GENDER equality has been an issue for decades.
In earlier centuries, laws were written by men and women were largely kept out of decision making, voting, and owning property.
Women were to bear children, take care of them and perform chores like cooking and cleaning leaving the important decisions to men.
Over time, women became involved – or forced their involvement - in various activities, including paid work, holding higher office, exercising the right to vote and engagement in other areas. Women began to emerge in society with equal rights and opportunities as men.
I grew up up in the 1980s, mostly in remote places of Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. Dad was a primary school teacher and mum a housewife. We moved every year and life in these small and remote places was tough - friends were left behind, new environments had to be adjusted to, there was no electricity, few shops, sometimes no roads and mostly no resources in the schools.
Teachers would use sticks and stones as learning tools. We would sit under a tree with a little blackboard and chalk learning the ABC or singing songs with the birds. It seemed more like survival of the fittest as if the government didn’t care much about the future of the nation’s children.
If one of her children was ill, mum would carry us in a sling to the nearest health centre. If she didn’t think our sickness was serious, we would have bitter leaf juices forced down our throats. And if you didn’t drink it, it was a coconut broom across the bumbum.
Despite the hardship, mum raised seven healthy children. She made sure we had the basics - food, shelter, a clean house and clothes. Dad was the boss and everyone followed his instructions if they wanted to avoid the broom.
When my parents had disagreements, we all ran to find a safe hiding place. The fear followed by hot tears. As we got older we would run faster. Growing up in such an environment, I believed violence was normal and that everyone had this sort of life.
Furthering my education at boarding school made me learn new things and, most importantly, realise that what dad did was not right.
It made me appreciate life more and understand that there were other ways to solve conflicts other than with a broom or violence.
I also reflected and questioned myself on why my dearest dad could be loving and all of a sudden become a different person.
I realised it may be how he was disciplined when he was growing up and that perhaps he could not truly understand that his actions were unacceptable.
Well, I never blamed dad for the way he acted. Being more educated than him clarified my experiences and my attitudes. Girls doing all the cooking, washing up, carrying food, taking care of children – and even as a child being busy while the boys just waited for the meal to be served – it’s all out of my life these days.
So today I’m a modern educated woman living in a totally different setting to those old days. With a wonderful and supportive husband and two gorgeous children, I want the best for my kids just like all parents, moulding them to be good and responsible citizens.
This means no violence, no unequal treatment and respect for everyone including themselves.
Apart from violence, PNG women and girls frequently witness and hear of other types of unfairness and ill treatment, especially if they live in the cities and big towns.
Every day is a nightmare for a girls and women in the street, shops, markets and all public places in general.
If you’re in a club or a crowded area, you’re lucky if your behind or boobs are not touched. The clothing you wear has to have everyone’s approval, the males seem to have every right to yell from vehicles calling you names and harassing you.
You are branded a ‘two kina’ (prostitute) just because of your make up, hair style or short skirt. A male driver will slow down if he sees a woman or girl walking along the street and thinks he can pick you up.
In a disagreement with men, you are told to ‘shut the fuck up woman’.
Of course it can get worse – punches, kicks if you’re pregnant and even being shot, as we hear reported in the news.
And we hear how so much of this is swept under the carpet and we ask “is there no justice?”
And what about those poor women who are branded witches and burnt alive or killed on the spot. Our individual rights and freedom to exercise those rights are taken away.
Yes, there are changes. Women breaking barriers into male dominated jobs such as pilots, doctors, judges, lawyers, engineers, parliamentarians and more. However the viciousness is never ending. Rape, domestic violence, education and denied job opportunities are still major issues that require addressing.
I feel lucky and I am grateful to have that opportunity to be better educated. It has given me a better understanding of issues of gender, discrimination, freedom and women’s rights.
It has given me different perspectives on better ways of raising my children and I’m just happy to be accepted in society.
I believe unequal treatment starts with your family in your own house.
Negative attitudes reflects individual upbringing, social issues faced within communities and influences by others that contribute to reacting to situations and negative actions.
I think that lack of health facilities, institutions and awareness of various mental conditions and stress contribute to a lot of these issues.
I have made the choice to accept the way I am, to dress in my own way, stand up and speak out for my freedom and rights without fear and not be governed by what others think of me.
I’d like to add that not all PNG men and boys are violent and abusive. And only a few men and women think this is normal behaviour.
Genevieve Hobden is from Milne Bay and is studying a double degree in Accounting and Laws at James Cook University in Cairns. She says she loves change and challenge and desires a fair, just and equal society