Letter From Indonesia #2

I’m just back from a Women and Climate Change convening at Green Camp in Bali.  Some 100 women grass roots leaders together with representatives from grantmaking organizations, women’s funds and environmental agencies, converged from across the globe for a highly significant convening.

When we were invited to attend we were also asked to bring something from our own culture that symbolized our connection to place and identity. I thought about my own sense of being an Australian and what grounded and affirmed me as a touchstone for my identity.  When I really thought about it, the campaign to save the Franklin River from being dammed in Tasmania is what came to mind.

I was out camping near a river with friends from school when I first heard the band Goanna and their debut album, ‘Spirit of Place’. When I heard their music I felt turned around in my whole body and spirit.  I really felt like I’d broken free of something in my mind, and I experienced expansiveness in myself and connection to country in a new way. Music was the great translator – and so too were other forms of art, as I was to discover.

In 1978, the Tasmanian Hydro Electric Commission announced its intention to build a dam to flood the Franklin River, a plan that polarized the Tasmanian community.  A protest movement formed, led by activist Bob Brown and others.  Then a photograph of Rock Island Bend along the Franklin River taken by Peter Dombrovskis ignited an Australia wide movement to save the dam. Over 30,000 letters of support were sent and a march attracted over 10,000 people, fueled by a film called The Last Wild River that was shown on Tasmania’s two commercial television stations.  Art and activism were playing their part.

 photograph of Rock Island Bend along the Franklin River taken by Peter Dombrovskis
Rock Island Bend along the Franklin River taken by Peter Dombrovskis

Concerned citizens formed a blockade of the dam site that would begin on 14 December 1982. On the day the blockade of the dam site began, the UNESCO committee in Paris listed the Tasmanian wild rivers as a World Heritage site.  Protestors at the dam site were arrested and when Bob Brown was freed 19 days later he was successfully nominated for a seat in the Tasmanian Assembly, and later went on to lead the formation of the Australian Greens Party.

A national print campaign that included Dombrovskis’ compelling image of what was at stake resulted in over 20,000 people writing ‘NO DAMS’ on their electorate form and helped Bob Hawke, a new Labor leader, win the Federal election in 1983.  As the new Prime Minister, Hawke committed to stopping the dam from being built. A legal battle between the federal government and Tasmanian state government followed, resulting in a landmark High Court ruling in the federal government’s favor that effectively stopped the Franklin from being dammed. Resistance to the protestors had been strong and yet those fighting the dam’s construction stayed united, and their efforts were captured by Goanna and its lead singer, Shane Howard, in a video and song that became an unofficial anthem for environmental justice.  That song is called  ‘Let the Franklin Flow.’

Watching this video today, and listening to (and singing, dancing to ) this song, continues to affect and affirm me deeply in this connection to those Australians who were brave, provocative, spirited, visionary and determined in their commitment to save our beautiful, precious river.  When I see these images of those who were at the front line of environmental activism for the Franklin, I also know that battles such as these are being fought by women’s human rights defenders across the globe.

Many grass roots women’s leaders shared their own stories of campaigns fought and sustained at the Women and Climate Change conference.  This gathering was organized by International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF) and Global Green Grants, and it was funded by the Ford Foundation.  The conference venue, Green Camp, was inspiring for its approach to environmental experiential learning and sharing. Some of us discussed with the Camp’s director the idea of creating a women’s human rights defenders leadership program at Green Camp and it seems now that this is an initiative the center will pursue.

The goals of the conference included learning more about how to support grassroots women’s responses to climate change, in recognition that women who are poor and dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods are most severely impacted by the consequences of climate change.  Most importantly, the convening was intended to capture grass roots women’s stories and strategies of how women are working to mitigate and adapt to climate change and also to identify opportunities to increase funding and advocacy for these women’s groups, and to strengthen movements for change.  The conference was also designed to build greater collaboration between women’s funds and agencies and environmental groups.

For women, the struggle in relation to the impact of climate change is often deeply personal. It’s about bodies, economies and territories; women, land and territories; politics of place; body as locus of struggle; body as territory; spiritual security; spiritual protection and identity – and so it’s more than just the protection of home, community and place.

Women are at the frontline of climate change impact and, for this reason, they are also in a position to know what needs to be done to protect lands and communities and to adapt to the impact of climate change. There are stories of flooding (Pacific) and of desertification (Mongolia), struggles for statehood and sovereignty over land and water.  And there are stories of strength and unity winning the day, as was the case with the Mongolian Women’s Fund which supported a group of women who were able to close down an illegal mine once women in the community learnt they had the power to make this happen.

