TO YOUNG PAPUA NEW GUINEAN activist Tamara Kruzang Mandengat, education and self-reliance are the keys to a better future. Ms Mandengat is a researcher and networker at Bismark Ramu Group - a non-government organisation based in Madang.
She has a passion for women’s empowerment, and argues that the development of the mining, logging and fishing industries have had a negative social impact on women and families. She says that in coastal centres like Madang, women have traditional fishing grounds where they used to take their canoes out to fish for their livelihood.
However, “when the big tuna factories are built, and with the big fishing boats, they chase away the fish on the local fishing grounds for these women . . . . so where would they get their fish from?” She says crew members from the boats sell their catch to the women who often have no way to pay for it but with sex.
“So this makes women turn to prostitution. And as a result we have domestic violence and unwanted pregnancy and these are rising issues that are coming up in Papua New Guinea.”
Ms Mandengat also urges women to learn from their ancestors, who didn’t depend on outside help but instead used their natural resources to provide for themselves. She says that women can make use of that little piece of land that that they have to make gardens and to plant it.
“I advocate this to young women that you can stand on your own and do whatever you can with the resources, and don't depend really on outside or other development or companies that are coming in as answers. No, we can make use of our own land, be self-reliant is what I advocate for."
In terms of women's empowerment, while educated women in urban areas have begun to learn about their rights and speak up for themselves, Ms Mandengat says that for “the women in the rural areas, it’s very hard. When they want to talk, they will have respect for the men because the culture says OK, the man knows everything and the man will speak for it. You have to shut up and you have to wait for the men to talk. That's why this is hindering and becoming like a barrier for women.”
But this has to change she says. “We cannot, we cannot address the criminal activities, the rising drug activities unless we look at the issues of women. Because when a woman is educated and knows what to do, then a nation would be growing to be a better nation.
Tamara Kruzang Mandengat spoke with Heather Jarvis at the Twelfth Triennial Conference of Pacific Women in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. She is also a member of the Pacific Young Women's Leadership Alliance