Could the roiling disaster of PNG stomach a woman’s touch?
25 August 2017
TUMBY BAY - I’m back in my quiet little corner of South Australia after spending a couple of weeks meandering through the hustle and bustle of Queensland’s south-east coast.
There was a burst of unseasonal hot weather up there, so stepping off the plane in Adelaide on the way home was a bit like jumping into a freezer. But I think I’ll survive.
In Queensland I attended the successful Papua New Guinean women writer’s event at Coolum Beach and learned a lot about the travails of being a woman in PNG, especially those women who produce ground-breaking anthologies of women’s writing. (Some of those women are on stage with me in the accompanying photograph.)
To say that the anthology My Walk to Equality has been both a great success and a tremendous burden for the women involved is an understatement.
I can confidently and sadly assure people that crude, rude, nasty and jealous men (and some women) are in no danger of being in short supply in Papua New Guinea.
Learning the details of that sorry fact was a bit of a downside during my perambulations.
Dropping in here and there to catch up with old friends who had worked in PNG and continue to have contact with the place was equally dispiriting.
Among these people I detected a level of despondency about the situation in PNG that I haven’t encountered before.
There has always been a jocular view that Papua New Guinea is, well, just Papua New Guinea, and things don’t work as well there as they do elsewhere.
At the same time it was expected that the Papua New Guinean people would somehow always muddle through.
I’m not sure this is the case anymore – people still believe in the muddle theory but the affectionate regard for PNG among Australians who are close to it seems to have been replaced by a feeling that things have tipped over the edge and plunged into a deep chasm.
The recent election, it appears, is the episode that broke the camel’s back.
So deeply has that event been seen to plumb the depths of corruption, mismanagement and criminality that all hope for even a muddling solution is believed to be lost.
PNG is seen as having been plunged into irretrievable debt by a group of inept and ravenous politicians to the extent that pulling it out of that quagmire seems an impossible task.
My friends’ response when I mention Papua New Guinea is now confined to a sad shrug. “I’ve decided to forget about it and get on with more important things,” they say.
This profound sense of pessimism is worrying.
It seems it is only our deluded and conspiratorial politicians in Australia who exhibit any sense of optimism.
It’s hard to believe that they are still giving currency to the same old promises that Peter O’Neill is sprouting after years of never honouring them or having any intention to honour them.
If you believe my friends in Queensland, Papua New Guinea is stuffed.
The only hope of saving it will have to be something radical.
The sad thing is that everyone knows what needs to be done but no one is game to try.
So maybe it’s time for all those big-headed men to start listening to their women. Maybe it’s time to have a series of by elections and bring in those 22 women’s seats.
But, then again, given how Papua New Guinean men treat their successful women, who would wish such poisonous approbation on that fair sex.
Posted by: Alex Kuleshov | 17 January 2021 at 08:37 PM
Great news Rashmii. Impact of MWTE will be measured also with enduring respect, and wideningly.
Reactive 'discourse' via social media ought not deter writers. Such expression at Twitter (and more) is (in this era) exploratory, no less an interruption of affected persons as was the intrusion by miners, mercenaries and more to an unassuming population of isles of New Guinea (exogenous name).
Experimentation at causing others to respond is in fact what also MWTE is achieving. Be it by book or by soliloquy ether-cast, communication is accomplishment and more if detected as intelligent.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 30 August 2017 at 10:58 AM
In fantastic news- I've just been informed that seats for the MWTE panel event at Brisbane Writers Festival
are fully booked!!
In only our second year at BWF, this news is both encouraging and inspiring for all Papua New Guinean writers, individuals and organisations committed to developing and sustaining our literary culture.
Congratulations to Pukpuk Publications (Phil Fitzpatrick), the MWTE team, the PNG Attitude family and all our supporters. The presenting team of
Vanessa Gordon, Tania Basiou, Elvina Ogil and I look forward to seeing the audience on September 8.
Paperback copies of MWTE will be on sale, in-store at the State Library Queensland Bookshop.
