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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective



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Summary of a Presentation by Fungke Samana*

As mentioned earlier, the Morobe Provincial Council of Women withdrew from the National Council of Women in 1979. The reasons for withdrawing were that there was no national women's policy which could direct the work of the provinces. Another reason was that material and financial support was not being given to the provinces to organise; also the National Council of Women did not make a financial report to member organisations. One other reason was that provinces were not given the opportunity to come up with their own constitution and policies to meet their own needs. The National Council of Women was not representing grassroots women at the provincial level. The Morobe Provincial Council of Women withdrew on these grounds.

Morobe Province

The Morobe Province is the biggest province in the country in terms of its population of 360,000. After withdrawing from the National Council, the Provincial women quickly formed a committee to organise a constitution and come up with a policy. They also formed an organisation and registered it under the Registrar General as the Morobe Women's Association in 1982. The Provincial Government of that time gave a K10,000 (kina) grant to organise women in the province. Part of the money was used to organise the first provincial women's conference, which tried to bring women from the rural areas and church women's organisations together. page 62 This meeting approved a constitution and also a policy for the Morobe Women's Association.

Beginnings of the Provincial Women's Organisation

Part of the government's money was used for awareness programmes. Women in the villages were not sure where to get assistance, either from the non-government organisations or government organisations, so the Association organised women at village level and introduced awareness courses.

This programme took up to three years, funded by the Provincial Government. The Executive of the Women's Association decided a year's programme and women's activity officers within the Government Department helped implement them. Therefore, public servants paid for by the Government carried out the Women's Association's programmes.

By 1984–85, the whole province had been covered by the awareness programmes. A programme called the Subsistence Agriculture Improvement Programme was then started.

The Subsistence Agriculture Programme

In 1985, it was recognised that women would not have time for any other activities unless subsistence agriculture was improved. Every day, a woman is out in the garden trying to produce food for the family and has time for nothing else.

The Subsistence Agriculture programme involves the whole community, not only women. Its objectives are to train subsistence farmers and improve agriculture through new techniques which can be incorporated with traditional agricultural methods, to increase both the quality and quantity of food production. A second objective is to train subsistence farmers to adopt stable gardening methods as an alternative to unstable traditional methods of cultivation. A population growth of about 3.5 per cent annually has placed priority on providing food for the people. The page 63 programme teaches site-stable gardening so that people will continuously produce food from a given area, a different concept from the traditional shifting agriculture method. Appropriate technology suitable for the village people is part of the programme. A long term aim is to hope to establish agro-based industries in rural areas - fruit juice, jam, and cordial-making, etc and a marketing system to boost production.

Black and white photograph of women who are benefiting from the credit project in Koge.

Women who are benefiting from the credit project in Koge, PNG APDC

Presently, the programme has food centres where farmers - women, men and young people - bring their foodstuff; a local market to assist this programme is planned. The whole aim is to improve the nutritional status of the people in the village and to provide self-employment to stem the drift of people to urban areas for page 64 employment. In one of the villages, where the programme has existed for about six years, it been proved successful. Young people are now planting vegetables and cash crops and making money. Some are earning about K2,500 (kina) a month, more than if they were employed in towns.

The programme is also on food processing and food preparation. PNG has just one method of cooking food - in a pot with coconut cream, etc. The programme shows people how to prepare a nice appetising meal. The men are quite happy and want us to teach them more. If the women are doing something that benefits the family and the home, the men are prepared to listen, in our experience. A lot of men are sending their wives to these courses and some are coming themselves! The men do not see this as a women's programme. Funds come from the Provincial Government and the programme is open to anyone who is interested.

This represents what the Provincial Women's Council is doing in Morobe province after withdrawing from the National Council of Women [see earlier presentation on PNG National Machinery]. Another two provinces have asked for subsistence agriculture training, and the church women's organisations are also asking the Morobe Women's organisation to assist them in training their women. Mostly, the training programmes are for two to three weeks. The programme does not get national government assistance in funding but relies on some outside aid, for example, from USAID and the Foundation for the Peoples' of the South Pacific.

Questions and Answers

Q: Is the programme encouraging family planning?

A: Family planning comes into the programme, which in the two-three week courses, covers general hygiene, family planning and the traditional aspects of having children. Traditionally, if a woman was seen bearing a child one after the other, she would be ashamed to show up in the community. Yet now, people are having babies one after another. The programme involves family planning workers.

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Q: Your programme sounds a real success, even though it has taken some time. Are there other programmes which have succeeded or is this the only one? Generally most programmes are not so successful.

A: This is the only programme like this in PNG. Other provinces are showing an interest and if the national government funds our programme, then we can assist them too.

Black and white photograph of a people outside

* Fungke's earlier presentation, the first half of her paper, was on the national machinery for women established in PNG in 1975. This case study is of a provincial level agricultural programme and activities for women.