Home-grown literature creates a sense of national identity
Heavily armed warriors & the silence of the Canberra sheep

Let the B-word run free: seeking bold action for PNG women

Rashmii Amoah BellRASHMII BELL

THIS is women’s literature advocacy, PNG-style.

After an initial cordial reception, the donor-distributor element of the My Walk to Equality project (donors buy and distribute the books themselves) prompted a senior female manager to baulk.

Possibly thinking I was insinuating of myself with stealth-like prowl into her personal (that is, organisation’s) purse.

Her method in dealing with this discomfort was to execute a swift block on my emails thus eradicating further correspondence.

I snorted like a ravenous hyena when I observed this senior female manager and a subordinate or two pounce on the invitation to the book launch.

True story.

Six months ago, Pukpuk Publication’s Philip Fitzpatrick, PNG Attitude’s Keith Jackson and I (as er, an undefined entity of burning literary ambition) unknowingly set in motion proverbial wheels that would align themselves with the United Nation’s motto for International Women’s Day 2017 - #BeBoldForChange.

Whilst voluntary, collective action is the well-worn uniform of social activism in PNG, the potential of this milestone collaboration was seriously underestimated.

At last count, the Amazon purchases of My Walk to Equality totalled (drum roll please) 5,000 paperback copies. Five. Thousand. And counting.

That figure, plus a closer look at the terms of reference behind the hashtag transmitted from the UN, demands upstanding declarations. Perhaps in a crowded bar amongst the clamour of stools being rearranged.

Absolutely mandatory, though, is the display of zealous, one-handed sweeping gestures pronouncing that My Walk to Equality is in fact, a bold and bloody fantastic PNG-focused literary project.

So, just how has the herculean efforts of this milestone publication kick-started PNG’s year to #BeBoldforChange?

“By taking groundbreaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women.” Check.

“Taking bold pragmatic through purposeful collaboration.” Check.

“Help women to advance and unleash the limitless potential offered to economies world over.” Check.

My Walk to Equality is the first-ever book published of creative writing by an all-indigenous writing cast of Papua New Guinean women. Its purpose to highlight the positive contributions being made by everyday Papua New Guinean women in reducing all forms of inequality throughout PNG.

It stands as an initiative that veered from PNG’s annual recycling of awareness-building, all-male footy matches or public demonstrations where intention and shortfall in implementation come in equal measure.

It followed (not by choice, oh believe me, but reason) the lightly-trodden path of sparsely funded, celebrity-absent and status-free action. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram not Madison Avenue.

Yet, it achieved what the glitzy, exxy, celebrity-endorsed initiatives often overlook: the real nature of success.

This book ensures that PNG women are framed as at the front, centre, back and sides of the dialogue about the rights of PNG women and the fact their contribution deserves consistent discussion, consideration and implementation.

My Walk To Equality was the destination reached via the road less travelled. A road on which Jo Holman and Paga Hill Development Company meandered with us in solidarity, enduring from start to finish the sacrifice, exasperation, sky-high anxiety and the occasional victory dance.

And so, allow me to indulge in sharing an email that has been drafted in anticipation of the moment when a specific email embargo is suspended:

Contemplation (Rashmii Bell)Dear senior female manager who blocked me,

It warms my heart to be permitted back into your virtual space.

As you know, the folk at the UN have hash-tagged 2017 as the year to “be bold for change”. And as signatories, we (Papua New Guineans) have declared that we will do our best, as often as possible, to make our country a fair, just and humane place for our people. My cohorts and I have run with literature. It’s a brazen move.

Where else in the history of our nation have you witnessed the literary, all-volunteer trinity of 45 Papua New Guinean women writers, a small not-for-profit publisher and a two-gentlemen-and-a-lady administration team chronicle the personal efforts and ambitions of everyday Papua New Guinean women in a book publication?  

When else have Papua New Guinean women emerged from relative anonymity to assume overwhelming on and off -stage participation and presence at an International Women’s Day commemoration?

Anyway, you may have gathered from our epehermal e-interaction that I’ve been gripped with the demonic fevour of recruiting a multitude (in-a-not-so-large pool) donor-distributors of ‘My Walk to Equality’. Yes. It’s all rather daunting. Perhaps even what drove your hasty exit from our initial discussion.

Irrespective, I’ve no doubt of our consensus that engaging financial supporters (nationwide) is not impossible in the Papua New Guinean woman’s sphere of competence.

Did I mention that ‘My Walk to Equality’ is the first-of-its-kind women’s anthology for PNG?

That implies that if your organisation fulfills its pledge (made by your slightly more enthusiastic subordinate) of being a donor-distributor, you’re as good as going down in history with our literary team as playing a fantastic role in PNG’s literary efforts to #BeBoldforChange.

In fact, with your support and others who follow suit, we may even declare that at every opportunity in 2017, PNG women’s literature be a mode embraced for steering the nation’s change.

Yours in email diplomacy,



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Ed Brumby

Great to see the Bard to the Boars, the inestimable Michael Dom, back among the commentary community.

Michael Dom

I'm loving it.

Lindsay F Bond

Contrast of some magnitude indeed, with today's Australian ABC news item stating:
"...the launch of Saudi Arabia's new Girls' Council have gone viral for all the wrong reasons — namely, the lack of actual women in attendance."
See: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-15/saudi-arabia-launches-girls-council-without-any-girls/8356602

At Brisbane's launch of 'My Walk To Equality' tomorrow, blokes will be seen attending supportingly, less theatrically.

Lindsay F Bond

Tenacious yea, terrifying no,
Ambitious yep, scarifying nope,
Devotional you bet, demonising its not,
Invitational yay, invidious nay.

Birthing liveliness and newness in expression,
walking with winsomeness, willingness, wizening worth.

Rashmii Bell

Well said, Watna. Keen to collaborate again in the near future:)

Thank you, Martyn.

Trialled a different format this time. Eager to receive feedback on how it read, flowed etc.

Martyn Namorong

Go, Rashmii, go! Take no prisoners!

Watna Mori

PNG women coming into their own. Being unapologetically us, in every form that we come in. It's not black and white. We aren't either villagers or ex-Aussie privileged. There is more to us and you can't fit us into a box.

That can be a scary thing for NGOs and for aid donors, how do you support just "women," not "poor" women, not women trying to "lift" the country, just women being themselves.

It's a tough concept, revolutionary even, in a still colonial, third-world, aid-dependent country. I'm so excited for more projects like this.

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