DESPITE domestic violence, gender inequality and other challenging issues, Papua New Guinea has produced many powerful and inspirational women of real accomplishment.
The next International Women’s Day on 8 March will be a wonderful opportunity to honour these heroes and, with the assistance of PNG Attitude and Pukpuk Publications, the collection of women’s writing, My Walk to Equality, edited by Rashmii Amoah Bell, will do just this.
Traditionally, Papua New Guinean society views women as playing a role that is second fiddle to men. As a result, PNG women who journey along the path of equality and independence find it a road less travelled.
The woman I have selected in this brief catalogue inspire hope and a promise of a greater tomorrow. They can be held high as examples for young PNG women who have historically suffered from a lack of female role models.
History will remember them and their work will continue to greatly inspire upcoming generations and their trail-blazing lives will encourage others to travel their path.
Dame Josephine Abaijah
She was born in Wamira village, Milne Bay Province, and her career encompassed health administration, several retail businesses and chairmanship of the Interim Commission of the National Capital District.
In 1991, she was named a Dame of the British Empire. In the same year, she published A Thousand Coloured Dreams, based on her life story and the first novel published by a PNG woman. In March 2014, she was awarded the US Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award.
Dame Josephine stepped into politics at a time when deeply embedded cultural perceptions of women’s role precluded them from public life and women’s leadership at the political level was non-existent. She is one of the recognised inspirational role model for advancing the status of women in PNG.
Justice Catherine Anne Davani
Catherine Davani, whose recent early death from breast cancer saddened the nation, came from Dorom village, Rigo, Central Province, and was PNG’s first indigenous female judge. She was also a soccer international.
After graduating from the Legal Training Institute in 1984, Justice Davani started her career with the Public Solicitors office.
In March 2001, she was appointed a judge of the national and supreme courts becoming a great role mole for all PNG girls.
Dame Meg Taylor
Dame Meg, a daughter of Australian explorer Jim Taylor and Yerima Taylor from the Eastern Highlands, is a Papua New Guinean lawyer and diplomat who became the first PNG and a Pacific Islands woman to become Secretary-General to the Pacific Islands Forum.
She hold an law degree from Melbourne University and an master’s degree in law from Harvard University. She began her career as private secretary to then chief minister Michael Somare before PNG independence and continued in this role during his tenure as prime minister.
She was a member of the Law Reform Commission and ambassador to the United States, Mexico and Canada from 1989-94. In 2002, she was made a Dame Commander of the order of the British Empire.
In 2014, Dame Meg became a vice president of the International Finance Corporation and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency of the World Bank Group.
Her appointment as secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum was a significant breakthrough for women throughout the Pacific.
Hon Julie Soso Akeke
In 2012, she became PNG’s first female governor and the first woman from the Highlands region to be elected to parliament.
Before entering politics, Julie Soso was known as a humble and outspoken women’s rights leader and was president of Eastern Highlands Women’s Council and deputy chair of the Eastern Highlands AIDS Council.
Hon Delilah Pueka Gore
Delilah Gore is a daughter of a chief in the Sohe electorate and was elected at the 2012 elections as the first female political leader from Oro Province being appointed as Minister for Higher Education, Science, Research and Technology.
Currently in the role of Minister for Religion, Youth and Community Development, she is one of the inspirational female political leader who urge PNG women to stand together to address women’s issues and women’s rights.
Loujaya Toni Kouza
Loujaya Toni, from Lae, is a poet, teacher, journalist, singer, songwriter and the first woman from her province to become an elected politician. As a schoolgirl, she was nominated as the PNG’s youngest poet by University of Papua New Guinea.
In 1985, she beginning a career as a singer and songwriter and launched a string of solo gospel music albums. In 1991, during the South Pacific Games in Port Moresby, she performed her song Keep the Fire Alive with the group Tambaran Culture. Her poetry was subsequently published by the Education Department in 1998.
In April 2012, shortly before being elected to parliament, Loujaya graduated with a master’s degree in Communication Development Studies at PNG University of Technology.
