As she read 'My Walk to Equality', the first collection of women’s writing from Papua New Guinea for which she wrote a Foreword, Tanya Zeriga-Alone derived some key pointers to guide women on their complex societal journey. This is a lightly edited version of her talk at the launch of the book in Port Moresby on International Women's Day last Wednesday.....
CONGRATULATIONS to all the women who brought 'My Walk to Equality' to fruition. All the women in the book are great story tellers.
I went through different emotions in the course of reading this book. From anger to sadness to tears and just a choked up feeling, but I learnt a lot.
The theme for International Women’s Day was Be Bold for Change. The launching of the anthology on this day is a bold step toward equality for woman in Papua New Guinea.
The anthology contains the stories of women who are already creating a better and stronger PNG.
The women, with brutal honesty tell their story, they give their solutions and ask the pertinent questions to probe further thinking that will require honesty and humility in addressing.
Rashmii Amoah Bell in her essay, ‘Embracing the dark future to see PNG emerge into the light’, is all about creating a better PNG through literature.
She advocates the use of writing as a tool, to explore new grounds - including taboo subjects - as a means for starting conversations and looking for solutions.
This is one way PNG women can create a better and stronger PNG, by just telling our stories. Our stories may be accepted or they may be rejected but the stories will exist as a beacon in our walk equality. Through our stories we walk into the dark future to emerge into light.
Be bold because courage is contagious
Being bold in the face of challenges is one way women can create a better and stronger PNG because courage is contagious.
Caroline Evari relocates with her family from Port Moresby to Oro and after a while, she moves back to Port Moresby by herself.
She goes through a lot of struggles but despite that she comes out a victor. She says, “your mind is your greatest enemy, not the people around you. Reach for the stars and keep running until you have achieved your goal.”
On the walk to equality, we have to be bold and courageous, because there are eyes watching.
As women, we ask for permission to do a lot of things, but the first thing we need to do is to give ourselves the permission to be great.
In Madlyn Baida’s story, a village lass, she wanted to learn to read and write and get an education. She allowed herself to dream. Once she know her dream, she could see when opportunities came up. Her husband was her support and enabled to achieve her freedom.
Be good at what you do because that is the currency that will take women’s voice onto the table for negotiations
To create a better and stronger PNG, we need to get more women into decision making positions so that they may show favourable consideration to the women’s walk to equality.
There is an adage that says, ‘if you are good at what you do, you will serve before Kings’. Do something with your life.
Be good at something. It does not matter what you do or whether you are as young as Iriani Wanma, the author of the grasshopper story or middle aged or somewhere in between. If you are good you will be favoured. And when you are recognised, make use of your position to address the plight of the sisterhood.
We already have many role models who have done just that. Women can always match the stride of the society. Some of these prominent PNG women include Winifred Kamit, Finckewe Zurenuo, Jane Mogina, Betty Lovai and the late Judge Davani, whose tribute can be seen in the anthology.
I am as proud of the sisterhood at the Division of Education in Simbu as told by Roslyn Tony. Despite a lot of pushback from a paternalistic society, these women act with integrity and transparency and were eventually accepted as leaders in their communities.
We have to be responsible for the sisterhood
Even if women make up 50% of the population, we are still treated as a minority due to our positions in the community. We have a duty of care to stand up for our sisters.
“If only I could save you, you’d still have a heartbeat.” This eerie phrase from Vanessa Gordon’s Drumbeat is haunting. It is full of regret. We have to take action to help a sister and the children and the helpless.
To help our sisters we have to know our rights. Dominica Are tells the story of how Pauline saved her life by walking away from a bad situation all because she know her rights. Not many women have that knowledge.
It is our duty to teach as well as mentor other woman to be the best. Alurigo does that with the XOX: We are Champions group. It does not have to be on the national stage but at our own little spheres of influence.
We have to support any form of education. The most inspiring story I read was by Alphonse Huvi from West New Britain. Her father was against her education and did not make resources available, but, through support from her auntie Oripa, she became a teacher and was eventually accepted by her father. We have a duty to support our girls to get an education.
Too big a work for women alone - Patriarchy can help
Patriarchy can play a big role to helping women build a better and stronger PNG.
In the anthology, there are six pieces that pay tribute to patriarchy for being the source of strength for these women. This shows the important role of the male gender in helping women in our walk to equality.
Helen Anderson in her essay Mixed race meri Markham pays tribute to her male relatives for helping her fit into her society. While Emma Wapki pays tribute to her male relatives for being fair, loving and supportive
The fine story by Alurigo on Sir Dawanicura is an example of leaders leading by example. He has brought a family friendly atmosphere to the PNG Olympics Committee. Family is the basic building block of society if we do not lead with wisdom and flexibility in this changing times, we can contribute to the breakdown in family, which will lead to breakdown in society, and eventually breakdown in the nation.
The society will not change until the family changes
Families are the cornerstone of societies. A stable family can be the base for creating a better and stronger PNG.
We learn how to be function as members of society by learning from within our family circles. We build from strength to strength when we have a stable roots.
Florence Jonduo on parenting children says that the children are innocent, they are brought up without their permission and that is why, adults we have moral and legal obligation to look after them. And whatever we teach them when they are young, sets them up for life.
But sometimes children turn out wrong. Whose fault is that when we observe generations of young people have no plans for life “the lost men” as Marlene Dee Gray Potoura says, asking a pertinent questions: “Are the lost men the fault of women?”
Rosyln Tony also asks some very hard questions about why things are falling apart in our society. If we honestly answer the questions, we may find that it will lead us to families and that is where we may find the solutions.
No women or group of women can fully address those pertinent questions singlehandedly. We need the help of society through policies and laws.
As we look at shaping policies for the future, I hope we all take those important decisions from the perspective of young mothers.
Lapieh Landu in her poem Fear Unbearable writes about her fears for her baby as she contemplates the future. If all policy people can make policy from the position of new mothers, looking at her helpless infant, then we may take all the necessary steps to secure a better future for the generation yet to come. For we are fighting a cause that is not for us but for the future generations.