On behalf of the women and girls of Papua New Guinea, I’m grateful and humbled to take this opportunity to warmly welcome the Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, leaders and delegates from the 21 APEC economies and observers from around the world to our beautiful country. The host city Port Moresby is not Papua New Guinea, though. There are indeed a million different journeys from here.
Papua New Guinea is a unique country with great cultural diversity and natural resources endowment and it strategically connects Asia with the Pacific. It is fitting that we host this premier forum for facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment.
I acknowledge and thank the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Hon. Peter O’Neill and his Government for the commitment to host a successful APEC forum despite our own woes and challenges. We are the youngest and smallest APEC economy. Our journey begun 43 years ago and we still have a long way to go.
We still have a long way to go in regonizing and embracing women as equal partners and leaders who can lead, participate and cultivate a vibrant society.
One of Papua New Guinea’s greatest shames is gender inequality, violence and injustice to women and girls. It is a burden that about 4 million women and girls, half of our population, carry as a heavy weight every day. Many girls and women endure unimaginable hardships in Papua New Guinea that is completely unacceptable. There has been a dismal failure by Government to do more, much more, to address this problem.
Violence confronts girls and women in everyday situations. Females are not even safe in their own homes with the threat of domestic violence greater than violence outside. Statistics from different sources, including Department of Health, show up to 70% of women, suffer from gender-based violence. The violence includes rape, torture and murder. Our girls aren’t safe either with reports that in one year 55% of the sexual violence cases that the Public Prosecutor dealt with were abuse of children under 16 years of age. Even at the workplace there is sexual harassment and our women selling produce at markets face the threat of gender based violence.
Sorcery especially in rural Papua New Guinea is fuelled by a lack of education, a lack of drugs to treat illnesses compounded by cultural superstition make this a common perpetuation of extreme violence against women.
Health statistics for females are amongst the worst in our region. Our maternal mortality rates remain shockingly high with the adjusted ratio of 230 deaths for every 100,000 live births, compared to a regional average of 62 and 396 for war-torn Afghanistan. But many of these deaths are unnecessary. This is the great injustice. With better health education for mothers, better access to health facilities, equipment and medication and better trained heath workers especially midwives many appalling statistics could be considerably lower.
Image: A rural Papua New Guinean woman giving birth in the bush because there are no health facilities.
Investment in girls’ and women’s education could improve health statistics not only for women but children. Education is a human right and can influence great participation by women in economic and political spheres. The increase in access to education is commendable, universality, at least, of basic services for education and health is of paramount importance for improved well-being.
The 2011 Census Report by National Statistical Office reports that the female literacy rate of 64% is less than that of males 71%. In a recent online publication the National Research Institute show that the key goal of net enrolment rates have increased for primary education but quality of education in declining. The falling quality is reflected in educational outcomes below the standards needed to maintain high retention rates, in other words the large numbers of students seen at the primary education level will thin as they progress to secondary education. Girls face considerable disadvantages with access to education at higher grades leading to lower retention rates. Security problems abound with parental concerns for teenage girls having to travel long distance, on average for the country this is 2-3 hours, to secondary schools as well as the risk of sexual harassment from other students and teachers. The lack of drinking water and toilet facilities at schools dissuade attendance by girls – for instance, survey data showed that nearly 50% of schools needed at least 1 more toilet for girls.
The representation of women in senior leadership positions within politics, bureaucracy and commerce is very poor. The 10th Parliament (2017 – 2022) of PNG has zero women from total of 111 seats, a dismal ratio of 0% in comparison to women’s share of population of 50%.
The future chances for getting women to sit on PNG’s 111-legisture is bleak unless the Government seriously look at introducing Temporary Special Measures. There is no level playing field for women in PNG to participate in the democratic process for legislative representation at the national level. Poor election administration, marred by electoral fraud, violence, corruption, and money politics makes it very challenging for women.
Our culture and government continue to shape and perpetuate the prevalence of gender inequality. Even our matrilineal societies should not be confused with a matriarchy – men continue to hold the balance of power. It is enshrined in our Constitution that there be no gender disparity: “every citizen to have equal access to legal processes and all services, government and otherwise that are required for the fulfillment of his or her real needs and aspirations”. The first and second National Goals provides that every man and women will be provided with both the freedom and the opportunities to develop their potential and in all spheres of life – political, social, educational and economic.
The Government has a moral as well as a constitutional responsibility to care for all our people. The essence of government is diminished by this failure.
As a nation we have a moral duty to address the deficit of opportunities Papua New Guinea girls and women have and to empower them to realize their potential. Most of our girls and women live in a world they don’t want or deserve.
It is a shame! Shame! Shame!