By KEVIN E DAYONGA
IT WAS a restless two-hour flight I took from Port Moresby to Kiunga, my first time travelling that route and I must say, it was a tiring one and the distance is similar to flying to Honiara.
An Abip man who sat next to me took advantage of my boredom and started telling me about how beautiful the place is and the daily challenges there.
What struck me during our conversation was the lack of information among the people to make informed decisions. Although the communities have access to telecommunication infrastructure in the district, my Abip friend said literacy was still low. This highlights a lot of obvious issues hindering their growth.
Nevertheless, the people strive each day to make ends meet. Kiunga is just like any other peri-urban town in the country. What makes it more important is its location. It is situated right next to the Fly River, making it an important hub of economic development for the North Fly district. It is a fast-developing district in the country and has been a lifeline and an important source for major mining developments that is taking place in Tabubil.
On March 22, the small town came alive to celebrate its first ever women’s day celebrations. Dressed in their various colors, mostly church groups and ExxonMobil shirts and caps, escorted by a band, the women groups marched through the center to the main oval, halting traffic and surprising commuters. All stood in awe as each of them walked passed with their colorful uniforms.
It was a time to have an impact, a time to have their voices heard and a time to appeal to their men to work together for the better of their district, LLG and communities.
While so much of the positive empowerment message is bombarding the mainstream media, Papua New Guinea, despite its transition into the so-called modern way of doing things, maintains very traditional systems, norms and ways of doing things. The role of women as traditionally defined may not prima facie conform to many accepted international standards. Hence the integration of women and girls into economic activity has its challenges.
For women in Kiunga and Western, they are gradually realising the need to work together as a team to address all the inequalities among their communities.
March 22 was a significant day set aside by businesses, government and churches to celebrate National Women’s Day. I understand the National Women’s Day was to be on Sunday, March 24 but as most of the people were attending church services, the celebrations were brought forward two days.
For far too long the participation of women in decision-making was not as good as it was supposed to be, explained Mary Swokin, who is North Fly District women’s president. She said there were a lot of differences between women because of obvious reasons, thus prompting her take up the role as leader and challenge each women’s association to put their differences aside and work to build their communities.
‘’We have an existing network but it wasn’t operating until I took office. The structure was there but the network wasn’t organised. I really wanted women to come together, I wanted them to see change, just like other districts or provinces are experiencing,’’ said Swokin.
She claimed that the women’s day wasn’t recognised by the district and for far too long there were no celebrations.
“It was there but we never got to seriously look into and have women come together to celebrate it. No one took the initiative to make it happen especially in Western. It was celebrated in other parts of the country, not here in Kiunga.
“When we took to the streets for the first time marching, bystanders and street vendors began to read the slogans, placards and understand the key messages of the event. That is when some of them noticed the day’s significance.
“I had to include all women from all sectors, women’s fellowship groups, nurses’ association, teachers association, public servants and women from local level government areas. We want PNG to know that Western women are with them and are willing to work with their men,’’ said Swokin.
For this event she has seen a spark among men. She said a few of them have been behind the scene helping their wives, mothers and sisters. This is a positive development for them.
“Because of issues and differences between us women, men are not keen to assist us. Maybe if we put aside all those problems and take the lead in whatever we do, they will come and support us. The way forward for us is to network and partner with other stakeholders,’’ she added.
The district council of women president commended ExxonMobil for supporting this year’s National Women’s Day commemoration and others that contributed one way or another. She added that without ExxonMobil putting up their hand to provide support, the event would not have eventuated.
Betty Wan, a women’s leader from North fly District health and social sector urged women to raise their heads high and walk with pride.
“We forget ourselves and carry the whole world on our shoulders and lose that passion and luster we once had. We walk in silence, in all walks of life nobody knows our struggles, we still keep silent about all the abuses we go through every day. But we must not keep silent. We need to rise up, lift our head up and walk with the rest of the women in the country. We have to do business together and help each other,” Wan said.
“There must be a recognition of co-responsibility of men and boys in advancing this agenda. Promoting male champions is an important part of nation building and applies to all sectors,’’ she added.
Acting district administrator for North Fly Steven Karl commended the women leaders for taking the initiative to organise such an event in the district.
“I’m honoured to be part of this event and I thank you for including the district in this. Obviously without these beautiful women before me our communities won’t be able to enjoy all the good things,’’ Karl said.
Recalling the conversation I had with my Abip friend, he surely is right about the challenges but one thing that I see as an outsider is the gradual shift of mindsets among people here.
- Kevin E Dayonga is a journalist and a volunteer with APNG:WLN