The aim of this overview is to outline some of the key historical, economic, demographic, political, geographic, sociocultural, legal and institutional environments relevant to understanding the status of women in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Common themes or factors that influence the status of women within these fields will be discussed in more depth in the next section.
1.2 Historical Factors
Communities in PNG often use historical events as markers from which to view major changes to their life styles. These changes, which have had major impacts on the status of women, have occurred at different periods, reflecting geographic isolation and economic, political, and other internal and external influences. Key historical epochs are marked by the following events:
(a) The first contact with Australian or German colonial administrative control, and/or with missionaries, traders, miners, or plantation owners.
(b) The development of schools, health services, roads, cash crops, wage employment, mining, forestry and other economic activities which connected communities, families and individuals to the wider world and to other influences.
(c) The period since Independence during which Papua New Guineans have taken over many of the administrative functions and economic activities previously undertaken by outsiders; but which has also seen increased numbers of foreign companies involvement in areas such as mining, forestry, fisheries, infrastructure and other economic development projects. In addition to commercial project planners and implementers, international Non Government Organizations (NGOs) and funding agencies have increasingly impacted on socioeconomic policies, including those relating to women's participation.
It is important to stress that the impact on the status of women during these different periods has been uneven. In some areas initial contacts took place more than a hundred years ago, while in more remote areas sustained contacts only occurred during the 1950s and 1960s (and even more recently in the Highlands, see map in Appendix 1). The differential impact of these contacts also reflected the variation in existing cultural attitudes towards women's role, and the degree to which their productive and resource management activities were considered subordinate to those of men. Nonetheless, some general themes emerge as to the impact of these changes on women.
Reduction in Status and Position of Women
Outsiders, whether colonial administrators, missionaries or entrepreneurs, were usually men. They made their initial contacts with male community leaders and warriors. Later local men were employed as interpreters, workers and administrative go-betweens. Although women were employed in domestic service, they only played a minor role as informants or interpreters of the language and culture. This meant that most newcomers were unaware of the extent to which women were involved in economic production and resource management.
Because women displayed a less public persona it was concluded that women had relatively little influence in family or community decision-making. This also meant that the forest, coastal or other resources under women's control and management were often overlooked or considered unimportant. The political impact on women was in the reduction of their status, even at the local level.
Formal involvement of women as individual leaders and representatives of their lineages has diminished over a period of a hundred years. State organization of local politics has historically excluded women. Men now mediate all female interests and women are beginning to define themselves by virtue of their sex, as non-participants in politics as they are currently structured (Macintyre: 1995 p. 19).
Patrilineal Kinship Focus
Most of those who came from other countries brought with them patrilineal mind-sets from which they analyzed the kinship organizational structures of those they met. The major emphasis was on male control over decision-making and resource management with unequal opportunities for women in education and employment.
Family groups were seen as directly under the control of the husband and father. This was often inappropriate in the matrilineal societies within PNG where inheritance passed through the female line, and where the maternal uncle might be a far more significant figure than the biological father. In many of these societies women's influence was also far more direct and pervasive than the newcomers realized. This meant that introduced organizational structures with the exclusive emphasis on male authority further weakened the position of women in society. As one Papua New Guinean educator noted:
The expansion of education and occupational opportunities in the 1960s did little to alter the subsistence economic structures or the traditional political systems in favor of women. On the contrary, western patriarchy, through its colonial education system, reaffirmed the view of women as inferior, isolating them even further from their agricultural and domestic bases of power and influence (Martin: 1985, 110).
At the same time the development of medical services, particularly those related to maternal and child health, and access (albeit limited) to formal and non-formal education provided a window of opportunity for some women. The establishment of church and government sponsored organizations paved the way for articulate and exceptional women to undertake a more public role, although usually within the confines of women's activities (See Cleland: 1996, for a description of the development of women's clubs and other activities in the 1950s and 1960s).
Continuation of Colonial Structures and Attitudes
After Independence in 1975, many of the colonial administrative structures and attitudes continued, almost unchanged. Male extension officers in agriculture, forestry and fisheries worked almost exclusively with men. Development projects were designed and implemented after 'community' consultations but in most cases women had very little input in these consultations. In designing and implementing large-scale rural resettlement schemes, negotiations over the leasing and management of land remained exclusively "men's work". This has particularly disadvantaged widows who find that they are unable to obtain security of tenure for the blocks on which they and their children live (Nakikus: 1996, p. 124).
