The publication of My Walk to Equality – the first collection of women’s writing from Papua New Guinea – has been a landmark event. In planning the book, editor Rashmii Amoah Bell invited forewords from two Papua New Guinean women whose writing has impressed because of its candour, insight and intellectual honesty. To celebrate the anthology, today we publish Elvina Ogil’s contribution; tomorrow, Tanya Zeriga-Alone - KJ
IF PAPUA New Guinea is to claim its place among civilised nations, its women must walk with its men. Not behind, not beside but with.
When conceiving of a united nation of a thousand tribes and hundreds of languages, our forebears took the first steps in this walk, articulating the unequivocal role of women as equal partners in our development and progress in that magnificent document that is the Constitution of Papua New Guinea.
Our Constitution, richer than so many others in the sheer depth of rights it accords to its citizens, chief among them is its direction to equality.
It is not so much the words on the paper in our National Directives and Goals within our Constitution as it is the tone – for women are not to be passive in this progress and development but active and equal participants.
Forty-one years on, our joint progress as equal partners in nation building has atrophied. How our forebears would measure our progress, we may never know however my presumption is that many would share a large measure of disappointment at how far we have regressed.
My Walk to Equality is the first anthology of its kind. At the core of this collection of short stories, essays and poems is a collective acknowledgement of the path still to tread.
Gender equality remains on the fringes of mainstream conversation in Papua New Guinea. When a woman marks a personal achievement in her life, we still remind her she is a woman and her achievement is only relative to that of men.
I pray never again to read a news article that contains the words “despite being a female” as if being born female is to be born with an impediment. Equality of the genders in PNG must be the norm and not the exception.
With the publication of this anthology, it is my fervent hope that we move away from the reductionism that has permeated our national conversations about our women.
A Papua New Guinean woman’s intellectual and professional contributions are still measured relative to her marital and reproductive achievements.
We do not enquire as to the reproductive and marital pursuits of our men why then are our women reduced so blatantly to their biological functions?
At a more base societal level, women remain the most persecuted for their perceived contributions to societal and familial ills. How we apportion blame for our apparent societal ills has veered largely in favour of our men and quite often in direct contrast to the rights our forebears bequeathed to each of us to claim as our own without question and qualification.
We remain in danger of citing dubious cultural norms when justifying our continued appalling treatment of our women and it is incumbent on each of us to change this norm.
The path to equality isn’t an isolated, single-issue journey but one which traverses how we behave in our villages, our homes, in our work places and even in our larger institutions.
Marlene Potoura writes of the covert and insidious sexism of some of our Christian institutions. This appropriation of apparently biblical concepts of submission have entrenched the subjugation of our women and we must rise above this.
We each may have encountered women among us who have made us question our own views on gender roles. Vanessa Gordon’s bubu reminded me of my own grandmother – a woman so quietly fierce in her intellect she has held her own in a traditionally patriarchal society.
She is the ultimate feminist if ever I was to see one yet her life is a reminder that our path to equality is an organic process – one that each of us, men and women, must own.
Then there are women like Regina Dorum’s mother who would probably admonish us to just quietly get on with this gender equality business - women whose fight for equality was thrust upon them by life’s circumstances. I encourage you to dig a little deeper into Regina’s piece and absorb the greater message.
Each piece of this anthology reminds us that the walk to equality is for each of us to take.
It begins with a conscious effort to raise our daughters with an unwavering belief that they can do anything. We must raise our daughters to have ambition, to take possession of their own lives independently of anyone else, to own their own bodies and to make their own decisions about their bodies.
We must never shame our daughters for wanting their own freedoms – both personal and professional. We must instil in our daughters that they can make their own choices without a male reference point.
Let’s begin also by banning that oft-repeated phrase I’ve heard in PNG: “yu man ah?” when chastising our daughters for small misdemeanours. The correct behaviour should not be relative to how a male is expected to behave. We must teach our children early that the sexes while fundamentally different are equal.
This anthology is also so much more than a collection of work about women. It is about our collective progress – men and women– in a forging a way forward as Papua New Guineans, finding a way that is uniquely ours….
Samantha Kusari writes of that profound need to practice the ancient art of our languages – something very dear to me as a Papua New Guinean and something also of great importance to our forebears who spoke of this in the National Goals and Directives Principles.
In commending this anthology to you, I must also commend the work of the author, Rashmii Bell.
It is through her tireless effort and vision that this body of work has come together. Each contributor has shared a personal and human story of their own path to equality and for each; a debt of gratitude for their contribution is owed.
May this also be the way forward for the advancement of literature in Papua New Guinea - for what is a civilised nation without literature to record our progress?
Elvina Ogil was born in Mt Hagen and has lived and worked in Australia and PNG. She is currently practising in corporate and commercial law as in-house counsel in Sydney. Elvina has also worked in the oil and gas industry during which period she advised on addressing gender-based violence and on advancing gender equality in the workplace.