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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective

The Government Machinery

The Government Machinery

From 1975 onwards, the national government funded most of the National Council of Women's programmes, its office maintenance and other expenses. Up to 1983, the national government spent K700,000(PNG kina) on women's projects. To summarise, the National Council of Women was established mainly as a women's network to represent women of the country on the international scene and also nationally. The Council was to be a resource centre for the women of the country. It was the only channel through which financial support, or any other support from outside, could be directed. The churches had their own way of getting assistance.

The PNG government also had a eight-point plan; and the seventh point of the Plan specifically spelt out “Equal participation of women in development, politically, socially and economically”. The PNG Development Plan's seventh point was supported by financial assistance representing the Government's commitment.

At that time, the Government also had an administrative division called Youth and Women that was also involved in organising women in the country. When the national women's organisation was set up, conflict arose between this Department and the national machinery of the National Council of Women, which came into page 47 being through an Act of Parliament. Conflict between these two structures existed.

Analysis: In terms of its contribution to women, the national machinery for women started off well - it at least had some training programmes in appropriate technology, nutrition and agriculture. However, these were started and then were forgotten. Whatever funds had been given for them instead maintained the bureaucracy that had been created.

Also, from 1975 onwards, women at the provincial level had difficulties with the National Council because it was a very new organisation, which confused a lot of women. Women in the rural areas did not know or care about what was going on, and those in the main town areas who were aware, were also confused.

Black and white drawing of a group of people sitting in a circle.

Detlef Blumel, SPC

Gaining the support from the Provincial* or the National organisations was another matter. The national machinery needed support from the provinces which was a problem as already described. At that time, the concept of decentralisation from page 48 the National Government was also being established at the national political level, and the provincial governments were just being established. A lot of things were happening at one time in PNG and the women were in a worse situation, trying to get support from the provincial governments. Some provincial governments were very responsive to women's requests; others did not assist women at all.

Making it worse was the conflict between the national machinery and the Government department already in existence. This was the point where the difficulty over the National machinery for women started. The Government gave funds through the Council of Women, which was a non-government organisation. At the same time, it supported the Department for Youth, Women and Religion which also had money for women's projects. The Government was therefore giving money and support to two different bodies, for the same purpose, and all the provinces had women's activity officers who were supposed to be coordinating women's projects in the provinces.

In assessing women's understanding of development in PNG, the church women's organisations are very vocal. They have a clear concept of what women's status is, and what it can offer for women in terms of “development”. Unfortunately, the National Council of Women has never recognised church women's organisations, and that is one area where the national machinery failed. Church women's organisations were asking for recognition within the national machinery but the structure of the National Council of Women did not enable them to co-exist together.

In 1979, at the Third Women's Convention, Morobe Province withdrew from the NCW and a lot of provinces also later withdrew; the major churches also withdrew support. By 1984, the National Council of Women was just a floating organisation, it was inert. By 1985–86, it completely collapsed. The National Council of Women still exists as a name because it came into being through an Act of Parliament, and has to have a two-thirds majority to be abolished. The women are still struggling in their own organisations such as the church organisations, the YWCA, the Girl Guides, etc.

page 49

Another weakness of the national machinery was that women were doing its programmes and other aspects of its work from the capital city, Port Moresby, and few of them would have known what was happening at the village level. The NCW resources never got down to the grassroots level - from personal experience, Morobe province, since 1975, only received K500 (kina) from the National Council of Women. Assistance was offered if women's projects followed what the NCW wanted; otherwise none was received.

Some attempt has been made to revive the national machinery. At the beginning of this year, the National Minister for Women, Youth the Religion tried to call a meeting to come up with a committee to re-organise the National Council of Women, but it never eventuated. In conclusion, it is still unclear what will happen to the National Council of Women which was set up in 1975 to help women in development in Papua New Guinea.

Funds could only be received if organisations were a member of the National Council of Women (NCW); all applications had to go through the Council. Provincial Councils or women's organisations that withdrew had to apply directly to government. In most cases, the Government made funds available.