Florence Jaukae Kamel
She is a founder of Jaukae Bilum Products, managing director of the Goroka Bilum Weavers Cooperative and principal artist of the Goroka Bilum Festival.
She learned the art of the bilum – an integral part of the identity of Papua New Guinean women and, in more recent years, men - from her grandmother.
The work of the Goroka Bilum Weavers Cooperative is now on the walls of leading international galleries including the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane and the Australian Museum in Sydney. Artists from the cooperative have travelled as far as New York and London to mentor design students in their craft.
Florence is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, a respected leader in the Eastern Highlands and supports more than 50 female artisans by providing a source of income to supplement the seasonal cash crops many women rely on.
Janet Sape is a founder and executive director of first Women’s Micro Bank in PNG, the first bank of its type in the South Pacific region and fourth in the world. She’s also the founder of Women in Business, established to develop financial literacy among PNG’s women.
She was named by APEC as the first winner of PNG’s Iconic Women in 2015. In the same year, she also became Westpac’s Outstanding Woman of the Year.
In her youth, Janet was a professional netball player who represented PNG in the world championships, going on to coach the national team and eventually becoming president of the PNG Netball Federation.
She has been an unsuccessful candidate in the last three national elections and is one of the Pacific’s best known advocates on women’s issues, particularly on the need for economic empowerment and financial freedom.
Francesca Rhianna Semoso
Francesca Semoso was a radio broadcaster and one the first women to be deputy speaker of the Bougainville House of Representatives. She was elected to parliament in 2005 for the North Bougainville Women Constituency.
She also serves as deputy chair of the Standing Orders Committee and as a member of the Parliament Business Committee.
Francesca is an advocate of women’s leadership in PNG and ardent supporter of temporary special measures (TSMs) to increase the number of women in the region’s highest decision making body because she believes “the women of Bougainville are natural leaders”.
Bosa Togs is general manager of information technology at Telikom PNG. She won the 2016 Westpac Outstanding Women award after successfully campaigning for equal pay for women employed by Telikom, taking up the case of two female colleagues, both engineers and single mothers struggling to support their families.
Mary Handen is one of the only female to have been elevated to the Steamship Trading Company’s expatriate male-dominated senior management team after being appointed General Manager of Human Resources.
Moale Leah Vagikapi
She was recognised for her long service to the now disbanded Australian International Development Agency (AusAID). Moale has been also recognised by the Royal PNG Constabulary for her contribution to the human resource development in the police force.
Rita Jaima Paru
Rita is owner and manageress of Dial-A-Lunch services, a catering business operating in Port Moresby supplying affordable catering for government, business and the public. In 2014, she won the Westpac Outstanding Women Awards and was a finalist for the SP Brewery Entrepreneur Award.
In 2016, she was a Global Women in Management leadership training program recipient awarded by Exxon Mobil and Plan USA. Rita is an inspiring community leader and businesswoman who help girls and women in local churches to learn basic cooking, food handling, baking and other skills.
Penny Sage-embo is a professional social work counsellor and trainer. She is founder and Director of Joy’s Social Training Institute, which aims to help women by empowering and motivating them through counselling, formal supervision, awareness raising and focused training programs for businesses and the community on gender equalities and the roles and responsibilities of women in the business world.
Joyce Kiage is a tailoring entrepreneur and became a successful businesswoman by providing sewing services and making uniforms for major businesses. She was the winner of the 2015 Westpac Outstanding Women SP Brewery Entrepreneur Award. Her businesses expansion has been driven largely by commitment to service. Her goal is to own a garment factory in PNG.
Lady Winifred Kamit
Lady Winifred has led change to improve the economic of women in PNG. She is a commissioner of the Public Service Commission, founding chairperson of the Coalition for Change and patron of the PNG Business Coalition for Women.
She also a senior partner in Garden’s Lawyers and board member for numerous businesses, where she helps PNG develop a consciousness about domestic violence and workplace equality.