During the 1970s more women began to enter tertiary institutions and to move away from exclusively "women's work". This was often at the price of tensions and conflict in their personal relationships or partial alienation from their communities. Some of the dilemmas and difficulties of trying to live in two worlds have been described by Papua New Guinean professional women who found that success in their careers often brought resentment from male colleagues (UNFPA: 1996 and Gibson: 1993).
Additionally, there has been a tendency to see cultural variations in broad regional terms and to ignore differential impacts on societies who lived relatively close to one another. An evaluation of the Southern Highlands Integrated Rural Development Program pointed out that the benefits and disadvantages for Huli and Wuru women were not the same. This could best be explained by analyzing "the differences between these societies in terms of their social organization and belief systems" (Clark: 1990, p.22).
Although issues for PNG women vary over the past two decades there has been a progressive strengthening of the national PNG women's movement. This has led to the implementation of national policy and machinery to address the needs of women. Appendix 2 lists a chronology of historical developments of the women's movement in PNG.
1.3 Geographic Factors
The Map in Appendix 1 identify the 19 provinces of PNG. Within and between these provinces there is a high degree of diversity of geographic features that range from coastal plains to rugged highland forests.
Problems in communication and access to services reflect the difficulties in building and mamtaining roads and bridges in many parts of mainland PNG. Costs of transportation affect access to health services, schools, extension services, and markets for cash crops, as well as participation in wider political and social activities.
For coastal and island communities access to services and the wider society is also affected by the economic costs of owning, mamtaining and running sea transport and the availability of wharves and anchorages on the mainland.
Geographic isolation impacts most severely on women, particularly those who are pregnant or caring for young children. Local aidpost health workers and other extension officers in remote areas are usually men. The result is that women are often unable, or unwilling, to attend health clinics, participate in women's activities, or take their produce to market. Distance and perceived dangers also make parents more reluctant to send girls to school, particularly if this means that they will have to live away from home. Those who do leave to study or work find that they often become more isolated from their family and community
Geographic distance, security fears, and the economic costs involved all mean that supervisors and inspectors are less likely to visit remoter aidposts and schools, and that supplies are more infrequent and unreliable. Extension workers and those involved in development projects tend to work in more easily accessible areas. In these circumstances, unless direct assistance is provided, it is more likely that men will be the beneficiaries and few women from remoter communities will be able to participate.
The population as recorded in the 1990 census (which excluded North Solomons Province) was 3,607,954. There is, and has been consistently for decades, a masculine bias in the population, with 111 males to every 100 females. This is very high by world standards and may be due to relatively high male birth rate (which is very unusual in human populations) , higher infant mortality among females (not demonstrated in estimates), or gender preferential mortality. It could also simply be a reflection of the lower status of females, resulting in their being under recorded in censuses.
There has been a gradual increase in the percentage of people in urban areas over the past twenty years, but the population remains predominantly rural with 85% living in rural villages. In rural areas 48% of the population is female and in urban populations 58% are male. The 6% increase in people living in towns in the last decade has a number of adverse flow-on effects. The loss of young men from villages to find work in the towns alters the age and gender balance in rural villages. This trend has some negative effects in both areas, as villages in some regions lack the labor of young men and in towns those young men who fail to find employment constitute a deprived, often homeless group who turn to crime.
The 1990 census showed that the urban growth rate was twice that of the rural. The growth rate of females in urban areas has increased and now stands at 4.5%, compared with males at 3.52%. Over the next decade, if this continues, the proportion of men to women in towns will become more balanced. Increasing urbanization must be seen as reflecting both the actual economic and social changes occurring in PNG and the desire of many people to participate in a modern economy as wage earners. At present this desire is unrealizable for many that come in search of work and brings concomitant social problems of poverty, homelessness and crime. Women who move to the towns are disadvantaged in a variety of ways. They rarely have qualifications for employment and so are more dependent on men for money. Nor do they have land to grow sufficient food to sustain their families. Problems with housing affect them more as they are vulnerable to assault if they do not have secure homes.
