Papua New Guinea has over 800 known languages spoken by its seven million people. It ranks 154 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index 2015 XLIII

The Government of Papua New Guinea promotes gender equality though its Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Policy, National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence and National Policy for Women and Gender Equality.

Women are largely absent from political leadership and no women were elected in the 2017 National Elections to the 111-member Parliament.XLIV At a local-level, some special measures have been introduced. The Community Government Act 2016 in Bougainville provides for representation by one woman and one man in each ward in the region.

Although participation rates in the labour force are relatively even, men are almost twice as likely than women to hold a wage job in the formal sector and women are three times more likely than men to work in the informal sector.XLV Women occupy 23 per cent of all senior management positions and 31 per cent of middle management positions in central government agencies.XLVI

While no national study has been conducted on rates of violence against women in Papua New Guinea, smaller studies suggest that two thirds of women experience physical and/or sexual violence.XLVII Recent responses include the passing of regulations in 2017 to support implementation of the Family Protection Act and the criminalisation of polygamy in 2014. Changes proposed to the Marriage Bill will give women equal rights to property and assets on divorce. The Sorcery National Action Plan was passed in 2015 and the National Policy on Child Protection was finalised in early 2017. The police have established 17 family and sexual violence units. Women’s organisations, including faith-based organisations, continue to be active in providing services for survivors of violence and advocating for change.


Project name: From Gender-Based Violence to Gender Justice and Healing
Outcome: Ending violence against women
Project Partner: Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation and International Women’s Development Agency
Total Funding: $1,693,366
Funding timeframe: 2015–2018

Seventeen years ago, with just PGK1,000 in their pockets, the Sisters of Nazareth created a special place – the Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation – that today benefits individuals and communities throughout Bougainville. With support from Pacific Women, the Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation (Nazareth Centre) has been able to expand its work with the International Women’s Development Agency on initiatives to improve women’s leadership and influence in their communities and support survivors of family and sexual violence. 

The Nazareth Centre has trained a network of 498 women human rights defenders and 201 male advocates. These women and men work towards making their communities safer for women and children, drawing on their training on gender-based violence, human rights, women’s rights, the role of women human rights defenders and peace and conflict resolution.

The women human rights defenders gather annually for a forum, to share their experiences and connect to a wider movement.

‘Bougainville’s Women’s Human Rights Defender Network is growing every year’,one participant explains.

‘This forum allows space to support more women to join the movement.’

Many women human rights defenders have gone on to assume leadership roles in their communities, including 34 who were elected to community government in the April 2017 elections in Bougainville.

Women human rights defenders have contributed to changing violent attitudes and behaviours using Melanesian diplomacy to intervene in conflicts (including sorcery-related violence). They raise awareness on family and sexual violence, gender equality and human rights and provide basic counselling, referrals and response to survivors. They influence decision makers at community-level and take public action to address family and sexual violence issues.

Clients at the Nazareth Centre’s four safe houses increased by 30 per cent between its first and second years of operation, reflecting both demand for services and increasing awareness that help is available. Its men’s hub in Arawa offers counselling to young men and boys raised in abusive homes who are expressing negative sexual behaviours and using drugs and alcohol. There is high demand, with an average of 10 clients per day.

The Nazareth Centre’s schools-based program helps teachers who feel uncomfortable teaching sexual and reproductive health. Modules that encourage students to set personal ambitions that provide information on sexual and reproductive health and offer guidance on leadership and governance are delivered by male advocate peer educators. The peer educators report that the program has ‘whole villages’ talking about sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancy and that there is less youth homebrew and drug consumption. Both boys and girls are now helping with cooking, laundry, carrying water and chopping firewood. Before, girls looked down on themselves and thought boys were better. Now, both are in leadership roles at school, including as prefects and class captains.

Acknowledging International Women’s Day during the second annual Bougainville Women’s Human Rights Defenders Forum. The Forum was held from 6-10 March 2017 in Tunuru on the theme ‘Spaces, Journeys, Dreams and Hopes for the Future.’ Photo: Elena Leddra, International Women’s Development Agency.

Project name: Voter Education Project
Outcome: Leadership and decision making
Project Partner: Bougainville Women’s Federation and International Women’s Development Agency
Total Funding: $451,888
Funding timeframe: 2016–2017

The Bougainville Women’s Federation and International Women’s Development Agency are implementing the Voter Education Project to provide education on voting rights and responsibilities. It is having an impact on the way women exercise their right to vote, and on women’s leadership more generally.