Environmental effects of mining and extractive industries were a constant theme during the conference. There were many questions on how to address the corporate sector and how best to engage with corporate players.  Particularly given the stories of criminal gangs working in alliance with corporations and concern over World Bank policies and approaches, such as attempting to remove safeguards for people to protect their land and making it easier for companies to acquire land in developing countries.  There were hopeful stories too of corporations that have worked effectively with environmental agencies to change their supply chain policies and procurement practices in recognition of effects.

Berta Caceres Flores was one of the extraordinary activists present from Honduras who spoke:

“We need to think about a process of liberation that goes beyond patriarchy, capitalism, racism – the very things that hold communities back – and to focus on the intersectionality of our work. We are fighting for land, culture, spiritual rights. We are fighting against nepotism, extractivism, patriarchy and racism.

Our country is divided into enclaves – exploitation of banana plantations and other fruits; mining; energy; paramilitarism; privatization of our rivers; mercenaries, including young children; demands that we give up our sovereignty. We’re fighting these enclaves on multiple fronts. 30% of our country is given in mining concessions and there are over 300 mining contracts currently in place.

Honduras is the most violent country in the world. Donors are leaving us as they face threats by being aligned with women’s human rights defenders and they are concerned about the impact and ramifications.”

“Women suffer the most – women’s struggles based on cultural beliefs and stories carried from ancestors re sacred land and forests.  In Honduras we have already seen 17 rivers illegally made into dams, with the IMC and European banks involved in financing exploitative development.  Many people have been assassinated as a result of trying to stop corruption and violence in all its forms – physical, verbal and cyber-attacks.”

Elisabeth from Bolivia agreed.

“Some women who have participated in protests to save our natural environment have lost children to abortion due to violence and rape.  Women who are raped are accused of prostitution and then ostracized in their community, leading to increased poverty and isolation. Body and territory are intertwined as women place themselves at the front line. Women protesting expansion of palm oil are exhausted and need emotional as much as financial support to sustain their efforts.”

Ursula Rakova, an activist from the Carteret Islands in the South Pacific, who led her community to a new home in Bougainville as a result of rising sea levels, said

“When our natural resources are lost, our legs are cut off and we cannot stand.”

“We can’t talk about food security any more as our Carteret Islands have flooded over with salty water. We cannot hold back the sea. It is doing its job, it is displacing us. Many of our children no longer go to school since schools often close for months and so there is a very low rate of literacy. Trying to get donors to pay for housing in Bougainville as part of our relocation there has been very difficult.

Donors are often unwilling to pay for ‘infrastructure’, especially as cost per house is USD10,000 since we want our homes to be sustainable and not erode in a year or two. They need to be made of bamboo and iron. Our creation of Bougainville Cocoa Limited with support from a German donor has also opened the way for export of dried cocoa leaves to Germany, as facilitated by the donor. Our farmers are now undergoing certification process to become fair trade farmers. Secure livelihoods are critical.”

Mama Aleta Baun

Mama Aleta, an activist from West Timor, said: “When we have security of place, we have access to our other rights.  We can sell our handicrafts but we cannot sell our rocks, our water, and our land.”

Aleta Baun (Mama Aleta) is someone whose love of the forests, soil and water in her country of Timor catalyzed her activism. She led her community in a fight to close down the mining companies that were excavating the sacred stone in their mountains without the people’s consent and, in the process, destroying both environment and identity.  Mama Aleta’s organizing of hundreds of Indigenous people to oppose the marble mines in the form of peaceful and sustained protests led to death threats and a price on Mama Aleta’s head. This resulted in her fleeing to the forest with her children and, at one stage, she was hacked by a machete.  After over 10 years of struggle and solidarity the movement sparked and sustained by Mama Aleta and her supporters resulting in four mines closing for good in the area.  And of course the struggle continues.

At this Women and Climate Change conference, we were also reminded of some key facts including that 50% of women and children in developing countries are anemic; women produce more than 50% of the food worldwide; consumers will control $15 trillion by 2014. By 2028 women will be responsible for two thirds of consumer spending worldwide.

Grassroots women were clear that they want access to learning exchanges where women leaders from affected regions can go and learn from women’s groups in other regions where they’re dealing with climate change impact. “Let’s make partnership and networking a reality,”  they said. They also want to connect with other women who were solution builders. Women who were sustaining seed banks, creating climate change health kits, establishing water taxi networks to reduce carbon emissions; singing climate change messages in mosques and temples; practicing ‘panna panna’ – the practice of shared hand and reciprocity in spirit of mutual assistance such as shared planting, house construction, farming, fishing.