1.5 Political Environment
The very public and adversarial nature of formal political participation in an overwhelmingly male arena has been a major sociocultural factor, which makes it difficult for women to stand for national election. Even when women are candidates, they are rarely successful. Men see politics as essentially a "man's game". As the PNG Platform for Action 1995-2005 states:
Equal participation of women in decision-making in public life is far from reality. Over the years only a handful of women were able to enter into the national and provincial political arena. The periods of the late eighties and the nineties have seen a decline in the involvement of women actively participating in the decision-making process (GoPNG: 1995, 4).
Since 1972 only eight women have been elected to the National Parliament although others have been appointed as members of provincial governments. Yet, the number of women contesting the elections has grown steadily from four in 1972, seventeen in 1982, to fifty-five candidates in 1997, of whom two were successful. This has meant that political decision-making has been almost entirely in the male domain.
The political influence of women cannot only be gauged by their formal representation. Women's lobby groups have grown in confidence and are more articulate than in earlier years. What may be more difficult to overcome is the deep suspicion which women themselves have towards female candidates and the tendency for family and clan affiliations with male candidates to be the deciding factor (Bonnell: 1985; Delkin: 1992; Wormald: 1989) As a former politician concluded:
It is perhaps at the provincial and local government or community government levels that women may eventually find the greatest potential to influence the society and our place in it. It is at these intermediate and basic levels where the decisions are made as to where schools, aidposts, water supplies and so on are to be placed. There are, however, very real problems facing women's representation at these levels. Local level society is still shaped and determined by conservative traditional attitudes towards leadership and the role of women (Rooney 1985:46).
Political involvement at the local and informal levels may become a more significant aspect of the changing nature of women's position in society. In some societies this may reflect a return to the greater public role which women played in pre-colonial times. But other forms of economic and political organization suggest the development of a greater degree of "societal integration and cooperative political identity" (Sepoe: 1994; Preston: 1987; Macintyre: 1985 and Josephides: 1985).
A further set of political influences involves power conflicts, competition, and cooperation between women themselves. Since Independence the development of national, provincial and local women's councils has been marked by tension and conflict, often over management of the meager resources provided by governments.
Recently there have been indications that women's groups and government and non government agencies are moving closer together. This provides room for cautious optimism that the political influence of women will finally become a powerful and coordinated force for positive change.
1.6 Economic Environment
The two main areas of economic activity in low-income countries that benefit women disproportionately to men are in informal, micro-enterprise activities and in labor-intensive industries. Informal market activities can be very diverse, ranging from production and sidewalk sale of agricultural goods, to production and sale of handicrafts, to personal transport, or to hair cutting. Labor-intensive industry, with a high ratio of female employment, includes the standard-technology production of clothing and footwear. These are usually the first industrial activities in which low-income countries specialize as they begin to grow out of a largely rural subsistence situation.
Unfortunately PNG is not providing very much in the way of development of either of these kinds of activities. As can be seen from data on the gender allocation of formal employment (Hetler and Siew-Ean: 1987; Heyzer Sen: 1994) PNG's industrial employment is heavily biased in favor of males, which indicates that it has little in the way of labor-intensive industry. In fact because PNG's tiny domestically oriented industrial sector has been developed behind an overvalued exchange rate with high tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, activity is relatively capital-intensive. Also because its domestic market is so small, there is little scope or incentive for productivity improvements or for employment expansion. In order to generate labor-intensive activities, which will favor females, PNG will have to become internationally competitive in terms of its unit labor costs.
A beginning has been made in this direction with the substantial lowering of the urban minimum wages for new workers in the Minimum Wage Board decision of 1992 and the accompanying de-linking of wage increases from increases in the Consumer Price Index. Future wage increases are to be linked to productivity increases. A second major policy shift towards a more outwardly oriented economy was the floating and subsequent large nominal and real exchange rate depreciation in 1994. A third important policy reform has been the move, albeit limited to date, toward lowering tariff and non-tariff barriers under the IMF/World Bank structural adjustment program (World Bank: 1995).
In order to see a significant response from the private sector to these reforms, attention will need to be paid to other constraints on supply response. The major bottlenecks to expanded investment in all sectors are the poor transport infrastructure, particularly roads, and the overwhelming law and order problem. Other significant constraints are the high costs of public utilities, the dearth of skilled, especially supervisory, workers, and the need for the PNG Government to give domestic and foreign investors confidence that it will maintain policies which favor outwardly-oriented growth.
