officials and business leaders from across the Pacific "to expand opportunities for women".
She added that the State Department is working with local groups to help women voters prepare for 2012 elections, hoping to ease their plight by encouraging more female MPs.
Washington is working with US energy giant Exxon Mobil and local groups on a mentoring programme "aimed at ending the culture of violence against women and girls in Papua New Guinea", she said.
Violence against women is rife in the underdeveloped nation where most people live in remote villages, with studies showing some two-thirds of adult women experience domestic violence, Amnesty campaigner Hannah Harborow said.
Harborow said violence against women has reached epidemic proportions in parts of the Pacific, particularly in Papua New Guinea where women accused of sorcery have also been known to be tortured and killed.
However, Somare insisted the level of violence was "exaggerated" by the media.
"I think overall we sometimes get a painted picture about how cruel we are to our women. And this is not true," he said, although he acknowledged women faced significant difficulties.
"Allowing women to play a role in society is the only way to overcome this problem," Somare said.
Clinton, the first secretary of state to visit since 1998, meanwhile offered technical expertise to help PNG cope with the windfall of its 15-billion-US dollar liquefied natural gas project to supply Asian countries.
"If not handled right a country can actually can end up becoming poorer," Clinton warned, citing other, unnamed, resource-rich developing nations.
She offered to send American government department experts to advise on how to "manage these revenues wisely", including by handling taxes. The plant, PNG's biggest resources project, is tipped to double national income.
Both the State Department and the World Bank are mindful of the experience of other developing countries that have experienced sudden energy investments only to become mired in corruption and political instability.
PNG must ensure "that the benefits of these natural resource projects should more materially and broadly accrue to the larger population," a World Bank report said last month.
Exxon Mobil has a 33.2 percent stake in the project. Its partners are Oil Search Ltd (29 percent), the PNG government (16.6 percent), Santos Ltd (13.5 percent), Nippon Oil Corp (4.7 percent) and local landowners (2.8 percent).
Clinton also called for further progress in climate negotiations that resume in Cancun later this month. The Pacific, especially low-lying islands, are particularly at risk from rising sea levels caused by global warming.
The secretary of state has already visited Guam, Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Malaysia during her tour, while President Barack Obama returns to the region this weekend.
The previous administration of George W. Bush was accused of ignoring Asia while China worked methodically to build closer ties in its backyard.
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