Instead of trying to be responsible for all the problems in the world, we should take on what we love and care about. Then we honor both our inner world and the outer world at the same time. There’s no separation between the two, and there is no hesitation, no self-doubt. This will help us develop great faith that others are taking care of their piece. People who don’t know the details about climate change may care deeply about the forests, the animals, and the children.
~ Paul Hawken

The potential for highly relevant responses to climate change led by women leaders and women’s groups, and the stark reality of a low level of engagement of women and gender inclusive responses to climate change mitigation and adaptation, must be urgently addressed.

One of the best examples of this disconnect is the climate financing mechanisms created by governments across the globe.  Climate finance funds are those funds derived from governments, or agencies acting on their behalf, including national budgetary contributions and innovative financing sources e.g. auctioning of emission permits, taxes, levies.  Governments commit these funds on a voluntary basis and they are intended to be new and additional funds, as stipulated by the Bali Action Plan 2008.  These funds are also intended as north to south funds to be delivered as grants and not loans.  One of these funds is the New Green Climate Fund established in 2012 as a multilateral climate fund and with heavy World Bank involvement.

Almost 70% of climate finance pledged to date is for mitigation and thus there is little money to help communities such as those in small island states to adapt to climate change.  No gender analysis, gender budgeting or gender inclusive approach has been applied to the conception or application of climate financing in dealing with issues of inequality, women’s participation and leadership around climate finance dialogue.  Most National Action Plans don’t include the voices of women, with the exception (sometimes) of disaster response — and a major focus seems to be on women as victims rather than women as innovators, leaders and forces for change. Women are still too often depicted as instruments of change rather than advocacy for women to realize their rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

While gender equality was not an original consideration when these funds were established, the imperative of this as a stand-alone outcome is now gaining ground. This includes embracing gender budgets;  sex disaggregated data; gender balance; gender expertise; women as stakeholders; regular gender audits; best practice set of social, gender and environmental safeguards; independent evaluation and recourse mechanisms; input and participation of women as stakeholders and beneficiaries.


When I recall this convening, and the depth of sharing in terms of stories, strategies and solutions, I also remember the time I spent with a truly beautiful woman from Tanzania, Loyce Lema, who is the Executive Director of Envirocare.  As part of our time together we joined a personal tour of Green Camp with the Director of the camp and, as we walked along the track and saw the river, Loyce grabbed my arm and said “I haven’t seen a river flowing for a long, long, long time.”  As we walked onto the bridge with the river below us, Loyce stopped again and said “close your eyes, Jane. This is the sound that I have missed in my heart.  The sound of a river running free.”

oh Tasmania
the hardest heart could understand
just to feel your wilderness
your silence sings to me

let the Franklin flow
let the wild lands be
the wilderness should be strong and free
from Kuta Kina to the south-west shore
has to be something worth fighting for

we fell the forests and we scar the land
has to be something worth fighting for
and desecrate it with greedy hands
destroy the beauty that nature planned

a thousand people arrested and bailed
has to be something worth fighting for
voices crying in the wilderness
saying this is something worth fighting for

oh Tasmania
the hardest heart could understand
just to feel your wilderness
your silence sings to me

A song by Shane Howard  ©1983 Shane Howard

Jane Sloane

Letter from Papua New Guinea #4

“See those girls there,” a female pastor says from the back-seat of the vehicle we’re in, pointing to a group of girls who looked between 11-15 years of age; they are likely part of a prostitutes ring encouraged by older girls.

Prostitution is increasingly common in Papua New Guinea, especially for girls needing income for themselves and their families in order to get an education.  The cost of going to college is between $US3,000 and $US6,500 per year.  And for many people who struggle on the poverty line for most of their lives, the dream of an education for themselves or their family is just that.

“I know parents who have given up their entire retirement fund to give their daughter an education,” an educator tells me.  And yet there are many other families with little income and living in deep poverty who struggle to send their daughter to school.  Help may come in the form of a rich uncle who may pay for his niece’s education and then want payback from her and her family in return.  He may have sex with the girl, claim her as his own and she may get pregnant and be unable to continue her studies as a result.

Such was a case told to me while I was visiting an educational institution. “That’s why we need scholarships for girls and young women, including those who are married as they still have their dreams and aspirations,” says the educator.

Girls now expect to be raped because it’s so commonplace here.  Women say ‘we’ve all been and we all will be raped’.  It’s also why girls wear shorts under their dresses – apparently so they can make a quick get-away if needed. “I would estimate, at this college, almost 90% of girls have been interfered with,” said one educational professional, “but they would never say because it’s considered shame related.” Incest too is not talked about, even though it is said to be on the increase.

