Soul Speak
Gone

The problem I see with the Panguna women’s groups

Panguna womenLEONARD FONG ROKA

FROM the 1960s until the early 1980s, women in Panguna were a silent population until, in 1987, the late Perpetua Seroro was elected as chairperson of the militant New Panguna Landowners Association (PLA) with her cousin, the late Francis Ona, as secretary.

Thus it may be noted that the first women’s voice in Panguna was the by-product of leadership militancy.

This occurrence, which became something of a trend, led to no tangible outcomes in post-crisis Panguna. Once this leadership was gone, there was no trace of it in the realm of community development.

Through those crisis years of 1990-97, women were vocal in church activities and affairs and moved into educational decision making.

After 1998, as the politically divided Meekamui led by Francis Ona opposed the peace process, Panguna women played an important role in keeping the factions from violence.

As the UN-backed peace process prevailed, women’s groups were created to catch a share of the massive support for community development projects funded by external donors especially AusAID.

But, once the aid programs were exhausted, the women’s groups faded without trace.

Thus most of those women’s groups in the Panguna District could best be seen as catchments for opportunities, having just enough structure to attract the donor’s money.

Such organisations in Panguna were built by one or two individuals, by a man through his wife or by an influential man for the community.

Most of these groups have been led by vocal women leaders since 2000 when the peace process was at its peak, the Autonomous Bougainville Government was formed and members were elected into the PNG Parliament. But, as I saw it, these women were good talkers who did not bring anything tangible back to the community.

The men behind the women groups had sucked out the positive gains shrinking the groups into nothingness. This situation continues to exist around the old mine site at Panguna.

However, with the issue of the re-opening of the Panguna mine, there are vocal women leaders. But on their home ground they are called moni taraa nangka (those that act at the sound of money). Mostly, in terms of leadership responsibilities they are dormant, but once there is some funding at their disposal they begin to move.

This is a negative of women’s groups that keeps women at the lower levels unable to drive change in this problematic Panguna district of Bougainville. 

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