It is not necessarily the case that labor-intensive industrial activities, such as footwear and clothing manufacturing or assembly of electronic parts, will ever have much of a place in the PNG economy. However other labor-intensive activities such as tourism may well have an important role if the physical infrastructure and law and order problems can be significantly reduced. But one of the first places for rapid economic growth to begin is in agriculture and in informal activities related to agriculture. Improved growth in these areas would be of substantial economic benefit to women. It is unfortunate that PNG maintains a highly regulatory attitude towards informal activity, a holdover from the era of Australian admimstration. Repression of these activities restricts the development of a capital base in small business, restricts the development of entrepreneurial skills, and probably will prevent any micro-finance schemes from being viable.
Agriculture has not provided the kind of income and savings base for development that has been seen in countries such as Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. In large part this has been due to the maintenance of an overvalued exchange rate in the interest of containing inflation. But the policy tilt has been too far in the direction of containing inflation at the expense of the loss of international competitiveness.
While lack of individualized access to land for agricultural and other purposes is often cited as a reason for PNG's poor economic performance, it should be recognized that the repressive economic policies adopted basically repress the implicit value of land. Therefore demand for land to be made more available for economic uses is also repressed. With liberalization of trade and investment, improved physical infrastructure, and improved law and order, the implicit rental value of land will increase and there will be domestic pressure to provide more secure individualized land tenure. Such forms of tenure will make land more likely to be used as collateral for raising credit and make investment in land more likely.
[GRAPHIC 1 OMITTED]
Women in PNG have always played a major role in economic activities involving agriculture and the harvesting of coastal and forest resources, as part of their overall involvement in the subsistence economy, although, as illustrated in Graph 1 these industries are dominated by men when paid employees are considered. In the paid work force women are concentrated in community and social services and the retail industry.
The census data has not been uniform in the past four censuses so absolute figures need to be treated with caution. Nonetheless, since 1996, there has been a rapid increase in the percentage of women 'employed in monetary activities'--rising from 6.2% in 1966 to 32.6% in 1990 (National Statistical Office: 1994, p. 147).
Between 1980 and 1990 labor force participation rates fell by more than ten percent in Western Highlands and Milne Bay and between five and ten percent in Madang, Morobe, Simbu, and Western provinces. On the other hand, participation rates rose markedly in Manus, National Capital District, New Ireland and Eastern Highlands provinces (Ibid, p. 159)
Assisting women to benefit more from economic activities, or to be more successful entrants into the labor market, will require a variety of multifaceted approaches. Education and training, access to credit and marketing facilities, formal community support and encouragement, particularly from male family members, are all aspects which need to be taken into account. A further significant factor is the degree to which women have control over the money they earn from their labor, or from other economic activities (Fairburn-Dunlop: 1997; Fahey: 1985; Hailey: 1987). This is particularly a problem where women work in partnership with husbands, or other male family members, but payment is made only to the men.
Women's lack of direct control over land is another factor which limits the degree to which they can participate in modern cash cropping or other economic activities. This often reflects a convergence of cultural and earlier colonial attitudes and practices which excludes women from acquiring blocks in new settlements, or taking over blocks when, through death or divorce, they become heads of households. Some changes have gradually taken place but it is still difficult for women to obtain permanent land management rights and it is not uncommon to find that commercial land development decisions are made which ignore their gardening rights.
Some caution is necessary when analyzing economic factors that impact on the status of women. The problems faced by professional women in juggling domestic and work responsibilities may be easy to recognize. However, there are other realistic constraints to increasing the involvement of women in nontraditional economic activities. Many women are already fully involved in domestic and traditional activities and unless some of these responsibilities can be devolved to others they will merely assume a "double burden". This will be particularly crucial for low-income women, as household level surveys often assume intra-household equality.
That is, all members of a household are assumed to be non-poor. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that this is not true; intra-household inequalities mean that men in poor households can be non-poor, and women and children in non-poor households can be below the poverty line. However, there is no alternative but to make the assumption of intra-household equality if poverty estimates among persons are to be constructed from household-level data (Gibson: 1996, p.38)
The implications of this focus on aggregate household income are to make women even more invisible, or to assume that they will benefit from increased production. It is clear that this is another area where the renegotiation of gendered relations and the development of more reciprocal and shared family, community, and societal responsibilities will be required.
