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PNG Women’s Forum: Wok Bung Wantaim lo Kirapim Senis

Women Speak Up and Work Together at the PNG Women’s Forum

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: “When you speak with one voice, you have no idea how loud you can be.”  That was the message from Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to approximately 300 women at the first ever PNG Women’s Forum on March 6 and 7.

The U.S. Embassy and the PNG Government’s Department of Community Development hosted the two-day event with the support of several government and private sponsors including the Australian High Commission and ExxonMobil PNG.

In addition to the Prime Minister, the event featured an “all star” line up of speakers: U.S. Ambassador Walter North, Acting UN Resident Coordinator Walter Mendoca Filho, Minister Loujaya Kouza, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Dennise Mathieu, distinguished scholar Dr. dt ogilvie, USAID Mission Director Gloria Steele, Acting Secretary Anna Solomon, ExxonMobil PNG project executive Decie Autin, Governor Powes Parkop, and Minister Charles Abel.

Experts from the United States, Australia, and the Pacific region moderated thoughtful discussions with local Papua New Guinean activists, government leaders, and private sector innovators. They shared best practices and proposed recommendations to tackle the barriers holding women back from achieving their full potential.

To facilitate collaboration, the Forum featured a “networking bingo” and PNG’s first ever directory of women’s groups, which was distributed at the event among the participants and uploaded online.

The PNG Women’s Forum “has now connected me to many great people, [it has] mended many pathways … in the work I do with not only women's issues but also other human rights issues,” said Matilda Koma, a participant at the event.

In addition to encouraging more collaboration and coordination among women’s groups and leaders and all stakeholders, the Forum also sought to share information, best practices, and develop a plan for action. Many women learned about the 2013 Family Protection Bill for the first time, and a group of men and women met on March 9 to start a plan of action for the implementation and strengthening of the law.

From the wide range of topics covered, in their evaluations, the participants identified the following as the most critical goals: developing the next generation of leaders, increasing business opportunities, improving health, and addressing gender based violence. Students, in particular, enjoyed the unique opportunity to express their views in the national-level dialogue and network to strengthen their professional and community projects.

Participants were inspired by amazing, first-hand stories of courage. Dame Josephine’s tale of how she was elected as the first female Member of Parliament roused an impromptu serenade of admiration. Theresa Jaintong shared the critical role women in Bougainville played in the signing of the peace agreement that ended the brutal civil war. Lady Winifred Kamit recounted Coalition for Change’s journey to successfully advocating for the passing of the Family Protection Bill. Many dynamic businesswomen shared how they overcame the lack of systematic support for small businesses in the country and their desire to band together for reform.

“We have to be happy for each other when we succeed,” said one of the participants in the entrepreneurship breakout session. Moderator Louise Williams from Nathan Associates shared her findings from the APEC Policy Partnership for Women in the Economy gender analysis she undertook.

Dr. Rangita de Silva de Alwis, the Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative at the Wilson Center, facilitated the discussion on how to develop the next generation of women leaders. Young leaders challenged women to focus on mentoring. A task force of women of all ages quickly banded together and met on March 22 at the American Corner to strategize on this initiative.

Emphasizing the importance of having more women in leadership, Dr. de Silva said, “the cost of women's exclusion from the political and public service sphere is a heavy one, impacting not just women but their communities and countries.”

Another topic that garnered significant attention was the role of men and youth in combating gender based violence. Founder of Warrior Culture -- Men Against Family Violence, Eddie Aila, said “there is a need to break down the ‘Big Man’ mentality…sit down with the perpetrators and help change their mindsets.”

National Planning Minister Charles Abel, closed the event by saying, “our government sees you, acknowledges you, and knows the importance of these issues and the continuing awareness and dialogue around them, but more importantly is the follow up and requisite actions around these issues.”

With the help of the note-takers who recorded the observations, comments and recommendations from panelists and audience members, the Embassy and the PNG government are developing an outcome statement for action by the women themselves, the government, and international partners.

The PNG Women’s Forum was a major milestone in the momentum toward women’s empowerment, and the United States will continue to foster support for this burgeoning movement.

The Embassy and the Department thank the Australian High Commission, ExxonMobil PNG, UNDP, UN Women, the World Bank, the European Union Delegation, the Japanese Embassy, the New Zealand High Commission, The Voice, Blue 7 Team, Tropic Tours, Coca Cola, Crowne Plaza, Theodist, City Pharmacy Limited, Brian Bell, and independent volunteers for their generous support and the collaboration that made the event a success.

Photos from the 2014 PNG Women’s Forum are available on the Embassy’s Facebook page photo albums.

The program and women’s directory featured at the 2014 PNG Women’s Forum is available on the Embassy’s website