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Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2

Law Reform in Papua New Guinea:

Law Reform in Papua New Guinea:

The whole process of Law Reform will be tedious. A benevolent government can assist, but one that is ignorant of the fact that law can be the most effective instrument for social change will merely perpetuate the existing system. Government policies become mere words if law does not change to implement the goals of the present-day government.

The whole direction of our country's development can be changed if we choose for a legal system that belongs to us – where the process of law is in the hands of our people, both in rural villages in in urban communities. Papua New Guinea has made a positive step towards this with the establishment of village courts. We are fortunate in that PNG has its traditional structure of village and clan groupings to build on – not only for legal services but for every service this will fulfill our goal of self-reliance.

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The village court may not provide what remedy a village woman may want, but the fact is that she can take her complaints to a village court magistrate, litigate on the spot, get a decision. The process is one she can understand, the punishment is one that is understood by the community. There is no concept of “imprisonment” in PNG society. Dispute settlement or punishment is governed by the norm of compensation, restoration of harmony and “shame” in the eyes of one's community.

At this stage of PNG's development, only a few months after Independence, no real choice has been made as to whether the country will continue to live with a legal system that perpetuates a capitalistic society or a socialist/communalistic society. Our eight aims direct us, but the reality is we are caught up in a legal/economic system that is powerful, manipulative, and one that offers a struggle if we choose a break-out. The effect of any such decision will affect women who are the consumers of services and economic consumers in society.

One pressing problem in the field of economic law is the informal sector. Health regulations prohibit persons selling from streets – a set of values for clean Australian streets. Consequently, our people are deprived of a means of livelihood. It perpetuates the interests of a foreign businessman. Our people are then picked up by police for vagrancy. A vicious circle – the innocent person caught up in the middle of it.

The point I have been trying to make is that the legal problems, the frustrations in our country are evident because of the conflict arising between traditional norms and imported legal and economic systems and values.

The section of the community who never rise to oppose and never really challenge it are the mass of women. As the consumers of services in the country, the catalyst for entrenching foreign interests, the women can be effective if they challenge the systems we are living in.

The challenge to PNG women now is do we continue to live page 68 in this Australian-orientated society? It won't be easy to change, it will be a struggle for our economic freedom through the change of laws that manipulate our lives.

The Law Reform Commission is one channel that can be used.