Girls whose mothers re-marry are seen to be at greater risk due to exposure to their step-fathers.  In this situation, girls don’t feel they can talk and their mothers’ don’t feel they can act as their husbands will banish them from the home and they will have nowhere to live.

Girls are often forced to get married to provide security for their family and my sister friend, Lilly, says a man may grab a young woman off the road.  “Two weeks ago I heard of a girl who was standing by the road and a man came up in his car and said “You are my wife, I’ve been looking for you, where have you been?” It was only because another man who knew the girl was standing by and stopped the man taking the girl that she was saved from this fate.”

I’d hope that at the Global Fund for Women we can support the National Council of Women in a campaign to support girls to be safe and secure, especially through the new global Girls not Brides campaign.

Another story told to me was of a family that owed a man some money and so he said he’d take their twin daughter instead.  The twin apparently knew her rights but she didn’t know how she could enforce them and so she committed suicide.

JanetSape-DameCarol Kidu-Julie SosoWhen the legendary Dame Carol Kidu, until recently the only woman in a Papua New Guinean Parliament, tried to introduce a law into Parliament banning marital rape, the male politicians all cried ‘interference in the bedroom!!!” and there was uproar in Parliament resulting in the bill being howled down in protest.  Wily Dame Kidu got it through in the end, anyway.

She bided her time, until the last session of Parliament in 2002 and bundled it in with a series of amendments to a Child Sex Exploitation and Rape Bill.  And so the law banning marital rape finally did pass and it was months later before all her all male Parliamentary colleagues found out that they’d been ‘asleep at the wheel’ and the legislation had passed when only a few members were in Parliament, impatient to leave and go on holidays.  Such is the balance of diplomacy, strategic planning and foxy action that defines a stellar politician.

Dame Carol is also an extraordinary humanitarian and women’s human rights defender who is wise and nuanced in her recognition and articulation of the issues facing women and girls in Papua New Guinea.

“There’s a lot of lateral violence against women and girls.  From a young age, girls are diminished by being told “don’t speak, you’re only a girl,” and so when we’re talking about violence against women and girls then we have to tackle the psychological violence so that girls can grow up feeling empowered.  We also need to pay more attention to emotional and social wellbeing and provide anger management training for men.  I think that men and women are under a lot of stress, living between two worlds – tribal law and culture, and contemporary law and culture.”

Dame Carol’s retirement from Parliament is sorely missed, especially at a time when there’s a push to endorse a bill for Temporary Special Measures that would give women 22 guaranteed seats in Parliament.   There’s also a desire by many women to see connections bridged between women parliamentarians and women’s rights organizations in order to build women’s political agenda. There’s a recognition that such an agenda really needs a critical mass of women in Parliament to champion and advance it.  And herein lies the rub.

Prominent PNG Greens leader, and staunch environmental activist, Dorothy Tekwie told a post election review panel:

“As a female, I thought that I was smart and I could do it.  It just hit me so hard because first of all, I didn’t see how cruel, how terrible, the system was against people who want to come in and do the right thing.  The system is not supporting principle-based leadership, people who are fighting corruption, people who are trying to do the right thing by the people.”

“Politics in Papua New Guinea is totally, totally something for big men and I mean men with money (who) are ruthless, and all the sponsors of political parties support big man politics in Papua New Guinea.  They don’t support little me whose is trying to do the right thing – or little him who’s trying to do the right thing by our people,” she said. “I can’t raise the kind of money that others can (millions) through going to industry and corporate donors.  I can’t accept money from people who are intent on environmental destruction…I was personally offered K5 million not to stand so that I would not support the bill on 22 reserved seats for women.”

Julie Soso, Governor of Eastern Highlands, is one of three women who did manage to get a seat in National Parliament.  She got in on her fourth time of campaigning for a seat because lots of ‘small people’, the 99 percenters, voted for her because they knew her and trusted her.

There are 111 seats in Parliament and 56 votes are needed to pass the legislation to guarantee women 22 seats in Parliament.  In this country, if you’re standing for election the idea of ‘give and take’ is “give us the money to vote for you and then take the power.”  We are told that, if you want me to vote for you then you have to pay me to do so. “I’ve been asked to provide someone with a Toyota Landcruiser,” said one woman, “and another man asked me to give him a gun in return for voting for me.”

“With council elections you will need at least 30,000 kina to run whereas for National Parliament you really need at least one million kina to run.  If we get the support of Parliament for those 22 seats for women then we will mobilize a strong women’s movement in this country and be able to put up candidates who have the same heart, drive and ethics as Dame Carol Kidu.

