After 2017s wipeout, what’s next for women in PNG politics?
PNG’s body a bit under the weather but better days ahead

On opportunity, creativity, reciprocity & equity for PNG women


BRISBANE - I’m always thankful for an opportunity.

'Opportunity - a time or set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.'

I particularly cherish and admire individuals who create opportunities to promote the writing and reading of Papua New Guinea-authored literature.

For example Bob Cleland, Michael Dom, Dr Genevieve Nelson, Ed Brumby and PNG journalists Leiao Gerega and Ogia Miamel. And of course there is the ever-supportive duo of Keith Jackson and Phil Fitzpatrick, as well my mentors Joan and Murray Bladwell.

In 2015, following an initiative taken by Bob Cleland to meet the organisers of Brisbane Writers Festival, a small PNG-focused group convened over lunch in Brisbane to discuss the opportunity it presented.

The group comprised Bob, Jimmy Drekore, Joycelin Leahy, Murray Bladwell, Rob Parer and Keith Jackson and the goal was to establish a pathway for PNG writers to participate in this internationally renowned literary gathering.

Thus an opportunity was created that proved to be the beginning of the journey, the backstory if you like, which led to the eventual publication of My Walk to Equality - the first ever collection of PNG women’s writing which had dual launches in Port Moresby and Brisbane in March this year.

At the Brisbane launch at Milton’s Mary Ryan Bookshop, I was thrilled to meet and then receive an invitation from Zoe Pollock, artistic director and chief executive of the Brisbane Writers Festival, to present MWTE at Queensland’s premier literary event.

It was a great opportunity that took us to here. Or, let me rephrase, a series of opportunities created by a handful of people interested in encouraging the growth of PNG’s contemporary literature, particularly literature produced by the nation’s women.

As it transpired, MWTE got two moments in the spotlight at this month's festival: it featured in an all-PNG women writers' panel and again in a domestic-violence-in-literature panel where I spoke alongside prominent authors Kerrie Davies and Michael Sala.

This is a tale of wonderful opportunities. But of the opportunists, I am not fond at all. 'Opportunist: A person who takes advantage of opportunities as and when they arise, regardless of planning or principle.'

Putting that aside, however, let me review the outcome so far of this wonderful literary opportunity.

In its 55th year, the 2017 Brisbane festival was delivered under the catchphrase, ‘The big stories and the little ones in between’. The festival offered a fitting platform to introduce the audience to the focus of MWTE, which I did in my introductory comments:

My Walk to Equality contains the big stories of PNG that you’ll often hear and see conveyed through the media. But its emphasis is on the little ones in between – the voices of Papua New Guinean women, who are under-represented in the delivery of the big stories, and particularly our role in re-framing the current narrative.”

Elvina Ogil, Tania Basiou and Vanessa Gordon articulately delivered to an engaged audience a vivid snapshot of their part in the book. It was a memorable hour: PNG women writers leading a conversation based on PNG women-authored literature and conveying the insights, stories and opinions of PNG women and their role in reducing nationwide inequality.

Here was literature on display as a critical mechanism to amplify PNG women’s voices in an otherwise male-dominated dialogue. This was always a key goal of MWTE.

In my role as project chair and editor of the book, I have observed that what is common among the individuals who have facilitated the wide reach of MWTE is an unwavering respect, understanding and appreciation for the end goals of the collection.

And as things turned out, the effort invested for success was accorded reciprocity and equal weight by the outcome.

Selling like hot cakes.....It was a remarkable opportunity, created for me by Pukpuk Publications and PNG Attitude, to be able to curate and oversee delivery of MWTE, in the process creating further opportunities for 44 PNG women writers.

As the first phase of the MWTE project comes to an end, I am confident and delighted with the team’s efforts throughout the past year.

And, as also happened in 2016, the Brisbane festival audience provided inspiration for the future direction of this project.

Continuing in the capacity of project chair, I look forward to aligning the MWTE brand with PNG writers, women and men, who convey values and issues that are feminist and pro-gender equity in political participation and representation in PNG’s national parliament.


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Rashmii Bell

Overdue, Michael:) It was an honour to have you respond to my first piece of writing published on PNG Attitude: 'Let the C word run free: desperately seeking collaboration'.

MWTE has always been about MWTE. I won't engage in any dialogue that seeks to promote a division between the PNG-based writers and those in the diaspora.

The distinction was made to highlight that the Port Moresby-based contributors were organising a PNG event to coincide with the PNG writers (Brisbane and Sydney-based) representing MWTE at Brisbane Writers Festival 2017.

This pitting of women writers against each other is not something the MWTE project's culture has entertained or encouraged throughout the past 12 months.

I'm not clear on this notion of what constitutes an "authentic voice" of PNG - and you'll see my reasons in my previously published piece about the many faces of Barbie, the PNG way (I've forgotten the exact title).

Restraints: of course the diaspora writers don't have permanent presence in PNG. But given the fragmented support for PNG writers/literary culture, I think it's fair to say we're all on an equal and level playing field.

Write more, publish more - via PNG Attitude, Pukpuk Publications, personal accounts on social media platforms etc. Be consistent.

Personally, I've utilised only these three as the primary avenues to circulate my writing and with it has come the confidence and networks to further my writing development and aspirations.

Rashmii continues her examination of some of the constraints on PNG women (and women writers) being accepted into discourse in an article in tomorrow's PNG Attitude - KJ

Michael Dom

Thanks for the honourable mention Rashmii.

The success of MWTE publication is a boon to the women's agenda which it advocates - showing what women writers can do when they get together.

Your team of powerwalking women, Elvina, Tania and Vanessa, and the whole network behind you all have done a great job of promoting local voices from PNG to an Australian and to international audiences.

This success is based on no small part to the opportunities and freedoms which PNG women enjoy in Australia and elsewhere overseas.

Women writers based in PNG are more 'restrained' by others and not only men, but also by themselves.

But they do live in the homeland and have the benefit of an authentic voice.

What women writers in PNG and abroad need to determine is how they can make the best use of their mutual advantages.

PNG men should stand and wait, if they too would serve.

One man standing.

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