Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Changing Lives - Educated Women in PNG
Each year, various agencies fund scholarships that enable Papua New Guinea women to complete tertiary degrees overseas. The idea underpinning this spending is that educating women has flow-on effects, including helping to promote gender equity and development in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Unfortunately, the outcomese are not always so positive, as revealed in a new study called Changing Lives: Educated Women in Papua New Guinea. The study shows that educated Papua New Guinean women face many barriers when they return home from their overseas studies. These include discrimination in the workplace, domestic violence on the home front and jealousy from both their male and female peers.
For the study, tertiary-educated Papua New Guinean women were asked about their experiences overseas and since returning home. Most reported enjoying the freedom they experienced while they were away, saying that it was good to be able to walk around freely without feeling afraid. The women also perceived and appreciated the greater gender equality in the countries in which they spent time (most went to Australia and New Zealand).
On the other hand, the women were less positive about returning to Papua New Guinea to live and work. They said cultural expectations about women's roles made it difficult to readjust to life in Papua New Guinea. Some reported finding it difficult to fit in with their families and friends. Being seen as bikhet was also a problem. For example, 'Molly', one of the women who interviewed for the study was told by her friends and family that she had changed since she came back from Australia and that she acts like she is a white woman.
The overseas-educated women also said that they were not treated equally either in terms of getting work or once they were employed. They indicated that their qualifications weren't recognised because of male jealousy and the idea that 'a woman's place is in the home'. This included women being told that they wouldn't be promoted because it was a waste of time as they would 'just go off and have babies'. These ideas, while culturally-entrenched, oppose one of the aims of the Papua New Guinea constitution, namely, to have: '[A] rapid increase in the equal and active participation of women in all forms of economic and social activity'.
The educated women also reported jealousy among their female colleagues who saw them as 'spoilt'. This led to them being discriminated against in terms of access to work-related provisions such as housing and cars. A number also said female colleagues had accused them of having gained their positions through the provision of sexual favours.
Personal relationships with men are another significant problem for the women returning from overseas studies. The married women who took part in the study reported being subject to domestic violence as a result of their husbands' jealousy at their qualifications. The single women could not imagine finding male partners that would support them to work or further their education. As a consequence, they were delaying or avoiding relationships with men so as not to jeopardise their careers.
Given that the provision of tertiary education for women is not enough to force change in ways which seriously enhance the status of wome in PNG, it is necessary to implement additional societal changes if educated women are to benefit. The establishment of an Equal Opportunity Commission or equivalent organisation and at least one not-for-profit child care centre in each of PNG's major towns would be good place to start.
'ALUMNI : Promoting Higher Education for Papua New Guinea' . October 2009