Women and Poverty in Rural Papua New Guinea

Written by Shila Yukuli Paia on Friday, 21 August 2015. Posted in Papua New Guinea

"Poverty can never be defined and addressed unless the voices of the poor are heard."

Women and Poverty in Rural Papua New Guinea

In a dark, cold cave, a lonely young woman gives birth to her first child. The world outside waits to share the joy of her first born child who has to be a boy. But not just yet. She can’t show off her baby boy for at least three months after this dirty process, this disgusting process of giving birth. After three days of hard, long excruciating labour, her baby is finally born. She looks over at her newborn with tears of joy, only to realise her baby is a girl. She is overwhelmed, frightened, anxious, confused, lost at the thought of disgrace and shame for giving birth to a female first-born child. The girl grows up mostly with her grandmother who is fearless of what society believes. As elegant and intelligent as she was, her grandmother taught her the skills of hunting, gardening and laws and customs about death and dying, marriages and social relations. All basic needs were available through hard work. Hard work was everything. Sweet potatoes for every meal, grass-skirts for clothes, bush hut for shelter, fresh creek water from miles away, lots of wood for fuel, bush herbs for healing. There were no schools, no roads, no airstrips, no health clinics. But one thing her grandmother instilled in her changed the perceptions of the entire village to this day: "Go to school when you can and work very hard because you will see a bright light beyond this sacred mountain".

This is part of my story. Undoubtedly there are many similar stories of girls and women especially in marginalised communities. A significant body of literature1 indicates that poverty and health are a vicious cycle, and most importantly that poverty is gendered. Being a man or woman has a significant impact on health and economic outcomes as a result of both biological and gender-related differences. In this story, poverty is not a situation defined by wealth and money as used by international development experts2. Poverty is associated with vulnerability and deprivation. Poverty is a situation of denial of access to basic health, education and economic opportunities and services, which are a basic human right3. And the causes, underlying determinants and the long and short term effects of such marginalisation are created and recreated through a hierarchy of socio-cultural, political and structural determinants rather than a single dimension4.

Papua New Guinea is a patriarchal society. Gender bias and inequality exists in every sphere, deeply rooted in a socio-cultural belief that women are subordinate to men, and influenced by perceptions of women being the property of men. Gender based violence results from power imbalances; women have limited access and control over resources and income. This undermines women’s confidence and capacity for full participation in social, economic and political development. PNG’s high child and maternal mortality rates and low life expectancy at birth are amongst the worst public health indicators in the Pacific Region. The maternal mortality rate is 220 out of every 100,000 live births. In the rural sector one woman out of every 25 dies in child birth, compared to one out of every 35 in the urban sector. This is clearly associated with early marriages, anaemia, malnutrition and poor family planning which are rooted in poverty, illiteracy and the cultural obligations of women’s role in farming and reproductive work5. A study done in 2000 by Narayan and her team demonstrate that the experiences of poor people need to be given attention in any development policy and planning. The voices of women and girls are of particular importance because of their experience and patterns of diseases and access to available health care6.

I have been very fortunate to live my grandmother’s dream. I have completed a nursing qualification, a Health Science degree and a Master of International Development in Australian universities. However, I have joined Fulcrum Aid to work towards empowering women and disadvantaged communities so their voices are heard in dreaming a change of equality and of flourishing livelihood.



References

1 – See for example: Cammack, D 2008, Background paper for the chronic poverty report 2008-09: chronic poverty in Papua New Guinea, Chronic Poverty Research Centre, viewed 8 May 2011 (http://www.chronicpoverty.org/);  Jha, R & Dang, T 2010, ‘Vulnerability to poverty in Papua New Guinea in 1996’, Asian Economic Journal, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 23-251, viewed 26 May 2012 (online: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8381.2010.02038.x/pdf);  Kabeer, N 1994, Reversed realities: gender hierarchies in development thought, Verso, London;  WHO 2010, Papua New Guinea health partnerships final report: prepared for the National Department of Health, viewed 28 September 2011 (www.nacs.org.pg); and  World Bank 2004, Papua New Guinea: poverty assessment, viewed 20 October 2011 (http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPAPUANEWGUINEA/Resources/PA-Report.pdf).

2 - Booth, D 1994, ‘Rethinking social development: an overview’, in Rethinking social development: theory, research and practice, Longman, Harlow, pp. 3-41.

3 - Narayan, D, Patel, R, Schafft, A & Koch-Schulte, S 2000, Voices of the poor: can anyone hear us? Oxford University Press for the World Bank, New York.