Posted by: Rashmii Bell | 30 August 2017 at 01:11 AM
I am incredibly proud of MWTE and the project which brought together a range of stories. Stories and history is what makes us who we are and also has the power to shape the future.
With every project there will be cynics who question every step. However it is important to look at intent and purpose and the project intent is to make a positive contribution to a beautiful and bright PNG.
The tall poppy syndrome is alive and well and it's challenging at times when you want to give up. But, you can't give up or stop writing. These projects need to continue to happen.
I always think, it's easy to sit back and hate. That's the easy path, but to take action - day by day and keep moving forward shows resilience and belief in a brighter future.
People who hate can continue to do so, that is their choice but it shouldn't impact the rest of the people who want to make a positive contribution.
As for gender equality in PNG it absolutely is not equal. The election results show that but there is still so much positive action and change going on in the communities.
On the ground, at a grass roots level, women are strong leaders and making waves. We can't just shrug our shoulders.
Each person has the capacity to make positive choices and change at a local and personal level. We need to look every day and find those stories and shine a light on these men and women who are making a great impact at a local level and support them.
Change is happening, albeit slowly, but it's happening and it's not lost. I believe in a bright and beautiful PNG.
Posted by: Roxanne Aila | 27 August 2017 at 11:47 AM
All right - forget the thick skin. How about 'attitude'?
Isn't that the same thing as "in comparison to men, women have to be more courageous, more persistent and more astute to achieve the same goals".
There's still something wrong with a society that makes this necessary.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 27 August 2017 at 11:43 AM
Everything Keith just said. This is not about women needing to develop "thick skin" in the public arena.
For published writers who want their book to have a wider reach, marketing is the key. Personally, I know I have worked smarter than any other publication under Pukpuk Publications and hence, have received a wider reach and ultimately sales.
To be verbally attacked with racist and sexist comments from other PNG writers because of my willingness to do my homework - that is unacceptable.
Posted by: Rashmii Bell | 27 August 2017 at 10:50 AM
That's sage advice, Ed.
Whenever you enter the public arena, no matter the issue, you have to be prepared to cop flak.
The trick is to develop a thick skin and charge on regardless.
Without trying to be sexist, I think women, because of their nature, have trouble developing a thick skin.
This is probably what has happened with MWTE.
I've no doubt that they will regroup and get back to this important work and will one day be able to show off their scars with pride.
Whether women have a "thicker skin" or not (that is, are more vulnerable to aggressive behaviour) is a moot point. The more important consideration is that, in comparison to men, women have to be more courageous, more persistent and more astute to achieve the same goals. I have observed this requirement in the case of my wife Ingrid - the only female Noosa councillor.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 27 August 2017 at 10:02 AM
The adage 'The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves along' came to mind as I read the comments in response to Phil's as always, thoughtful contribution. There are bound to be critics, dissenters and naysayers on the sidelines of any project (and MWTE is no exception). Some may be worthy of a (thoughtful) response. Others, like dogs barking at passing camel caravans, should not be dignified by any response. They should just be ignored.
They, the critics, don't, and won't go away. The choice for the project/caravan participants if they truly believe in the worth of their journey, is simple: engage with the critics and waste valuable time and energy, or apply that time and energy to ensuring that the project succeeds - and the caravan reaches its destination.
Posted by: Ed Brumby | 27 August 2017 at 08:43 AM
The MWTE contributors based in Port Moresby will also be hosting a workshop/panel discussion at the National Library and Archives in POM on Friday 8 September.
It's only a handful willing to be a part of this, nevertheless, we are thrilled that the National Library and Australian High Commission have extended their support.
We also have one of the contributors flying all the way from Buka just to attend this event.
The team did well at the Sunshine Coast Writers Festival and surely will do the same in Brisbane.
Likewise, the Moresby-based writers are also looking forward to hosting an MWTE event in POM.
PNG Attitude and its readers pay tribute to these inspiring Papua New Guinean women in PNG and Australia who - despite pushback from people who should know better - are keeping the flag flying for all PNG literature, not just women writers - KJ
Posted by: Leila Parina | 27 August 2017 at 12:55 AM
The conversation around the reservation of seats for women in PNG and gender equality more broadly has been a most dispiriting one.
