Pigs of New Guinea
How the PNG tsunami 20 years ago was a big wake-up call

Championing the role & interests of women in PNG

Michael
Michael Dom

MICHAEL DOM

This commentary from Michael Dom was written as a contribution to a continuing and intense discussion in PNG Attitude about gender equity and violence against women in Papua New Guinea. More pertinently it was written before Ward Barry’s harrowing verse published below.

Many Papua New Guinean men admit they have committed sexual violence against their partner, 80% in fact. But solutions are not enhanced by blaming all men for this perfidious behaviour any more than solutions are assisted by using the humanity of decent and innocent men to dilute the case against the perpetrators.

One thing is for sure, it will take the combined efforts of wise men and women to solve this shocking social and cultural problem. And that’s what I like about this comment from Michael – it recognises that reality and shows that – in some circumstances - it is already occurring – KJ

SOMEWHERE IN PNG - While conducting agricultural surveys in many isolated communities across Papua New Guinea, my team regularly comes face to face with gender and equity issues.

Gender and equity are mainstreamed into development policy and are often crosscutting within our extension, research and development programs.

As you probably know I'm not an expert on gender and gender equity, but what I do understand about approaching these issues is that it's always a social and therefore a cultural negotiation.

[Most folks have no idea the trouble we have to go to, except maybe Phil Fitzpatrick and the kiaps. Tasol em ol waitman, eh laka – But they’re white men eh?]

There are many elements involved and, to each community, there is always a sense of uniqueness, a feeling and expression of difference in their own way of living.

It's a challenge talking about social similarities in those situations.

Also it's less useful, as Julie Mota expresses, to try to impose a 'foreign' paradigm in a local context, especially a rural one.

Good outcomes are often achieved when programs are inclusive of the local context of core societal elements including gender and gender equity, as defined in their own terms.

Nevertheless, for specific needs of identified groups, an active bias – or, more aptly, gender favouring - is required.

This gender favouring is promoted to achieve a critical outcome, which may be entirely dependent on taking such an approach.

We've found that a straightforward approach and an open attitude to organising gender favouring activities is a positive way to negotiate an otherwise tricky situation.

One starting point is discussing the roles of men and women and the services and value which they each offer to their households and the community.

Your poem, Jordan, inscribed at the end of this piece, is a good expression of changing status and value placed on women.

There's always a balance to be struck and for critical development needs the women's role and their interests is often one that needs championing.

There's lots more involved in our agricultural program and project planning process and thank goodness I don't do it all myself.

Personally I find it much simpler to feed my pigs so I'll leave off here.

____________

I am my father’s son

JORDAN DEAN

My father
Grew up during the colonial era
Sold coffee for his tuition fees
He wanted a better future
For his sons and daughters.

My father
Worked tirelessly, day and night
To provide a roof and food for us
He paid for our tuition fees
Now, we’re all educated
Eight of us have degrees.

My father
Is proud of his daughters
Two are legal eagles
One is a political scientist
And the other is a chemist
They’re his money.

I am my father’s son
I provide for my family
I give the best I can
For my daughter
She’s my future lawyer
Or accountant
Just like her father.

Comments

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Garry Roche

Some anthropologists have written seriously about the role of women in traditional PNG Highlands society.

For example Polly Wiessner, 'From inside the Women’s House: The lives and traditions of Enga Women' (1992) and Marilyn Strathern, 'Women in Between' (1972).

If I remember correctly both of these authors saw the women in Enga and Hagen as having more influence that was at first obvious.

That having been said, it is perhaps fair to say that the best account of the role of women in current highlands or coastal society will be written by PNG women themselves.

In addition, while PNG cultures are unique in so many ways, one can always learn by comparing with other cultures, especially other folk cultures.

Stanley Amben

Reminds me of my widowed aunt who has no education, no material wealth and no sons but is highly respected because she has a good understanding on tribal issues and is always the first person to tie a pig at the stake.

However, she is not infallible and her weaknesses are shrugged off as what should be expected of someone of her stature (i.e a silly old widow).

All in all, she gets the best of everything with her virtue remaining intact! On the other hand, the men have to tough it out! Phew!

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