Dame Carol herself estimates it will take three generations without the Temporary Special Provisions to get women the representation and critical mass they need in Parliament.  Without denying the important victory of three women in Parliament, they still only represent 1.1% of the total number in Parliament.

“That’s why women need a strong National Council of Women base”, says my new friend, Mary. “One that unites women across the country and men in support of women’s empowerment.  A council with its own operating base, linked to a series of women’s resource and incubation centers in rural PNG.  Places where women can go to organize, get skilled up and fired up.  When we Meri (women) come together under the banner of UNITY we will be unstoppable.  We’ll have the economic freedom, the social networks and the political power to make this country work for all of us and not just for the men.”

She beams at me, a kind of Mother Earth, Mama Hip figure in her billowing dress, “Amen to that!!”


Jane Sloane – Papua New Guinea


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Letter from Papua New Guinea #3

201212-AP_Trip_GorokoWomen1.jpgThe Pacific is a world removed, a forgotten corner of the earth for many, however to me it is a place of such immeasurable beauty, a sing sing culture. In this environment, flying in a small plane across the country is pure joy. As the plane skids to a stop, I can see young and old people who look like colored dots as they swamp the roof of the airport and rattle the cage of the wired gates that keeps them outside. One man pulls out a ukulele and sings a sweet tune while women sell their billum bags on the dusty track leading into the airport. I feel so alive here, as if all my senses are sharpened.

I’ve travelled to Goroka to meet with a group of women in the Eastern Highlands – Julie, Lilly, Marilyn, Barbara, Maria, Monica and Anne – and we have a day to capture the state of the women’s movement in Papua New Guinea. This is also a chance for me to better understand the context and what’s causing the issues women are facing in this country as well as what they think is needed.

We start with an easy one.

The fact that polygamy is rampant in the PNG Highlands and that men, inside and outside of Parliament, don’t seem to see anything wrong with it. “You can have as many wives and mistresses as you please, if you’re a man,” Barbara says. “Men are increasingly leaving their marriages for younger women, or just taking an extra wife – they don’t see an issue with it.“ Nor do they see any issue with chasing and competing for resources and royalties from LNG (liquefied natural gas) – with men being the big winners and women and children losing out. Women are invisible around mining and extractive industries. And land belongs to the men in this country.”

Julie_Soso_Akeke_Eastern_Highlands_Governer and MPAccessing markets is an issue. Getting goods to market in the right condition without refrigeration is impossible. There’s no road connection to PNG and vegetables rot without refrigeration. Julie Soso, the (female) governor of PNG, and the newly elected member to National Parliament, has now conceived a container method to ship market goods to PNG and has bought land to support produce being grown.

Women also need access to training and technological improvement of crops, on land they likely don’t own as land is passed on to the males in the family. Most of women’s work is in the informal sector and this is unpaid, underpaid and often invisible without any form of social protection.

There’s also an increasing number of women with HIV/AIDS which points to the need for comprehensive sex education and HIV/AIDS education in schools starting from ten years old. Cancer levels for women are also increasing for cervical and breast cancer. “In many rural areas, women are very shy about going to check for HIV/AIDS or for cancer,” says Maria. “Some women have died of cervical cancer, which is becoming increasingly common here, or breast cancer, because they didn’t get checked out early.” Very little sex-disaggregated data exists in the Pacific and thus the impact of many issues on women is rendered invisible without the data to demonstrate the deep and recurrent negative impacts on women.

Marijuana and alcohol abuse are major issues and there is no regulation, according to the women with whom I’m meeting. “Men smoke marijuana and drink to excess all the time and then they have no energy, they are immobilized and can’t finish school or get a job and it destroys them. They take it out on the women and beat them. We have to stop this vicious cycle,” says Marilyn.

That’s why women’s financial independence is seen as key to these women. With PNG Women in Business Foundation women pay a membership fee of 60 kina ($US30), which includes their access to a savings book. Once they save 500 kina ($US250) they receive an interest bearing loan book and then they are also entitled to a loan, usually starting at 1,000 kina ($US500). Loans are provided to individuals but they’re encouraged to meet in groups for support.

Giving women support, whether it’s economic or social, or both, is so important in this culture, especially for women living alone. In Papua New Guinea, sorcery and witchcraft are deeply ingrained in the psyche of many people in rural areas. “Widows are often branded as witches,” Lilly says. “And sometimes these women and their daughters are placed in a fire and burnt alive by young men in the community. “If you live alone you can be regarded with suspicion and once you’re branded, with ‘she’s a sorcerer’, you’re branded for life, even if you move,” says Barbara.