Men and equally disappointingly, women have been vehement in their opposition to the proposed reservation of seats, instead calling for election on merit. Meritorious election presumes an equal playing field. It is glaringly obvious that the playing field is not equal in PNG, both in parliament and outside it.
Even more disappointing is this prevailing view espoused by Jordan Dean et al that women "don't need equality - they need self-recognition." Unpacking such statements is almost a waste of our time and effort however, at best, it is a vacuous throwaway line and at worst, a subliminal statement of misogyny. For as long as men and women like Jordan Dean continue to victim-blame women who have suffered GBV without holding the male perpetrators to account and judge women for the choices they make, we must continue to push for a re-orientation of our systems of government to recognise the importance of the representation of those who make up the other half of our population.
I for one don't "scream for equality"Jordan, but I don't suffer fools who are stupid enough to think basic biology has given them any form of superiority.
In many ways, a publication like MWTE has done what we hoped it would - opened and generated a conversation on the absolute necessity for PNG to work towards gender equality and on that score, Philip Fitzpatrick has correctly highlighted the importance of reserved seats for women.
The business case for reserved seats is simple. Quotas lead to action on gender equality by requiring institutions and entities to implement gender inclusion in clear practical terms. Norway is an outstanding example of the pro-active steps taken to engender gender equality across politics and industry.
Papua New Guinea's collective failure to grasp the utility of this mechanism is breath-taking.
And before I am reminded that this concept is antithetical to Papua New Guinean "culture and tradition", we should all perhaps have recourse to our Constitution and the directive issue by the Constitutional Planning Committee calling for "a fundamental re-orientation of our attitudes and the institutions of government...towards Papua New Guinean forms of participation, consultation and consensus, and a continuous renewal of the responsiveness of these institutions to the needs and attitudes of the people."
It is astounding that in 2017 we fail to grasp this basic direction to change given to us by people of half our collective education and exposure.
In the interim however, let's hope the continued development of indigenous Papua New Guinean women's literature does what literature is designed to do - challenge the status quo and illuminate the way forward.
Posted by: Elvina Ogil | 26 August 2017 at 09:31 PM
Like Leila, I'm also a contributing writer and seeing the level of misogyny and backlash has been disheartening.
MWTE has been a collective effort on all our parts, so it is disappointing to hear the divisive undertone in some comments. We were all encouraged to promote the book, and i feel that has contributed to its success.
I hope there are more anthologies to come and whoever is brave enough to take it on, like Rashmii has, will need to possess nerves of steel.
The next event that MWTE will be at is the Brisbane Writers Festival, and i will be one of the "same ones" accompanying Rashmii simply because I live 2 hours away and all it takes to get there is a full tank.
Posted by: Tania Basiou | 26 August 2017 at 07:01 PM
An example of the the racism I refer to is the intentional divisive actions and attitudes of PNGns living in-country against those of PNGns of the diaspora community. It sickens me to my core and quite frankly, am disgusted by PNGns who perpetuate this.
Jordan - as you know, we don't always agree and again, this is the case. But, thank you for your comment. On your point about including more writers in occasions to promote MWTE, I will ask the writers to convey just how I have handled this. But I will say this - ALL MWTE writers were asked and encouraged to promote their individual writing and the anthology within their own networks and whatever occasion, event they could co-ordinate.
Over a month ago, I had asked the Port Moresby based MWTE writers to co-ordinate a discussion panel/ workshop event. A few individuals responded to formalising arrangements and to date, I believe an event will take place in early September to coincide with MWTEs presentation at BWF17. Could one of the organisers please confirm?
My decision to choose only Brisbane-based writers for literary festival appearances has been due to the absence of funding, sponsors etc. No sponsors means no funding for plane tickets, hotel accomodation..
A final note - Published PNG writers must understand that in the absence of PR and marketing agents, writers themselves must shoulder the task of promoting their work, through every avenue possible. Being able to recognise and adapt early on, I know, has influenced the success MWTE has had.