1.7 Legal Status
Traditionally women in many communities were in the position that is most analogous to the concept of 'jural minor' in English law. That is, they were not considered capable of representing their own interests autonomously, and kinsmen had authority over them. Before marriage in patrilineal systems, senior males of the lineage (usually fathers and brothers) made decisions on behalf of daughters and sisters, including the choice of marriage partner. Women influenced such decisions informally through personal interventions and other strategies. Matrilineal systems varied more in their authority structures. In some brothers and mother's brothers represented the woman; in others the senior men and women (brothers and sisters) had authority over young men and women.
In many societies the sorts of authority and control that men could exert over women included rights over her person, her fertility, her labor and restriction of her movement from place to place. The rights of kinsmen (including fathers, brothers and husbands) to chastise and punish women were pervasive and the majority of men and women in PNG still uphold many of men's rights over women.
At the same time there have been substantial changes over the last hundred years that have restricted such rights in their extreme forms. Whether the changes are attributed to mission influence, imposed colonial laws or gradual attitudinal changes, many of the traditions that upheld such things as ritual killing of widows, mutilation of adulterous wives and pack rape of female war captives have vanished.
Acceptance of customary laws such as corporal punishment within marriage, of men's rights over compensation payments made in respect of a kinswoman's injury, and of paternal rights over children, are grounded in traditions which, by Western liberal standards, deny women rights as individuals.
Family Law reflects the values and Western ideas about family life that were set up during the period of Australian administration. Although the PNG Law Reform Commission recommended repeal of these laws and replacement by a more culturally appropriate Family Law Act in 1978, no new legislation has even been enacted. Divorce laws discriminate against women and the lack of laws that validate the various forms of customary marriage mean that women are often unable to claim their rights as wives. De facto marriages have no legal basis with similar consequences for women and children who are deserted.
In 1995 the PNG government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As yet none of the measures for promoting economic equality and improving women's participation in decision-making have been implemented. In government departments there are no affirmative action programs that are acted upon systematically. In the private sector there is no awareness of issues relating to equality of opportunity or affirmative action in employment and women are consistently discriminated against. Sexual harassment is common and there is no legislation protecting women.
Gender Inequality and the Justice System
All institutions of law enforcement in PNG are male-dominated. The police force is overwhelmingly male. There are hardly any female magistrates at any level of the legal system--Village, Local and District court magistrates are almost exclusively male. There is only one female judge in PNG and she is an expatriate.
The legal profession is 90% male. Access to free legal aid is extremely difficult for both men and women, but as very few women have any income the women are more disadvantaged. Women have very little knowledge of the system or their rights in law. Most studies indicate that women are dealt with harshly in village courts for offenses that are perceived to be breaches of morality (adultery, assaults in domestic arguments) and that civil suits brought by women against husbands for maintenance are rarely pursued by authorities.
At all levels throughout the justice system women receive unequal treatment; as victims or complainants, as offenders, and in employment opportunities. While there are clearly institutional and structural factors that contribute to lack of access and the opportunity to be heard, cultural and attitudinal factors also contribute to, and compound, gender inequalities and inequitable treatment.
Improved Police and Emergency Services
The Individual and Human Rights Advocacy Forum (ICRAF) considers that improved police and emergency services for women should be a national priority. Women are afraid to report crimes in case they may be harassed or blamed for the crime (ICRAF 1997, p.22). This is particularly the case in police stations where there are no women police. In recent years there has been a gradual increase in the number of women police, particularly since the mandatory ceiling of one hundred women was abolished. However, there are still less than 350 women in a force of nearly 4500 and they are not present in significant numbers in many main centers throughout PNG.
In most part of the country crisis and emergency services for women are either nonexistent or inadequate, and many male police officers do not respond sympathetically to women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence. Women who are arrested are often held in police lockups that lack basic privacy and appropriate facilities, and are in serious danger of being further victimized.
Institutional responses to domestic violence had, until the mid-1980s, been muted or inconsistent. However the educational campaigns aimed at men and women, which were part of the program initiated at that time by the Law Reform Commission, have been continued by a number of churches and non government agencies. These aim to provide men and women with a better understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities and of avenues of redress open to those subject to domestic violence.