“It’s a spiritual thing,” says Marilyn. “Now the police are coming in to stop these practices but it’s still an issue in places like Simbu Province, Jiwaka Province and the Eastern Highlands.”

The focus in PNG on export production has encouraged support for extractive industries (mining, logging and fishing) of which the economic and social impacts have been disproportionately felt by women and girls. These industries are widening the gender gap in income, encouraging transactional sex, increased corruption and preferencing foreign investors at the expense of local people and landowners. This approach has also privileged agribusiness and neglected agriculture, including subsistence agriculture that supports 75% of the Pacific population and is primarily undertaken by women.

LNG is also driving up living costs and it’s also driving more money into the hands of men. According to Anne “this handout approach by LNG is creating an environment where people feel they deserve money (large amounts) for doing nothing, and it’s nearly always the men. These men may get a payment from LNG and go to Fiji or PNG and live it up, possibly spread HIV/AIDs and return to their families with nothing and so the women struggle to keep the family afloat.”

“Why doesn’t Exxon Mobil make a commitment to women and families, if it’s going to be in the country for the long-haul, I wondered. “What company is going to get the green light from a nearly all male Parliament, including polygamists, if Exxon says ‘we’re going to be women friendly and focused’?,” Lily responded.

And yet there are signs of hope.

The Australian Government has committed AUD$66 million to fund 1400 scholarships for Papua New Guinean midwives and nurses in order to help combat the high rate of maternal deaths in PNG and poor rural health services. Funds will be directed to PNG based medical and nursing schools to support 450 community health workers, 450 nurses and 500 midwives to be trained by 2015. Those midwives and nurses doing the training will supervise around 8,000 births a year, potentially saving many lives.

While this support is very welcome, the challenge is that these women doing the training will have to be away from their families while doing the training as the universities can only accommodate single students and not those with families. Of course, the cost of supporting family accommodation would be high although it’s often the women who have already married and have children who are the most skilled and best placed to do this training.

I ask my new friends what would be the top ten areas of investment they would advise donors to take to advance women’s and girls’ human rights in Papua New Guinea and they offer the following:

  1. Invest in girls’ education and adult literacy
  2. Build women’s cancer centers to support the growing incidence of cervical and breast cancer
  3. Undertake compulsory sex education and HIV/AIDS awareness training in all schools
  4. Invest in transport infrastructure to support women in markets to transport goods
  5. Improve market spaces for women including storage, toilets and safe money exchange
  6. Create women’s centers as safe meeting spaces for women since few such spaces exist
  7. Provide skills training for women including business management and financial literacy
  8. Get more women into Parliament by addressing corruption and Big Men Money
  9. Fund a National Council of Women Center to represent the united voices of women
  10. Invest in vocational and technical training centers that don’t have such a high entry standard or require prior experience so that we don’t lose another generation of young people, especially young women

These women also identified some issues which they said need to be addressed by Parliamentarians, including the three new women Parliamentarians who represent the hope of so many women in this country:

  1. Legislate a national initiative to address the high incidence of alcohol abuse and marijuana use in PNG and that builds in strong police powers of enforcement as a powerful measure to support ending violence against women
  2. Ban polygamy and ensure strong police powers of enforcement
  3. Pass the law to guarantee women 22 seats in Parliament in recognition that the elections are not an even playing field and that women will never be represented in Parliament in equal numbers with men until such temporary special measures are introduced
  4. implement the top ten recommendations above and ensure that every province has a vocational and technical training center

The women then start talking about the high number of orphans in the country as a result of their mothers dying of HIV/AIDS.

“I sure wish I could adopt a child,” I said to Janet Sape as I was debriefing with her.

“You can,” she said.

“No, it takes a long time as an Australian and I’m not a US resident or citizen yet nor does it seem right to take a child from their culture.”

“Are you kidding? Janet says. “That child would love to go to Australia or the US where there are so many opportunities.”

I remember what a woman said to me yesterday, “No-one is childless in this country, we look after each other’s children.” I watch a curly headed girl, maybe three years old, walking with her mother toward me. Maybe I can be a mother in the world, I think.

The little girl looks up and reaches her arms out to me – I lift her up, hold her close and hand her back to her smiling Mum.


Jane Sloane  –  Papua New Guinea


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Letter from Papua New Guinea #2

One cassowary, two sheep, 24 pigs, 1,600 kina worth of vegetables, 10,000 kina of gas and 10,000 kina in cash is the worth of a woman.

