From back row to front seat

Weekender

Women today are taking on a more prominent role in mining-related
activities and decision-making

THE need for women’s participation in mining benefits negotiations, and the need to be heard on issues, has over time attracted the attention of the Government and its development partners.
Since independence and particularly the early days of the mining industry in Papua New Guinea, womenfolk in umbrella landowner associations have many a times taken back stage during benefits negotiations and discussions.
Menfolk have always been at the forefront. It has been men who have been negotiating benefits sharing, acquisition of cash and other benefits on behalf of their associations, clans and family units.
Women could not effectively voice their claims on benefits and concerns as household managers and care-givers to the young, old and in fact the whole family.
Even today, men are still leading negotiations and meetings. But the situation has been gradually taking a turn for the better since the last 10 years. Women’s voices have been echoing right throughout all operating mining projects, fighting for their children’s, mothers’, daughters’ and sons’ future.
They have been given various platforms to air their grievances and rights to benefits.
They have now been recognised as equal partners, benefits negotiators and a force to be reckoned with, and rightly so.
The first ever effort to systemically give a voice to women in the country’s mining sector, to raise issues and talk about benefits was made in 2001.
This was when the first World Bank Mining Sector Technical Assistance Programme was rolled out in the country by the then government in conjunction with the bank and other partners.
This project had sustainable development component catered for.
However, it was realised that without a development platform for women in project areas, the sustainable project was not realistic and not achievable.
A sustainable development conference was held that year which a few years later (2003), led to the ‘Women In Mining’ (WIM) conference in Madang.
Women landowners from mining projects across the country converged on Madang to attend this conference.
The outcome of this conference was the WIM initiative.
This initiative had two main objectives which were/are to give women a voice and a platform to speak on issues they face, and also to build the capacity of women in terms of managing women’s groups and associations, running small businesses and playing active/leading roles in the development of their local communities.
The idea was to empower women groups to speak up and also be able to sustain themselves economically after mines shut down.
The initiative took a huge positive leap forward when the Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) was established in 2005 and became operational in 2007.
Thanks to those who had the foresight in accommodating landowner women’s welfare desk within the structure of the MRA.
The MRA has a branch known as the Sustainability & Planning Branch (S&PB) within the Development Co-ordination Division (DCD).
Amongst its many functions, the main responsibility of the branch is to provide advice to women on community project sustenance, manage WIM sustainable projects, address issues faced by women at mining project sites, and also support and facilitate women participation in benefits negotiations – something you could hardly see happening since independence until about five to 10 years ago.
As with everything else, it has been both a difficult and a successful journey for the S&PB and DCD, and for women groups in various ways and at various levels.
The difficulties and challenges have been mainly to do with prudent and effective management of sustainable business development on the part of women groups.
Other challenges include transparent and accountable management of women landowner associations (LOs), managing expectations at associations’ executive level down to association members at ward level, and gaining and maintaining consistent support from mining stakeholders and development partners.
Given the role women play as equal development partners at all levels, empowering women LOs at household and community level to perform that role must not be seen as competitive structures against main LO associations.
Whilst the main LO associations represent development aspirations and voices of LO communities including that of women, women associations are specific political voices that represent their specific development needs that are often overlooked in mining development agreements.
As such it is important that the significance of their specific roles are recognised, understood and respected.
Women must be allowed to participate accordingly to bring about development.
There have been success stories that have come out of the efforts by women with the support of the MRA’s S&PB through the DCD.
The most important achievement is that women have been empowered and given a stage to raise their issues, given that in traditional PNG, men have always been the rulers and head of families/clans.
Other success stories include establishment of sustainable infrastructure projects, and income generating and community projects by women in Ramu mining project, Porgera, Ok Tedi and others. Most of these women groups have ventured into marine and land transport (PMV) businesses, poultry, trades stores, corporate uniform sewing, and various spin off contract arrangements with projects developers just to name a few.
These projects have been sponsored with funds from various sources. These include royalties by the National Government (GoPNG) derived from the respective mines, community development grants by respective mines, grants from donor funding agencies/development partners, and the National Government grants such as PIP (Public Investment Program), allocated through the annual National Government Development Budget.
The investment of funds into these projects has meant that the government through the MRA had to efficiently manage and monitor project implementation and expenditure of funds on the projects.
This is where the S&PB through DCD have over the years played a very important role.
There are eight operating mines in the country, each of them with landowner associations within which women are established and efficiently making marks for themselves.
The eight mines are Lihir, Porgera (now under care and maintenance), Ramu Nickel, Simberi, Ok Tedi, Kainantu, Hidden Valley and Tolukuma (now under care and maintenance).
The MRA will continue to support and work with these women groups as it believes that when women are empowered socially and economically, they provide strong foundations for their families, communities and the country at large.
“We are committed to setting better foundations for our women landowners and will always strive to ensure that their issues are accommodated,” said MRA Managing Director Jerry Garry.

  •  Story and pictures by Mineral Resources Authority media unit.

Leave a Reply