RASHMII AMOAH BELL
Tomorrow, at the Brisbane Writers Festival, before a sell-out audience, a panel of Papua New Guinean women writers will discuss the landmark anthology, My Walk to Equality, its impacts and repercussions. To mark this occasion, we reproduce here extracts from a presentation Rashmii Bell made to the recent Sunshine Coast Writers Festival.
COOLUM – My Walk to Equality is a collaboration of 45 women writers from Papua New Guinea, the first all-women’s anthology to be produced from our country.
Since being published its 7,000 print run has been distributed widely throughout PNG, Australia, the Pacific Islands and other parts of the world including the US and UK.
One of PNG’s foremost journalists Scott Waide recently wrote about the excess of stories highlighting violence against Papua New Guinean women and the millions in foreign aid being poured into the country to address this pandemic: the emphasis always on the problem rather than solutions.
There has been a related absence of reporting on the proactive steps being taken by Papua New Guineans, particularly women.
The article was a familiar expression of the exasperation I’ve often experienced: the dedication to portraying PNG women as helpless, incapable and lacking initiative – a portrayal not only seen within our nation but also in the international media.
At around this time last year, I presented as part of a panel of PNG writers at the Brisbane Writers Festival. At the end of our discussion, audience members expressed sentiments along the lines of “we want to hear more positive stories from Papua New Guinea”.
So today we have My Walk to Equality - a volume of essays, stories and poetry recording the voices of PNG women, naming the injustices they face each day.
But the writers go further by highlighting the individual, proactive and positive contributions each is making to reduce the barriers to which PNG women have been subjected.
Yes, the writers speak of gender-based violence, limited access to education, workplace harassment and cases of exploitation often associated with PNG. But the focus of the anthology shows how each writer associated herself with actively contributing to change.
The act of Papua New Guinean women writing and being published is an undervalued yet crucial mechanism for increasing our visibility and conveying and strengthening our voice.
We must be heard both domestically and internationally as part of the conversation around PNG’s progress as an independent nation, particularly how PNG women are portrayed as agents of change.
Papua New Guinean women writers must take the lead in changing the present narrative.
PNG has just completed a general election. It is a country with a very poor record of women’s political representation. Of 111 seats, only three were occupied by PNG women during the last parliament.
But in this new parliament (2017-2022), no women occupy seats.
Now is the time that our women writers must partner with writing and publishing literature to ensure our voices are heard and addressed to bringing change within Papua New Guinea.