Posted by: Rashmii Bell | 26 August 2017 at 05:32 PM
Let's not confuse issues and lose faith in ourselves too easily.
Rashmii and co-authors of MWTE please take a break take a breath and get back to work. If you stop now you only fail yourselves and the women who come after you. Some of them are your daughters.
Faith is what you have when the odds are against you, not when things are smooth. Tenacity and perseverance must be your response to challenges.
Regarding women in parliament, this is not about equality, it is about improving gender balance, about allowing the voices and the viewpoints of women leaders on the floor of Haus Tambaran. Equality is for the longer term.
We do have some very capable women leaders. It would be a remarkable time if they had the floor, I am sure.
Let's not confuse the issues and cloud our arguments with false notions of fairness.
PNG is not the most favourable place to be a woman. Any man who has a mother, sister, aunt, daughter or grandchild knows this.
Take that as a starting point for your arguments.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 26 August 2017 at 04:48 PM
I know Rashmii initiated the move to publish MWTE as a result of us, Francis Nii, Martyn Namorong and myself attending the Brisbane Writers festival last year.
The idea came up during our panel discussion after a superb presentation by Francis Nii on the work of the Simbu Writers Association in his province.
I have also written a new book 'Survivor: Alive in Mum's Loving Arms' after my visit to Australia. A photo of us in front of the Queensland State Library and others are on the back cover of the book – as a permanent reminder.
If it had been published on time and if there was no election violence here in the highlands, I would have been joining Rashmii, Phil and other contributors of MWTE on the Sunshine Coast.
I also wanted to meet another writer and former ABC correspondent, Sean Dorney who had quoted me in one of his earlier books.
And like Jordan Dean, I am helping to write two of my friend's books. We hope to attend the International Readers and Writers Festival on the Sunshine Coast or the Brisbane Writers Festival next year.
My advice to Rashmii is to continue on with promoting women in your country. Publish that second Anthology and work with people you are comfortable with.
By reviving literature in PNG, Keith and Phil have shown us the way. There is Oxford University Press, UPNG Press, Creatspace and Amazon and others.
PNG writers who wish to see their work published, go to Jordan Dean, Francis Nii or come to me.
Posted by: Daniel Kumbon | 26 August 2017 at 03:32 PM
As a contributor to MWTE I am deeply saddened that the success of the book has been marred by a few people.
It was never about fame or glory, and that was mentioned from the start. It was about the cause - walking toward equality.
I'm sure we could have achieved a lot more or even have made a greater impact if all the writers supported the cause and also if there was a lot more local support.
As a young writer coming into the writing community in PNG it seems almost a fierce world. I now know few writers not because of their work but because of their attitudes.
Am I to throw myself into a world where my actions, effort and personal life will be judged and critiqued? Am I going to be ridiculed or publicly shamed? Indeed, we writers have created a blockade for ourselves.
Posted by: Leila Parina | 26 August 2017 at 12:11 PM
"We don't need 'women' in parliament. We need leaders. Women need to stop trying to hold Parliament at ransom on account of their gender as a sense of entitlement".
Sally Tadabe posted on her Facebook wall some months ago. To me, she is absolutely right. Sally is a lawyer and an intelligent one.
There's a dichotomy I see in the views of women in PNG. Women don't need equality. What women need is self-recognition. Because these arguments place emphasis on the wrong things.
Women are not the 'weaker sex' nor unequal. Women should rethink how they interact with patriarchal structures and rethink their measures of success.
A woman who no longer feels she has to prove who she is and what she does feels valuable. She feels appreciated, free and equal. She knows this is her birthright. The only way women will begin to feel valued is when they begin to value themselves.
From observation, while some PNG women scream for equality, others run after men with money, date or marry jerks.
And I know a lot of who make a lot of noise in the media about GBV but are victims themselves almost every week. I find it pathetic when they can't dump the idiot and find someone better.
Rather than screaming inequality, we should focus on showing role models of women who have a healthy self-worth and who has no need to compete with the masculine.