That’s the bride price my driver, Andrew, paid for his wife, Jennifer, when they met and married in Mount Hagen in the Papua New Guinea Highlands.

“As a couple, we received up to 50% of that payment back in some form,” Andrew explained.  My parents-in-law gave us back 3 pigs, 800 kina of vegetables, especially bananas which we didn’t have, cooking utensils, bedding and 3,000 kina in cash.  We needed this as we were very, very poor.  I had to worked for years in my garden to save for the bride price.”

This is the reality of a man marrying a woman in one of the rural areas of the Papua New Guinea.  Old traditions remain strong.

Around 40% of PNG’s population lives on less than US$1 per day, with PNG ranking 121 out of 135 countries on the United Nations Human Poverty Index, which measures a country’s standard of living.  On the UN Human Development Index, which measures literacy, life expectancy and standard of living, PNG ranks 148 out of 182 countries.

PNG has the poorest state of health in the Pacific region, especially in rural areas where health services are deteriorating and difficult to access at best, or at worst closed down. Access to healthcare in more remote areas can be severely restricted, where patients, health workers and supply deliveries must negotiate raging rivers, muddy roads and rugged mountains.

“PNG has the second highest rate of maternal mortality in the world after Afghanistan,” Scholla Kakas, President of the National Council of Women, told me today.  The churches are the ones that have focused on local training for village attendants but there’s still so few who have been trained.  It would help if we had a training facility for midwives but, even then, there are issues of transport and access, especially in the remote locations. Meanwhile, the women are dying.”

“If a woman has pregnancy complications in a remote area then she may have to walk or be carried by her family on a stretcher to the nearest local clinic, and that may be days away. I remember coming across a heavily pregnant woman who had traveled five days on foot to get help and her water broke during that journey and the baby was coming out of her as she tried to walk.”

“We haven’t made much progress on the Millennium Development Goals and we’ve only got three years to go to the deadline.”

In many developed countries, the average ratio is one doctor per 400 people while in Papua New Guinea it is one doctor per 7,900 people. Most doctors, nurses and midwives doctors are located in the capital, Port Moresby.

In some of the more remote regions of the country there are no midwives, doctors or nurses, leaving up to 66,000 people with no access to medical care.  As a result of these and other factors, communicable diseases are responsible for 50% of deaths in PNG.  These include pneumonia, malaria, tuberculosis, meningitis and, increasingly, HIV/AIDS.

  • If you’re a woman living in Papua New Guinea then your life expectancy is 30% lower than if you were born in the US or Australia and you have a 1 in 5 chance of dying before the age of 40.
  • If you’re a pregnant woman you have a much greater risk of dying during childbirth or from pregnancy related causes, with a maternal mortality rate 118 times that of Australia’s.
  • Babies born in PNG are 10 times more likely than in the US or Australia to die by the age of one and 12 times more likely to die by the age of five.
  • Papua New Guinea accounts for more than 90% of the deaths of children under five in the Pacific region.

Global Fund for Women’s Grantee partners have been responding with their own creative initiatives to some of these issues.  For instance, in 2007 a group of single mothers formed the Waugla Single Mother’s Association (WSMA) in Simbu Province. The group’s mission is to address the issues of a marginalized, but rapidly growing, community of single mothers from aged 17-40 and it conducts training on food preservation and security as well as birth control practices. Members of the group have also collectively pooled their resources to help each member construct their own homes.

Another group, The Women’s Rural Advance Program (WRAP) is a women’s group located in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea. Established in 1988 by women of the Ramui tribe, the membership of the organization includes 18 women’s groups over 900 women from different communities. WRAP trains rural women to become leaders and to foster the future leadership of women and girls across Papua New Guinea and to increase women’s economic autonomy and advocacy around health and HIV/AIDS.

I want to know how these women and others here in PNG supported by the Global Fund for Women, together with our formal and informal advisors, are dealing with these realities.  What do they believe needs to be done and how we can best support them to accelerate and amplify their work and advocacy?

So, I’m heading to Goroka this week to meet with a group of our grantees who’ll be traveling from their homes in different parts of the country in order to meet with me.  Their stories, as solution builders, will feature in my blog post this week.

As I was headed back to my accommodation today, I watched a gorgeous girl peep out the window of a bus, held tight by her Mum, who waved at me. Across from my hotel, street artists lined up their brilliantly painted scenes of everyday life in PNG for the 99 percenters here. One painting was of people in a local bus looking up at westerners in a kind of Biggles plane contraption in the sky.

