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FEATURE STORY

Women in Papua New Guinea Take the Lead in Community Development

July 31, 2014

Women in Bougainville now also take the lead in improving the quality of life in their communities. See photo slideshow.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The impact of the long conflict in Bougainville is felt today, with much of the infrastructure and services broken down and many still trying to build back their lives.
  • The World Bank is supporting a project to help women take the lead in improving the quality of life in their communities.
  • Women in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville have received training and developed initiatives to help improve small-scale infrastructure and advance women’s standing as local leaders.

Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, July 31, 2014 – From 1989, the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea experienced a devastating 9 year war, which, tragically, killed 10,000 people and left 40 percent of the population displaced in camps. There was a widespread economic blockade; people’s cocoa and coconut crops – once a critical income source–turned to jungle; health and education services broke down for an entire generation. The impact of this is felt today, with many still trying to build back their lives.

The village of Itakara stands between the town of Arawa, once the bustling capital of Bougainville, and Panguna, the location of the mine which was at the heart of the conflict. Arawa itself is dotted with hollow skeletons of then prominent buildings – shopping centers, banks, government buildings – which were destroyed; the ruins remain a feature of everyday life as people go to work or to market.

Community development project to empower women

Tina Dikisi is now the Secretary of the Itakara Women’s Group. Under a new community development project, this group has decided to build a new market house. The women chose this project to allow more women to have access to a quality market and help generate critical income for their families.

“My mother looks after women from the bush, looks after the kids with mothers who died in the crisis. The market is one of the things I saw that means I can earn money and look after those kids,” says Tina.

The marketplace is funded by the Inclusive Development in Post-Conflict Bougainville project, an initiative of the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s Division of Community Development, which provides funds and training to women’s groups to help them develop their projects. It aims both to invest in community infrastructure, livelihood opportunities and to promote women’s rights and leadership within their communities.

The project works with women’s groups – 41 to date – who identify needs together with the community, develop proposals for activities, oversee project management, and receive training in leadership and finances. 

Open Quotes

I believe that open discussion, in a safe space, is a critical step towards working together, men and women, to find solutions within the community, and ensuring women’s voices are heard in these conversations Close Quotes

Celestine Tomie
Malasang village

In Kuka village, the project worked with the women’s group to help repair a road which allows people to get to markets and services in the nearby town of Arawa. Today there is a constant flow of buses travelling to and from the village to the market, as well as fishermen and women from surrounding hamlets with their catch. It has also made a big difference for kids going to school and people needing to get to hospital, including women giving birth.

”It is empowering, when women are really involved at the very beginning of the project. Because the maintenance of the road, it came through them,” says Anastasia Waim, president of the women’s group in Kuka village.

Two women from Malasang village, Celestine Tomie and her younger niece Florence Tomiets, brought local women together to develop a resource center. Today it is a site for training in leadership, financial management and computer skills, as well as social events.

Celestine explains that she envisaged the resource center as a site where people could come and talk about their problems.

“At present, there is a culture of silence,” says Celestine. “I believes that open discussion, in a safe space, is a critical step towards working together, men and women, to find solutions within the community, and ensuring women’s voices are heard in these conversations.”

Women coming together for the good of the community in Bougainville is not new. Their involvement in helping to broker peace during the crisis is renowned –they are known as the women who “talked” for peace – and women would perform tasks that men couldn’t when mobility was constrained.

Tina Dikisi describes them as ‘powerful ladies‘. They take on immense tasks every day – they look after extended families, they tend to the land, they earn income for their children. They have seen and lived through one of the worst conflicts in the South Pacific. They are determined to help each other and restore their communities - and the ideas keep coming.

“We women, we’re very strong. Before the crisis men led but now we women can lead. We can do anything,” she says, “that men can do.”