The institutional response of the justice system also needs to be strengthened, both with regard to domestic violence and also in dealing with the serious problem of sexual attacks on women (Bradley: 1985; Toft: 1985). Problems of domestic violence and personal security affect women at all levels, and women magistrates, police and corrective institution personnel share these problems with other women in the community. These general problems of violence and fear of violence are ever-present constraints on women's capacity to participate in economic, social and political activities (See Lak, et. al. 1992, Final Report on Domestic Violence, for a consideration of the economic and social costs of domestic violence).
Workplace and Community Harassment and Violence
Government and private enterprise recruitment and training programs often have a male focus and this militates against the successful integration of women into the work force. Women who are subject to domestic violence at home or sexual harassment in the work place still experience difficulties in gaining redress at all levels.
Although there have been marked improvements in some parts of the country, women police themselves may be subject to sexual harassment and lack of support from male colleagues. Even when organizations such as the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary have approved and adopted official policies and procedures to deal with domestic violence and sexual harassment by their own personnel, the degree to which these procedures are followed varies widely. In many situations, whether at work or at home, women consider that they have minimal legal protection or redress. There is also evidence that violent sexual assaults are increasing in rural areas, particularly in some Highlands provinces (Jenkins: 1994).
Women complainants or respondents face particular difficulties in their dealings with the village court system. Village courts were established in 1975 with the aim of providing a local level mechanism for mediation and dispute resolution, and to deal with minor offenses in a customary and traditional way. However, the mixture of traditional and official western-style practices that have evolved has often led to unequal treatment of women when they appear in village court proceedings.
Over the past ten years cases of illegal or unnecessary custodial sentences have been noted in the annual reports of the Village Court Secretariat. Of particular concern has been the practice of imprisoning women with young children. The 1988 report included a joint submission from the Western Highlands Rehabilitation Committee and the Baisu Corrective Institution staff, which stated:
We strongly recommend that it should be made absolutely illegal for village courts to be able to imprison women who have young children. There is no difficulty giving these people community work to do. It is absolutely ridiculous to imprison women with children for minor offenses (Department of Justice, Village Court Secretariat, Annual Report 1988, Appendix 24).
While some problems are clearly due to lack of training and supervision, cases reflecting unjust treatment of women also reflect the interplay of cultural and attitudinal factors. Where supervision is effective women may be assisted to achieve greater equality, but as Jonathan Aleck points out:
The issue here--and it is a complex issue--is whether the more equitable treatment of women by the village courts would not, in fact, involve a deliberate compromise of 'traditional' values in favor of adopted contemporary Western preferences (Aleck: 1992, p. 116).
Women in Prison
The absence of women in law enforcement agencies also discriminates against women. There are few female police officers and none in positions of authority over men. The police force culture is very masculine and women officers are often relegated to office work or welfare tasks. While there has been training for women officers to deal with female victims of assault and rape, this policy is often disregarded at the local level. Female victims of such crimes tend not to report them because of the assumed sympathies of male officers towards the perpetrators. Within prisons the officers are mostly male and facilities are not designed for female prisoners.
1.8 Sociocultural Environment
While women's jural status can readily be Interpreted as relatively low, their status in social and cultural domains is more varied and often ambiguous. Generalizations are almost impossible because of the range of views across different cultural groups. Two aspects of female status must be seen as consistently important, both in the past and today. Firstly, female fertility and women's nurturant roles were culturally valued (Kopkop: 1992; Stratigos and Hughes: 1987). In some societies the religious rituals of both men and women centered on maintaining and managing fertility. Even beliefs that from one perspective can be seen as oppressive or restrictive of women--such as the idea that women's bodies were polluting to men--can also be interpreted as giving women power to punish or retaliate when wronged. Secondly, women's role as producer and provider of food for her family and for exchange at feasts gave her social recognition and value to her own kin and to the kin of her husband.
In many societies there were distinct initiation ceremonies for boys and girls. These provided education and were rituals that incorporated adolescents into the world of adults. But they were usually occasions for the celebration of sexual difference when the positive values accorded to each gender role were emphasized. Some of these ceremonies have been modified and in many areas they have been replaced by Christian rituals such as first communion and by formal education. But there are communities where the transition to adulthood is still celebrated in customary ways that sustain the gender values of the past.
