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FEATURE STORY March 9, 2020

Breaking Barriers in Papua New Guinea: Rosa Koian

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For International Women’s Day 2020, we’re getting to know the pioneering women across the Pacific and Papua New Guinea who are breaking barriers and creating change for the decade ahead. As Editor of the only Tok Pisin newspaper in Papua New Guinea, Wantok Niuspepa, Rosa Koain often feels inspired by the world’s great poets and songwriters when she dreams about the future of Pacific women.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a Community Development Specialist and I graduated with a Diploma in Communication for Development from Divine Word University in 1994. I am the editor of Wantok Niuspepa, PNG’s only Tok Pisin newspaper, and I also work with indigenous communities to advocate for environmental and human rights. 

What inspires you?

PNG resilience inspires me. Every time disaster strikes you see it. Papua New Guineans bounce right back and start rebuilding and putting seeds in the ground.

Women who rise above the barriers that try to hold them down inspire me, and young people, despite all odds, who graduate from universities and colleges with flying colours inspire me. These people tell me a better world is possible for PNG.

How do you see Pacific women breaking barriers? What does that mean to you? 

Pacific women are in their own league. We cannot be measured against other women. For example, our women own land, and this is the stone we stand on.

We speak and sing in a thousand colourful languages and the fact the Pacific is still here today is because Pacific women have carried the stories and songs that hold ways and meaning to who we are through generations.

Pacific women are rising and making gains in what used to be male-dominated fields. They are pilots, mechanics, doctors, food scientists and lawyers. In the villages, they hold space and keep the land for their sons and daughters.

Do you have a favourite quote or saying?

My favourite lines come from the poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley:

 I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.

Where do you see PNG and PNG women in 25 years?

In 25 years, our land will be filled with fresh produce and our people will return to eating fresh organic food. Our economy will once again be defined by our rural people. Given that 85 percent of PNG women today are based in rural areas and are food producers, I see women driving the economy from their land.

More women are now saving money in microbanks, and so I see a shift in the money economy, where women will define the future developments of PNG. When this happens, I see an educated population free from non-communicable diseases and other food-related diseases. I see better health care and smaller families.

What do you think is needed in PNG to ensure equality between men and women?

I think actions speak louder than words. The greatest issue is home-based and intimate partner violence. We need to create programs that help families and young people talk about their relationship problems. I would like to see more development and education programs about gender equality directed at boys as young as six years old.

I think our development programs should be promoting peace among genders and in communities. We need to work on the use of words such as ‘dislike’ and ‘hate’ that eventually become action. Unfortunately, the more someone uses the words “I will kill you”, in many cases it becomes action. We need to change this language.

If you could use one word to describe women in the Pacific what would it be?

Visionaries.

What is your hope for Pacific women in the future?

I hope young women will not be afraid to take leaps forward, carrying with them the stories and songs of their people. The world is moving and we want to move with it.

The world is getting competitive, and we want to break away from competition and chart our own way.

I hope in the course of finding our way, we will not stir up trouble but promote peace – peace at home, in our schools, and in our workplaces. The lyrics of John Lennon’s song, Imagine, inspire me:

Imagine all the people living life in peace


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**The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.


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