By Maryse Dugue (email@example.com) Posted Feb 27, 2005 5:26 PM
PNG: A Manˇ¦s World?
ADB Review [ January - February 2004 ]
Gender equality remains elusive in Papua New Guinea, where reforms have not translated into action
By Maryse Dugue (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Project Specialist (Health), Pacific Operations Division I
In Papua New Guinea (PNG), men outlive women. So whatˇ¦s wrong with that? Well, itˇ¦s a problemˇXa symptom of a problem. Normally women outlive men, due mainly to biology. When the opposite occurs, it generally indicates strong discrimination against women. Less access to food, health care, and education; excessive workload; multiple pregnancies; domestic violence; and less autonomy in decision making can all be factors. Maternal mortality is also unacceptably high in PNGˇXand among the worst in the world.
SHORT LIVES In Papua New Guinea, men outlive womenˇXa symptom of a problem
A strong gender bias in favor of males is evident across PNG as a whole. Generalizations, of course, can be hazardous in a society as highly complex as that in PNG, a country of 5.2 million people with 700 languages and where life expectancy between provinces differs by as much as 10 years. Similarly, the status of women varies greatly. One recurrent theme across the highlands, however, is the dominance and high status of men, in contrast to the submission and low status of women. Men traditionally dominate public and political areas of life.
And men continue to do so today. Since independence, only four women have been elected to national parliament. Womenˇ¦s participation in local government is between 3% and 9%. Women constitute only 18% of the formal labor force and 12% of management positions.
Traditionally, creating wealth requires hard work. As women were largely responsible for agricultural production and pig rearing, it was essential for a man with ambition to get married. A strong, hardworking woman who could grow large yams and rear many pigs was a valuable asset to men with ambitions of becoming a ˇ§big manˇ¨ (local leader). As women could not represent their own interests in public, if their private influence failed they had little choice but to resort to protest. This often resulted inˇXand still results inˇXviolence.
The traditional pattern of male control over resources, and women themselves as resources, has been carried over into the modern agriculture sector. Men hold the lease on land, are responsible for repaying loans, and receive the income from cash crops. Husbands often demand womenˇ¦s earnings from the sale of vegetable crops. The difference? Women tend to spend money on food and school fees, while men tend to buy alcohol.
Male dominance is increasingly exercised through wife beating. Additionally, as dependence on cash increases, womenˇ¦s influence as primary food producer decreases.
Even as society has transformed, however, the situation of women has not improved as one might have expected. Despite policy commitment to gender equality, translating goals into sustainable actions has been impeded by insufficient political and financial support, lack of a coordinating mechanism, and weak implementation capacity.
Structural and cultural barriers and the uneven distribution of development resources also continue to limit womenˇ¦s access to and control of opportunities that enable equal participation.