Money will be spent (or raised through loans from wantoks or more formal sources such 'Savings and Loans' agencies) on sending the bodies of migrant workers home for burial, and for other funeral or memorial events. Women are often in the center of these activities as they are significant family and community occasions. At the same time they also seek to raise money for school fees, household improvements and against further unanticipated calls on the family of community (Turner: 1993). The priority ranking given to different items of expenditure may not always be shared by outsiders, but do need to be understood as it is part of the overall pattern of women's participation.
Within the modern nation state the value placed on women as mothers and providers could be seen to exclude women from other roles by placing positive value on the traditional domain and devaluing the contributions women make in other spheres. Certainly many PNG men perceive any other activities, such as pursuing education, working in organizations, taking paid employment or being politically active, as incompatible with traditional maternal roles. Even the head of the Department of Education could say, without fear of opposition as recently as 1987, that women have the choice to be good employees or good mothers. He stated categorically that he "could not condone" a female schoolteacher who was a 'part-time spouse and parent and a part-time public servant'. "I know the choice is difficult, but it has to be made" (Wormald and Crossley: 1987, p. 23).
'Custom' or 'traditional cultural values and practices' might be used as a tool to prevent women from achieving equal rights. Noting that "laws should not encourage polygamists" the ICRAF statement on Justice and Freedom pointed out that: "Most polygamous marriages existing today in PNG are not practiced according to custom. But custom is being used by men as an excuse to have more than one woman"(ICRAF:1997, p.21). On one mining project village leaders petitioned the company to dismiss all female employees as those who were single were likely to be tempted by male workers and those who were married were neglecting their duties at home (Macintyre: 1997). The pressures on women to conform to the narrow expectations of men are considerable across all classes.
There are signs that the high value formerly placed on women as mothers and gardeners no longer holds, and that this work is increasingly seen as demeaning. Certainly young men who return to the village after being educated or employed elsewhere apparently see traditional subsistence gardening as beneath them. Many young people who return to village life after leaving school refer to themselves as 'dropouts' and see gardening work as providing no status comparable to that of having a job.
With economic changes there is greater prestige attached to new forms of wealth, knowledge and status. Imported foods, motor vehicles and boats, western-style clothing and consumer goods have in ways replaced the valued goods of traditional life. In some areas money and consumer goods have been substituted for traditional valuables in customary exchanges, such as bridewealth. This shift in the value system has a deleterious effect on women's status. But such changes need to be contextualized as less than 10% of people are formally employed and there are still many places in PNG where cash income is very low, and is spent mainly on things such as kerosene, soap, and basic clothing. Foodstuffs and pigs, produced and raised mainly by women, retain their value and are not eclipsed by new goods.
The cultural complexities of gender relations make it impossible to generalize, even on the basis of broad divisions of matrilineal or patrilineal forms of social organization. Before Independence, Marilyn Strathern pointed to different and subtle ways in which Hagen women could compete with and influence men. "Women accept that in public life men are dominant. Competition with men is not to do all that men do, but to draw a recognition from them of the claims they make as women" (Strathern: 1972 p.309).
Other family relationships may require more direct attention and understanding. Referring to sibling relationships in one matrilineal society (Nash: 1987, p. 161) notes that "Both are believed to own descent group property, but only sisters use it and add to it; brothers advise about its future". Policy-makers and planners may overlook the importance of these sibling relationships particularly if they focus exclusively on spousal or generational gendered relations.
Another analysis of gender relations among the Kove, a West New Britain patrilineal society, questioned simplistic notions of female subordination and male domination.
The frequently mentioned strength and 'hardness' of Kove women derives from basic self-confidence; they are evaluated in terms of how they operate as individuals. Men are evaluated in terms of their ability to influence women as well as other men....When men talk of women as the business that makes them rich, they are referred to a possibility that will be realized only if men give full credit to female autonomy. Without the women, the man is nothing; with their help, if he can secure it, he may become a real man. In the stress on self-achievement, patrilineality counts for almost nothing, and successful affinal relations, only achievable if women are satisfied, for almost everything (Chowning: 1987, p. 148).
