IN MY early childhood, I lived in the village with my grandparents and often heard them discuss the common talk of villagers that sending girls to school to get an education was a waste of time.
Some people said girls sent away to be educated would bring home a husband, fall pregnant or run away with an outsider and never be seen again.
Even though the village had a mission school for lower primary and a government school for upper primary to Grade 6, many parents stuck with that attitude that girls should be kept at home.
Beyond Grade 6, all students who qualified for secondary education would be sent to boarding school and many parents did not want to commit their daughters to that.
My grandfather was a carpenter who had lived and worked in another province with expatriate bosses before settling down in the village.
During He had learned from his expatriate bosses and their wives that both boys and girls had a right to an education followed by a paid job.
So when the lower primary school enrolments for Grade 1 opened, my grandparents enrolled me. My first teacher was a young local female, a new graduate from college, in her first year of teaching.
She was pleased with the parents and guardians who enrolled children and encouraged them to support them in completing their education.
Today, I thank this woman, Pia Kila as she was then known. She started my walk to equality. Nowadays, whenever I get the opportunity to talk to parents about the importance of sending their children to school regardless of gender, I mention this outstanding woman as an example.
During the course of my career over the past 30 years, at one time I worked in a manufacturing plant with male co supervisors. I was assigned to a section where a male co-worker was in charge of one shift and I was in charge of another shift.
I performed the same duties as he did - operating plant machinery, unloading raw materials and registering incoming materials and loading finished products for delivery.
I updated finished products statistics, packed finished goods for customers and maintained safety requirements within the factory.
I managed my shift satisfactorily, in a confident manner and proved to the management and male co-workers that I could ably perform tasks which had always been seen as for men.
The management recognised my efforts and potential and I was given the same training and treatment as male co-workers. The expatriate manager was a strong advocate for gender equality, thereby enabling me to enjoy and experience fair treatment, a fair share of employee benefits and other privileges.
These days, I work in an office which is 80% dominated by women and I can proudly say that the management team is made up of women of intelligence and calibre and I’m proud to be a member of that team. It is experiences like these that have strengthened my own walk to equality.
At village level, many people see gender equality from a different viewpoint and address it in different ways because custom, culture and tradition influence their attitudes.
People feel that, because a man is the head of the family at home, this attitude also applies in every other situation and organisation. Many of these customs, traditions and cultures deprive the women of equal opportunities.
I experienced this when I was elected as an office bearer for my clan two years ago. Nominations were taken and many women refused to be nominated because of the lack of support from their husbands, or because they had to seek permission from their husbands before accepting nomination.
I was the only female who accepted nomination without fear or favour and was elected to the office of vice-treasurer. I noted that the women who voted me in were women who wanted change but who did not have the courage to stand up or be seen as the ones to make the change.
During my term of the office, I was deliberately left out of official meetings because the male office bearers believed my attendance and participation was not necessary.
I felt humiliated at this unfair treatment and at being classed as inferior. As the only educated person among the office bearers, I felt it was my responsibility to teach them about gender equality.
I attended the next meeting without their invitation, told them about the procedures of office operations, duties and responsibilities of office bearers, bank accounts, acquittals, regular meetings and minutes.
I suggested a donation of one kina a house so we could open the bank account account. The appeal was a success and the account was opened. Signatories for the account were confirmed and, with the office bearers’ approval, I was one of the signatories.
Our terms expire in June 2017 and, whether or not I get elected for another term, I am happy that, with the knowledge and experience gained over time, I have taught many people the importance of women’s contributions to the development of society.
Nowadays, wherever and whenever I have the opportunity, I encourage women to take up representative roles I encourage their husbands to support them because I believe that, if there is a change in the attitude of men and women alike towards gender equality, this will improve our walk to equality in the next generation and beyond.
Madeleine Ruga, 53, was born in Port Moresby and has five children and seven grandchildren. She works as a quality control officer (civil transcripts) at the National and Supreme Courts