PAWA BILONG OL MERI – Women’s Power
There is possibly not a better place to begin another year of gender equality advocacy than in Papua New Guinea.
Since my last visit, four women have been elected to the Autonomous Bougainville Government, the membership and programs of PNG's Business Coalition for Women have expanded, and more people - both men and women - are talking about the central role of women in PNG's development and prosperity. However, huge challenges remain here, as elsewhere around the globe, including Australia.
Violence against women, barriers to equal economic participation and low levels of women's participation in public life in all countries are a stark reminder of the importance of our ongoing work.
As we look ahead, we should not underestimate the value of new international commitments to women's empowerment in 2015, including through the Sustainable Development Goals.
I travelled to the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, in the warm and generous company of four "Pawa Meris". This Pidgin phrase means 'Power Women'. Or in this case, pawa meri Josephine Getsi, pawa meri Isabel Peta, pawa meri Marcelline Kokiai and pawa meri Francesca Semoso: the four women elected to Bougainville's Government in the 2015 elections. It was a milestone achievement for this society recovering from a decade of conflict, and history in the making with Josephine elected to an open (rather than reserved) seat, competing against 11 men, and appointed Minister for Community Development.
These Bougainville MPs and I travelled together through northern Bougainville, visiting a cooperative of female cocoa farmers who are rejuvenating a centuries old industry to grow a more prosperous future for themselves and their families. They plant and harvest against the odds: limited resources; the cocoa pod borer; and another familiar blight - entrenched discrimination which often manifests as violence.
But with support from the PNG National Government and Autonomous Bougainville Government, and assistance from donors such as Australia, in partnership with organisations like CARE, cocoa production is expanding, new markets are being identified and social attitudes are shifting.
Next month, I will celebrate International Women's Day at events around the country. Then it is time for the UN's annual Commission on the Status of Women in New York, working with global partners to cement women's empowerment at the heart of the sustainable development agenda through to 2030. Planet 50:50 by 2030 is the catch cry. With my friends in Bougainville in mind, I'll continue to be an active Pawa Meri. I hope you will join me.
Natasha Stott Despoja
Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls
13 February 2016