1.9 Land Tenure
In the majority of mainland PNG societies, groups of men control land and make major decisions about its use. In island societies the picture is more varied. In some Milne Bay communities women are deemed to own the land and they make decisions about garden sites. In New Ireland province some societies give men sole authority over resources, in others, all decisions are made jointly. In the majority of matrilineal societies land is held conjointly by women with their brothers. In many patrilineal societies men own the land and women have no rights except those conferred by men as brothers or husbands.
In the main systems of land registration proposed from the 1950s have neither acknowledged the rights of women nor attempted to redress the balance so that women have equal rights as citizen landowners. While there is some evidence that in the past women had some voice in decisions about land and its use, the system of village courts established during the Australian Administration effectively excluded women from public decision-making about land. Today, in places in New Britain, New Ireland Province or Milne Bay Province where the kinship systems and land rights are matrilineal, disputes over land are conducted between representative men and women are only called as witnesses.
In the few instances where land has been registered or privatized women have been severely disadvantaged as a result. Land registration practices have consistently resulted in the effective diminution of women's traditional rights in land. First, because when the land is acknowledged as belonging to a specific group of people, males are usually the ones who are consulted, are the signatories to any legal documents and often are the ones who benefit from changes in inheritance, to the detriment of women. This is particularly the case in matrilineal systems where men gain a permanent right over land and then bequeath it patrilineally to their children--a practice that has no precedent in custom. In patrilineal systems women are often entirely excluded from owning registered land.
In the monetary system of today, land has become an important asset for acquiring bank loans. Women are particularly discriminated against in this regard because land is now registered under male ownership and even in the few remaining matrilineal societies where women work and own land it is the men who negotiate with banks and similar services (Cox and Aitsi: 1988, p. 34).
Case Study: Harvesting Marine Resources
At a Gender Sensitization Workshop for SPC Staff in 1994, a case study was presented of two Western Province communities involved in harvesting lobsters, crabs and other marine resources. Although women collected crab, they, unlike in many other areas, did not market them as marketing was seen as "men's work". Men also controlled all the money, and women were reluctant to present their views or take part in meetings. Male extension officers from the Department of fisheries and Marine Resources had visited both villages but their advice had been directed solely at men. "Although three women from Western Province had attended the Papua Region Processing Workshop, there had been as yet no transfer of skills or any follow-up activity" (SPC: 1994, p. 15).
This example illustrates several inter-locking factors which limit women's economic activities. It was not surprising that the study reported that women had expressed a preference for female extension officers. As in Clark's (1990) discussion of the Southern Highlands, a 're-negotiation of male-female relations' would also be necessary if women as well as men were to benefit form these economic activities.
Case Study: Oil Palm Workers in West New Britain
The harvesters' wives are not paid directly by the Company but the husband and wives harvest is combined and the money paid to the harvester who may or may not pay his wife. The regularity and time per day of this assistance was not determined so its precise contribution to family wages is not known. However, most men whose wives assisted stated that the assistance was "all the time". The study raised the issue of the differential use of what was earned, as women were more likely to spend money on food, or for household improvements.
It was thought that if the company were to pay the wives directly for their contributions to the workforce this may enhance family welfare, but the company stated: "We do not wish to employ more people on these tasks and certainly do not wish to separately pay husband and wife. It is a socio-educational problem more than anything else".
(Adamson, Fett, Huntsman, and Scarlett: 1984, p.37).
The positive and negative contributions which the practice of brideprice, or bridewealth make, can be considered from different viewpoints. While most would agree that the practice has become subject to economic inflationary pressures and distortions, there is a greater difference of opinion as to its mtrinsic value in stabilizing and promoting positive inter-family and inter-group relations.
The 1996 household survey, conducted as part of the Poverty Assessment for Papua New Guinea, found that the payment of 'wedding expenses and brideprice' was a significant household expenditure item--almost twice that recorded for 'school fees' (Gibson and Rozelle: 1997). One view is that the accumulation and distribution of brideprice serves to promote productive activities and reflects a different approach to 'wealth'. From this perspective, the objectives of accumulation and saving are to meet specific economic, cultural and social needs of the extended family, clan group or wider community.
TABLE 1 Female Candidates in PNG National Elections Number of Number of General Women Women Elections Candidates Elected 1964 and 1968 nil nil 1972 4 1 1977 10 3 1982 17 1 * 1987 18 nil 1992 16 nil 1997 55 2 * This was achieved through the court of dispute returns where the candidate won after recounting of votes took place.