The project focuses on engaging those aged between 35 and 45, sometimes called the ‘lost generation’, whose education was limited because of the Bougainville crisis. It also specifically targets women to address the more generalised patterns of women’s disenfranchisement from democratic processes in Bougainville. The project supports women to vote independently of wantok and family connections, and not to vote as proxy for their male partners or family heads.

The project has already far exceeded its original target of reaching 6,400 people in 320 communities. By the end of June 2017, the project’s community educators delivered five-day Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) training, including holding mock elections, to 43,760 people across 506 communities. This represents about 15 per cent of Bougainville’s population.

Under the project model, Bougainville Women’s Federation provides training and mentoring support to community facilitators who plan and conduct community awareness workshops in communities. Half of the community facilitators are women. The recruitment of women trainers provides role models of leadership in the communities where training takes place. This sets the backdrop for discussions on the value of women as leaders, decision makers, and parliamentarians.

Representatives from the Office of Bougainville Electoral Commission provide training to the community facilitators with the Bougainville Women’s Federation. They provide additional information on electoral processes and basic electoral laws. They also encourage people to register on the electoral roll.

Linda is a 23-year-old woman from Hagogohe Constituency. In the lead up to the 2017 national elections, voter education workshops were held in her village. She received training that increased her knowledge and understanding of her voting rights. The project also fostered community ownership of fair voting practices. Linda reports that the training enabled her to listen to candidates’ campaigns and to make her decision on the three candidates she preferred in the national election. She says her choice of leaders was based on their campaigns and she felt that, if successful, the candidates would make a change in Bougainville. She voted confidently and independently using the limited preferential vote system. Linda is happy to be using her right to vote freely.

Project name: Partnership for Positive Parenting
Outcome: Ending violence against women
Project Partner: UNICEF, Menzies School of Health, Catholic Archdioceses of Western Highlands, Madang and Chimbu
Total Funding: $1,787,760
Funding timeframe: 2015–2017

The findings of research are clear that reducing children’s exposure to family violence has significant benefits for children’s development and has the potential to break the cycle of family violence. A pilot project in Western Highlands and Madang in Papua New Guinea has supported mothers and fathers to learn positive parenting techniques. Following training, parents reported that they know more about child development and have significantly reduced harsh parenting. 

UNICEF, the Menzies School of Health Research and Catholic Archdioceses of Western Highlands, Madang and Chimbu worked together to develop a positive parenting program specifically for the Papua New Guinea context.

The project began with research to understand the parenting practices and strategies in use. The project partners then worked together to consult, plan and review key messages. These messages were tested for their cultural and social relevance for Papua New Guinea. They were then crafted into a series of workshops and materials to change parents’ behaviour that were translated into Tok Pisin and Tok Ples. Catholic Archdiocese staff serving as child protection officers, family life educators, catechists and community child protection volunteers, were trained to facilitate the workshops to help parents learn more positive ways of parenting children.

A baseline study of 207 parents in the target communities revealed high levels of harsh parenting practices. Verbal abuse, corporal punishment and psychological control of girls and boys were widespread. During March and April 2017, six-day workshops were delivered to 223 fathers and mothers in 10 communities. Approximately 60 per cent of participants were mothers. Researchers found that, following the workshops, there had been statistically significant reductions in reported harsh parenting. The changes were apparent for both men and women. The greatest changes were in verbal abuse and corporal punishment.

As one father reported,

‘The most important lesson was how to manage my emotions. Sometimes I get angry with my children. I sometimes yell at them but now I can control myself. I tell my wife I have to leave the room, I go for a walk … and then I cool down.’

The qualitative research revealed a limited understanding of the importance of the actions of parents and caregivers in early childhood to the development of the child and later outcomes. Parents indicated that the workshops helped them to learn the significance of good parenting in the early years, the role of play in children’s development, positive discipline strategies and parents needing to control emotions in order to avoid hitting or verbally abusing their children. Both fathers and mothers reported that they were confident in their ability to change their practices.

The research also found some significant correlations. Family violence between adults, poor family cohesion and low confidence in ability to care for their children were associated with higher levels of harsh parenting practices. After participating in the workshops, there were significant reductions in all forms of harsh parenting. Further, parents were less likely to report that they experienced violence by a spouse and reported increased confidence in their ability to care for their children along with significant increases in family wellbeing overall.

Participants at a Positive Parenting training in Alexishafen, Madang Province, PNG. Photo: Professor Gary Robinson, Menzie’s School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University.