4 – Baum, F 2008, ‘The New Public Health’, 3rd Edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

5 - WHO 2010, Papua New Guinea health partnerships final report: prepared for the National Department of Health, viewed 28 September 2011 (www.nacs.org.pg)

6 - Kabeer, N 1994, Reversed realities: gender hierarchies in development thought, Verso, London.

 

About the Author

Shila Yukuli Paia

Shila Yukuli Paia

Shila grew up in the remote Hela Province of Papua New Guinea. The first Primary School in her region was built when she was six years old, but Shila was considered too stunted to be admitted. She attended anyway and was soon outperforming the other students. The community wouldn't allow her to attend High School, so Shila ran away, managing to fund her own education. Based on her grades she was selected to study nursing and later managed community development projects for World Vision and public health programs for CDI. In 2002 Shila was awarded an AusAid scholarship and completed a Bachelor of Health Science through Victoria University and again in 2012 completed a Master of International Development from Flinders University. Shila is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Public Health program at Flinders University. Her research explores the impact of cultural practices on child nutrition and will shape her "Soil Child" project implemented through Fulcrum Aid.

Shila is Project Manager for the Soil Child project in Papua New Guinea.

Comments (10)

  • rana & shanti - Bangladesh

    rana & shanti - Bangladesh

    21 August 2015 at 14:14 |
    We are proud to meet some one like you. God's mercy & blessings always.

    reply

    • Shila Phopo

      Shila Phopo

      11 October 2015 at 22:08 |
      My brother Rana, thankyou so much for your kind words. God has been so good to us all and we will continue to do good. Greetings to all our family in BD and hope to see you all soon. Many blessings

      reply

  • damien tipawi arabagali

    damien tipawi arabagali

    04 September 2015 at 09:44 |
    I am the father of the Hela Province and a father of 6 girls and two boys, never again will allow another Shila story.
    your story speaks volumes, my grand mother Kunumu was a war bride .She came from Tapero,karua tiliya clan, she spoke no huli, her sin was being born to a warrior chief, tipihondowiria,who ran out of pigs to pay those that supported in battle against his enemies. grand mother Kunumu,had to cut ear to leave behind for her boy friend, and my grand father Yalirima Koli.

    reply

    • Shila Phopo

      Shila Phopo

      11 October 2015 at 22:11 |
      Yes my uncle, thank you for the amazing tumbuna story.

      reply

  • damien tipawi arabagali

    damien tipawi arabagali

    04 September 2015 at 09:53 |
    Out of Kunumu,who Koli came,John Arabagali,james,Moses Paul and Kipume Arabagali,our daughters are univerity graduates, we vowed never to overlook our daughters because of Gender,my daughter Gloria, DUW draduate, works for oil search,Glenda is final year James Cook Univerity,Emelda at 3 mie medical faculty,3rd year UPNG my Hilda will finish pilot training in Subic bay Elite Global Aviation Inc Philipines.

    reply

    • Shila Phopo

      Shila Phopo

      11 October 2015 at 22:16 |
      What a difference you have made by deeds in educating all your beautiful daughters who are certainly future leaders! And I respect you Uncle for such leadership and commitment you have contributed in building Hela that is today. From where ever we are on this beautiful world of ours, we will continue to do our small part to make sure our children get the best education they deserve. Many blessings

      reply

  • nana kume yapea

    nana kume yapea

    11 September 2015 at 13:22 |
    Hi Shila, I am proud to see all your achievements, being a sister and work colleague with World Vision and CDI in Kutubu. Keep on smiling and make us all smile

    nansco

    reply

    • Shila Phopo

      Shila Phopo

      11 October 2015 at 22:19 |
      My dearest lewa
      Thank you for your kind words. Yes indeed, remember our slang for secret achievers? Well, it is now the ripe time to tell all of those beautiful stories and touch the lives of others. I here and you up there.. till we meet again one day. Loads of love

      reply

  • Vicki

    Vicki

    10 October 2015 at 12:59 |
    You are such an amazing, and inspirational woman! Thank you for sharing your story, and those of others with us.

    reply

  • Shila Phopo

    Shila Phopo

    11 October 2015 at 22:22 |
    Vicki my dearest.

    I cant thank you enough for your graciously kind words. Just as I have a story that my inspire someone, so every one else has their own stories. Stories in each itself are powerful. So I thank you again and do keep you der in our hearts and prayers.
    Lots of love

    reply

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