THREE women’s names. Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding and Kristi Yamaguchi.
Until last weekend, I’d long known the first two: internationally acclaimed figure skaters. But not Yamaguchi.
If it was not for a New York Times Magazine article by Nicole Chung I’d still be in the dark that Yamaguchi was the gold medalist at the 1991 world figure skating championships.
On the podium, Yamaguchi was flanked by two American placed medallists, Kerrigan and Harding.
Yamaguchi went on to win gold at the 1992 Olympic Games.
In her piece, ‘What I Learnt from Yamaguchi’, Chung recalled her nine year-old self being witness to Yamaguchi’s Olympics glory and subsequent regular appearance on television screens and magazine covers.
Adopted and growing up in a predominantly white Oregon town, the Korean-born Chung wrote that national praise for Yamaguchi diluted the“the same tired jokes or stereotypes”.
It was what Chung yearned: the celebration of an Asian-American female.
And it signified to her that “representation, when you finally get it, can be life-changing, allowing you to imagine possibilities you never entertained before”.
Recently, the international community conferred major awards upon two Papua New Guineans.
In late September, Paul Pavol was recognised by the Alexander Soros Foundation with an award for environmental and human rights activism for his “courage and commitment to protecting his community’s land and forests from the illegal and aggressive operation of one of the world’s largest logging companies”.
This week in New York, Simbu Children Foundation founder and president Jimmy Drekore will receive the World of Children Award, colloquially known as the ‘Nobel Prize for child advocacy’.
Drekore has been recognised as a “change maker for his education, health, humanitarian and program delivery to youth in Papua New Guinea”.
Let us look at the extent to which this international recognition has received praise, or even acknowledgement, at the national level.
What measures did Papua New Guinea at an official level take to recognise the personal initiative and dedication of Pavol and Drekore to the country and its people?
There was, it turned out, a loud silence.
In 20-plus years’ time, will there be many Papua New Guineans who will reflect on the time there was national celebration at the achievements of our two countrymen? Will people then imagine the possibilities of dedicating oneself to a cause to reduce inequality?
Based on our country’s recent official performance, it seems not.
The first Papua New Guinean-authored opinion essay I’d read in a book was Nou Vada’s ‘Delusion, Disillusionment and the Devil’s advocate – A bedtime story for Papua New Guineans who believe in change’.
It was impressive, not only his weaving of song titles by Irish band U2 but because of his articulate, informed and balanced argument. Vada’s essay was published by Pukpuk Publications in the Crocodile Prize Anthology2012.
Last week, I read ‘Peace Studies as a Process of Peace Building: An Alternative Approach to Violence in Papua New Guinea, 25 Years and Beyond’, first published in 2003.
The essay was authored by Dr Julienne Kaman and is included in the collection, ‘Building a Nation in Papua New Guinea: Views of the Post-Independence Generation’ (Pandanus Books).
For me, the inclusion of Dr Kaman was significant because it provided national recognition of her academic achievements, exemplary research and writing skills. It recorded in permanent form her professional contribution to addressing violence in PNG.
Vada and Kaman along with Emma Wakpi, Tanya Zeriga Alone, Busa Wenogo and Fidelis Sukuna are among the Papua New Guineans who have influenced my own work which seeks to address PNG’s social issues through structured, informed and balanced essays.
As submissions start to trickle in to the PNG women writers’ anthology ‘My Walk to Equality’, Chung’s notion of representation might serve as a voice of reason for women in the midst of planning or writing their contributions.
Certainly this is an opportunity to challenge the international lens or ‘same tired jokes or stereotypes’ often associated with citizen participation in reducing inequalities in PNG. The publication of this book will be a fine opportunity for Papua New Guineans to recognise and praise the women of PNG.
As I think of the women who might contribute to this first ever collection, I ponder on those PNG women doctors and medical students who could provide a Papua New Guinean perspective to the recent article ‘Chinese doctors put lives on line to help PNG health crisis’.
And perhaps the women of Simbu, advocating alongside Jimmy Drekore, can document how they too are working to bridge the gap of inequality of service delivery to children in rural PNG.
Then there are those PNG women environmental activists lobbying in unity with Paul Pavol to protect our land, forests and oceans.
These women – and the very many others who are working to progress our country or remedy the wrongs they encounter – now have a forum in which to bring their stories and aspirations to a much broader audience.
Like elsewhere in the world, the inequalities in PNG society seem overwhelming.
Yet many Papua New Guinean women are attacking these social flaws and they – you – now have an opportunity to highlight their – your - efforts or viewpoints in a published book.
It seems a sure way to draw attention to the issues, to secure history and facilitate representation in years to come.
You can find out how you can contribute here.