Bringing back equal participation - Gender Equality
It has been great reading all your drafts. I've just had my baby and been juggling between baby and World Pulse. Was fortunate to have my mother assist me in finding someone to interview and I'm amazed by the work and what I have heard and learnt from my fellow country women.
So many women around the world, in our own neighbourhoods that are doing extremely great things and we know so little about them. She also is very interested in World Pulse and being a part of it.
My draft with help from my Editorial Midwife with her direction and advise on how to tackle this - she's great also! :-)
All the best :-)
In Papua New Guinea, like in many other societies, men are seen as head of households, chiefs, spokesmen, landowners, knowledgeable, and everything they say and do is seen as right and accepted.
Women on the other hand, are merely observers, silent, “go-with-the-flow”, belong in the kitchen, child bearers and rearers, and the last to be served.
Elizabeth Tongne, once a primary school teacher, now a leading women’s advocate in the East New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) like many other women activists in PNG are now taking lead into addressing women’s issues and encouraging and developing more informed and empowered women in the rural areas of PNG.
“Women need to be informed. They need to be empowered. Once women are informed and empowered, they can do all on their own to achieve great many things.”
Having to give up her teaching in a Catholic mission school after going against a certain law of the Catholic Church on the baptism of her son, Elizabeth moved back to her home, East Pomio in East New Britain Province in 1990.
It was there that the opportunity of one door closing and another opening, that started her on the journey to pursuing a role in women’s advocacy. She was made President for the women’s group in her area and with no knowledge as to what she should do, she ventured out to find out more about the importance of having a women’s group.
Walking from village to village and sitting down with the women, talking and listening to them and getting their views, defined certain issues that needed addressing. Women were not being vocal about their problems, they just went along with what the men said. During village meetings, only the men would discuss and decide on certain community issues. Women were not invited to talk and thus never did. She soon realized the importance of such groups and slowly began talking to women and with the help of the provincial council of women, they were able to assist women in building confidence and speaking out and carry out activities to assist in their daily living.
One of the issues which was of great interest to Elizabeth, was the fact that her local area was a matrineal (line of mother) culture as opposed to the common patrineal (line of father), such that women were of higher status to men such as having rights and ownership to the land.
This had faded and the local women were only observers in decisions, activities, discussions that took place regarding the land and the community. Elizabeth strived to bring this back, to have women more involved in community decisions and to take back their rights as being the land owner as per their matrineal traditions.
She found that while she was present within the community, women would freely speak out and men would allow them to speak, but as soon as she left, it was back to being as it was.
She had to gain the support from the elders, and her own family to pursue and ensure that equal participation within the local community continued regardless of her being there or not. Her brothers supported her work and while Elizabeth is not in the village, they ensure that the women’s programs and participation continued.
Through her research into traditional settings and the past within her community and in other parts of Papua New Guinea, Elizabeth believes that it was colonialism that brought about this change of attitude. In the past, there was gender equality. Men respected women, women were being heard, the matrineal line was stronger. Colonialism brought about change, both good and bad change. One such that, men were chosen to go to work, go to school, to lead, while women were being left back in the villages, in the homes. Men were given knowledge, education, which made them become the group of people of higher status thus the change of attitudes towards women evolved.
We see more domestic violence, men who use their physical strength, power and status through money and education to over rule women. One good change though, that development did bring about was the opportunity for women to go to school, to learn and to take up positions in the community, workplaces and society and today in PNG, it is still a great challenge of combining or differentiating between traditional ways with western ways, to keep the good ways and do away with the bad.
Elizabeth continues to encourage more women to be freely involved and to openly speak out in discussions and decision making within the community and society but proves to be a great challenge, from both men and women.
Men who think it not right for a woman to stand up and speak in public, and from women who hold similar positions find that women would rather go to her for assistance.
Elizabeth states, “You have to have the desire and passion to work with and help people. You may hold the title but they won’t come to you if they sense negativity.”
She has been criticized with rueful remarks and threats regarding her work but as she says, when people say and do such, don’t add fuel to fire, just walk away quietly. Many times, women try to challenge men who do such and end up becoming victims. It is best to just listen, hear them out and continue do what you have to do, as they will later see the fruit of your work.
She believes fully in educating, empowering woman, you educate a family.
Elizabeth holds affiliations with various groups within the country and continues to assist and make time for people young and old that need helping.
She recalls back to her 8 years of teaching and how it has also helped her in her work in developing programs and training for women.
“You must look outside the box. Just because you’re a teacher or an accountant, it doesn’t mean that life stops within a classroom or office. You must be able to utilize these skills for other purposes also. If I had said No, I won’t be able to do this, because I’m just a primary school teacher, I wouldn’t be where I am right now and doing what I am enjoying.”