“We are singing in our bus”, the woman artist explained to me. “We’re poor but we have our families and our songs and our feet on the ground.

We feel life. You foreigners are in another world with your heads in the clouds looking down on us all the time.”

She smiled and looked at me. “Two hundred kina, you buy?”


Jane Sloane – Papua New Guinea


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Letter from Papua New Guinea #1

Janet SapeWhen I last saw Janet Sape she was talking about her dream of creating a Microbank for Women in Papua New Guinea.  Now that dream is about to become a reality as she awaits the banking license for this new bank, with its working title of Pacific Women’s Bank.

“We had been discussing the name Meri Bank, as Meri means women in Papua New Guinea, but we also want to be able to expand the bank beyond PNG and we need the name to be relevant in other Pacific countries too,” Janet Sape explained today.

As a successful business woman who founded City Mother’s Foundation in 2006 and is now the Founder of PNG Women in Business Foundation, Janet now has 13,000 women signed up as financial members of this foundation and over 15,000 women registered in total.  In addition, she and her colleagues have arranged to provide financial literacy training and IT training to women wanting to open bank accounts or take out a loan.  This foundation will also, in time, work to provide access to affordable housing, health care, education and health insurance for women who are members.

Speaking about issues around women’s economic empowerment today, Janet said

“More than 80% of PNG women live in rural areas where there’s no access to banking or finance.  The vast majority of these women work in the informal sector, as tailors, farmers, fisher-women, where they have no financial security and are very vulnerable. Women can’t inherit property and they rely on their husband’s signature for security if they’re wanting to take out a small loan.That’s why we’re planning to undertake a pilot project in three rural areas, and one in Port Moresby.  Some areas of the country are more challenging, such as Mt Hagen, due to law and order issues, and so we have to be realistic about what we can achieve in the medium term.”

“We are small people here.  We don’t have Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey to champion us.  Women have to help each other, especially in an environment where polygamy is increasing and marriages are shaky.  If a woman walks out of a marriage then she’s left with nothing.  However, if a woman is financially secure she can buy land or a house and own it.  She can pay to put food on the table, give her children an education, manage her business and afford health care.  Truly, economic independence will be the savior of women in this country.”

To be eligible for a loan at this women’s bank, women will be required to do compulsory financial literacy training and to have a track record of at least six month savings.

The time is right for such an initiative, Janet Sape says. “This bank will give women hope for their future, especially when violence against women in the home is particularly bad.  If a woman has access to savings then she can leave her home and establish her own life.  With the big LNG pipeline, only a quarter of the country will benefit with three quarters missing out.  Whereas with a bank like this, women from across the country can benefit.   It’s a way to reduce the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

Scholla Kakas, President of the National Council of Women (PNG) agrees.

“At present, basic services are not reaching women in rural and remote areas.  There’s no infrastructure to support women’s economic empowerment and women have no say in important decisions.  And yet women will turn this country around once we have the resources and the influence.  We know the problems really well. We know what’s needed too. We’ve already seen what Dame Carol Kidu has been able to do for women and children and the disempowered through her time in Parliament.  I pray that one day God will let a woman rule this country.  Until then, we really hope the Global Fund for Women, and all those who support women’s rights, will help us in our struggle for justice, security, voice and power.

We only receive 150,000 kina from the government (US$72,000) as a national women’s organization.  We have no national office here, we work from our homes and in hotels for meetings such as this. This is despite the fact that we have 62 local women’s councils and we represent thousands of women across the country.  However, with the Bill currently in Parliament it will effectively mean that the National Council of Women will be the mandated voice of women in this country from the capital all the way to the village level.  We’ll help women to know their rights and we’ll be a powerful force for good across the nation.  We just hope we can now attract the resources and funding to sustain our movement building.”

 Nearby, at the Airways Hotel where I met with a group of women, the staff were (literally) rolling out the red carpet for the arrival of Senator Bob Carr, Australia’s Foreign Minister.  It was reported today that Senator Carr said further action on domestic and sexual violence would be on the agenda for the inaugural Australia-PNG Ministerial Forum in Port Moresby this week.

Let’s hope that it results in a comprehensive plan of action.

A plan that engages the National Council of Women to galvanize women and men across the country to work to end violence against women and the PNG Women in Business Foundation to help power women to a new economic reality.


Jane Sloane – Papua New Guinea


I found this old post from my time at IWDA…

PDF: 20100403-IWDA-JaneSloane The Personal is Political
[pdf width=”800px” height=”1000px”]http://janeintheworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/20100403-IWDA-JaneSloane-The-Personal-is-Political.pdf[/pdf]

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