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Death of Josepha Kiris, leader in domestic violence struggle


ONE of Papua New Guinea’s most respected women leaders, Josepha Kiris, who many people knew as Josepha Kanawi, died last week.

Ms Kiris, a former Secretary of the PNG Law Reform Commission, was a driving force behind the criminalisation of wife beating and a constant voice urging the PNG government to acknowledge the skills and experience of senior female public servants by elevating them to executive roles in national agencies.

She always said she wasn’t asking for special treatment for women.

“We can’t ask for special favours. Women must know their job and prove themselves,” she said. “Women have unique knowledge and capacity. We are focused, and deserve to come out as leaders of our nation.

“We must respect the law which has been passed for a purpose. Women should naturally progress to decision making roles if they know their job and do it well.”

Ms Kiris graduated from law school in 1978 at the same time as raising a family. She was the daughter of a police prosecutor and her interest in the law stemmed from early childhood.

“My father raised me and my sisters alone; my only role model was my father,” she once said.

“He was an elite police prosecutor of his time and I would sit at the back of the court room listening to him. I wanted to be like him and this is where my interest in the law started.”

Ms Kiris was the first woman appointed as Secretary for the PNG Law Reform Commission and held the position for four consecutive terms.

During this time she commissioned a world-first study of domestic violence in PNG, which led to the creation of the offence of wife beating. She was also instrumental in pushing for PNG to sign the UN’s international convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

Her expertise in legislative development and critiquing of the law saw her become a pillar of PNG’s legal establishment.

Ms Kiris later was chief commissioner of the PNG Lands Titles Commission from 1996 to 2007 where she presided over two major reviews of land ownership disputes.

“During this time of Independence, we forged our way through, carrying the hopes of our women in a bilum on our back and leading with intuition,” she once said. “We were steady to come out as leaders of our country.”

Her advice to aspiring young female leaders was, “Don’t lose your focus and always serve with our national interest at heart to overcome obstacles.”

Information from Women in Leadership - http://www.pngwil.org/


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Garry Roche

I remember meeting Josepha Kanawi when she was with the Law Reform Commission. At the time (somewhere between 1988 and 1990), I was teaching at the Catholic Seminary at Bomana.

She was very helpful with information on various legal matters. With regard to the situation where a woman was in danger from her husband, I remember telling her about a Catholic Church law (canon 1153) that acknowledged and recognised the right of the threatened person to leave the offending partner, even on their own authority.

Josepha later told me she used this information in some of her presentations. I had not met her since then. May she rest in peace.

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