My mum is one such role model. Dad retired in 2007. Mum became the bread winner and still is to date. She paid my fees at UPNG. So as my siblings. We lived under her roof per se. Dad had no issues with it. He does odd jobs to support mum. She doesn't need to attend a 'women empowerment' meeting, rally or movement to prove her worth because we (including dad) love and respect her.
The only thing that is real is how you feel about yourself and how you choose to show up in your own life every glorious day. You will show yourself that you are worthy of respect and develop a greater self-acceptance.
It's time for women to change their collective feminine story.
Re: MWTE. I personally encouraged several women to publish their writing and contribute to the anthology. Even forced others to contribute. I also published two books for Julie Mota. I am currently working on another book (poetry) by another PNG woman to be published soon.
Did it free of charge for the love of seeing PNG literature grow. Someone give me a Queen's award already (just kidding)
I look forward to the day when we can judge someone based on merits and not gender.
Rashmi - Keep writing. Let them talk. It would be fair (equality right?) if some of the writers/contributors of MWTE other than the same ones accompany you in some of the MWTE invitations. Just a suggestion.
Posted by: Jordan Dean | 26 August 2017 at 11:30 AM
When Keith and I set up the Crocodile Prize we thought it was necessary to have a special category for women's writing.
We quickly abandoned this category when it became abundantly clear that PNG had many talented female writers.
In subsequent years many of the prizes were carried off by women - it was close to a 50/50 split between male and female writers.
We thought this was a thing to be celebrated and, importantly, opened up a significant avenue to promote the cause of equality.
This kind of thinking led to the publication of the women's anthology, 'My Walk to Equality'.
Unfortunately the anthology attracted a deluge of misogynistic spite, from both men and women. This spite involved both sexism and racism.
One of the most surprising sources of these nasty and unnecessary attacks was from the organising committee of the Crocodile Prize.
Such a statement of bias is profoundly troubling and does not augur well for the future of the prize and, indeed, women's participation in it.
This has had a severe impact on the women writer's involved, especially those who edited it or helped out in other ways by providing artwork and promoting the book.
Those poor women are now reeling from the effects of this backlash and are adamant that they will not follow through with a planned second anthology.
We are hoping that with time they will reconsider their position and take up the cause again but we are not hopeful.
Papua New Guinea has a reputation for taking good things and twisting them so much they become unrecognisable and counterproductive.
We wonder whether this is what has happened to PNG literature over the years since independence. Back then a vibrant literary culture was slowly strangled and began to die.
Perhaps our attempts to revive it are doomed to failure too.
If the treatment of PNG's women writers exhibited in this last episode is anything to go by our hopes for a healthy future where talented men and women publish enlightening work that guides the future of this new nation may be misguided.
Over the course of the last seven years or so we have seen a remarkable renaissance in PNG literature, largely driven by PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize.
The many writers who have come to prominence through these efforts has been incredibly heartening. There is not room to name them all here and recount their achievements.
But as we hold this shining prize in our hands it has suddenly begun to crumble and fall apart.
We fear that all that will be left are a few crumbs around our feet.
We hope that is not the case.
I, for one, am not prepared to continue on if it means leaving the women writers of PNG behind. That would be a profoundly stupid thing to do.
This thing has to be healed now.
And it is the men of PNG who have to come humbly forward with their shame on display asking for forgiveness.
To continue blaming the women for their success is not an option.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 26 August 2017 at 10:13 AM
An important and considered piece. I hope several contributor writers of MWTE will respond.
Is PNG stuffed? I can confidently say that attempts to encourage and develop more PNG writers and its' literature is at present, stuffed. By none other than the writers themselves
A handful of PNG women are doing a terrific job at aiding PNG men to remain entrenched in their misogyny, and dare I say, racism. A lesson that I've learnt, dished out cruelly on numerous occasions, throughout the near-twelve months of the MWTE project.
Would I participate in another PNG writers anthology publication project? Not likely.
Definitely not, if the attitudes and values of those within the current PNG literary circle toward PNG women, doesn't change.
Posted by: Rashmii Bell | 25 August 2017 at 05:21 PM