Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is at a pivotal point in its development. With its gross domestic product expected to grow over 20 percent in 2015 as a result of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, PNG has a unique opportunity to meaningfully advocate for women’s full integration and participation into the economy. More...
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is at a pivotal point in its development. With its gross domestic product expected to grow over 20 percent in 2015 as a result of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, PNG has a unique opportunity to meaningfully advocate for women’s full integration and participation into the economy.
PNG is comprised of a mainland island and more than 600 other islands, and is home to 7.4 million people and approximately 800 languages. Through employment, entrepreneurship, and, most of all, subsistence agriculture, women participate in PNG’s labor force at a rate that is among the highest in the world. At 71 percent, that rate is consistent with the average of developing East Asian and Pacific Island countries (71.3 percent), higher than the average among high-income countries (64 percent), and relatively close to the rate at which men in PNG participate (74 percent), according to the World Bank/International Labor Organization.
Yet the fact of women’s robust economic participation in PNG cannot dispel the harshness of the conditions under which most of them work. In the 2015 Human Development Index (HDI)—which measures access to the means to a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and standards of living—the United Nations ranked PNG 158 out of 187 economies. Most girls and women in PNG have fewer years of education than boys; face grave threats of physical and sexual violence from the men in their households and communities; and rarely have the means to acquire real property, take out loans to support their enterprises, or direct their livelihoods in such a way as to gain some independence or prosperity. Though girls born into urban or more prosperous conditions generally fare better than their rural or poorer counterparts, opportunities for adult women to work as equals—whether on family farms, in their own businesses, or for formal employers—are nearly overwhelmed by societal inequality and security concerns.
During this decade, against a backdrop of rapid economic growth directly attributable to the proliferation of extractive industries (including massive investment in LNG and three new gold mines), more attention has been paid to understanding the conditions affecting women in PNG’s economy. Competition for skilled labor is fierce, and local educational institutions are unable to turn out graduates that fulfill demands. As a result, most foreign investors are forced to look abroad for qualified workers. At the same time, demand for goods and services has expanded, including many requirements that can be met locally (e.g., food, lodging, transport, and staffing). PNG’s economy greatly depends on international trade (74.1 percent of GDP, 18th in the world) and on agriculture (35.8 percent of GDP, 10th in the world). PNG’s predicted positive economic turn heightens the importance of “ensuring that government policies effectively and efficiently help PNG’s emerging entrepreneurs do business,” as summarized by the World Bank. That a vast number of PNG’s women remain isolated, poorly educated, and routinely abused is increasingly recognized as a crisis in both human development and economic opportunity.
PNG’s underlying social structure of wantok—literally, “someone who speaks my language” – is a critical network that affects nearly everyone in the economy. Wantoks are the basis for many cultural practices, both positive and negative. For example, close family relations supply a safety net that allows PNG to avoid fundamental challenges of hunger and care of its neediest citizens. Practical services oriented toward this system—such as money-transferring services —are established in acknowledgement of the cultural depth and importance of the system. Yet the system also prioritizes family relations and obligations over the important values of transparency, equal opportunity, accountability for debts, and even law and order. Access to markets for women—including their access to information, inputs for their goods, transportation, and business connections¾often rely significantly on their respective wantoks in PNG. The wantok system can restrict accumulation of capital for investment, because attempts to save, particularly by women, are often defeated by requests for assistance from family members. At the same time, the system allows many individuals to minimize their own productive efforts by relying on the support of others. While an apparent desire to escape wantok wealth-dissipation clearly drives increased savings, the traditional system also affects the collection and enforcement of debts. According to USAID’s analysis of agricultural markets in 2011, lenders have found that it is difficult to enforce delinquent loans—whether through repossession of collateral or simply pressure to pay unsecured debt—in places where the lender can be considered an “outsider.” Consequently, risk premiums are higher and access to credit is lower for communities that do not have their own formal lending branches.
The cultural and security context in PNG inhibits the ability of women succeed as entrepreneurs. Today, PNG’s upward growth projections present a critical opportunity for public and private stakeholders to facilitate change. As stated by PNG’s former Minister of Treasury, Hon. Don Pomb Polye, “The whole of society benefits from the gender equity. It is our starting point in addressing the future of [PNG] because it makes good economic sense and is crazy to talk, on one hand, about empowerment and engagement, [and] on the other [hand], effectively exclude half of our population from playing a role.”
As a threshold constraint on developing business networks, women in PNG experience a serious deficit in physical networks—that is, basic connections afforded by passable roads, bridges, and access to electricity. As detailed in USAID’s Agricultural Commercial Legal and Institutional Reform (AgCLIR) report, published in 2012, the vast majority of women in PNG work in the agriculture sector, typically at a subsistence level. Men focus on traditional export-targeted cash crops (such as coffee, copra, rubber, and cocoa), while women, often supporting the production of cash crops, manage household gardens and food crops. Their access to markets in PNG is thus constrained not only by the value and marketability of the perishable items they tend to produce, but also by poor quality roads, lack of affordable transportation (which takes place mostly via public motor vehicles), and the high cost of fuel. Many women do not venture beyond their rural communities due to concerns over personal security. In a 2009-2010 Household Survey, more than 60 percent of female respondents reported that they are wary of working far from their homes, traveling at night, or even engaging in such ordinary activities as shopping, driving, or fetching water.
Still, a number of “intangible” networks in PNG lay a foundation for helping women develop their enterprises. An array of long-established business organizations–such as the Manufacturers Council of PNG, the Rural Industries Council, and the Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry —are dominated by larger, male-owned companies, but they are increasingly open to the participation of successful, women-owned enterprises. For higher-value, formal companies owned by women, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, formed in Port Moresby in 2013, aims to draw members from across the economy and provide training to start-up enterprises launched by women. For rural women, particularly those operating informal enterprises, networks are often associated with the National Council of Women (NCW), which is supposed to be the umbrella organization for all women’s groups in the economy. It is comprised of regional provincial councils of varying capacities, and many individual associations that support women have affiliated to the NCW.
Cooperatives and informal agricultural associations also provide important networking and business development opportunities. For example, the Nasuapum Floriculture women’s group, located outside Lae, has opened a bank account and engaged in collective and individual selling. The group has been relatively successful although they could benefit from additional training on growing techniques and pest management. Other examples include Oriatz Women’s Cooperative and Butibum Floriculture Women, also situated in rural areas near Lae. Churches are also an important base for organization and capacity-building of women, but many are reportedly grounded in women’s traditional roles as wives and mothers, and less so as economic actors needing to support a household.
Networks that support women’s access to capital and assets:
Networks that support women’s access to markets:
Networks that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business:
Networks that support women’s leadership, voice and agency:
Networks that support women and innovation and technology:
Although PNG’s private sector is dominated by men, the community of large investors in the economy actively promotes women’s entrepreneurship and networking opportunities. The economy’s projected growth will likely aid in increased foreign investment and an elevated investment climate for foreign private sector initiatives. The U.S. State Department notes that PNG “welcomes foreign investment and the [economy] has a liberal investment regime.” This environment, with a tide of accelerated growth approaching, highlights PNG’s need for women’s economic empowerment from the private sector from hiring processes, to providing learning opportunities on financial literacy, to connecting women’s enterprises to international markets.
As detailed in USAID’s 2012 report on agricultural markets, to persuade employers to invest in training, companies in PNG with annual payrolls exceeding PGK 200,000 per year must pay a two-percent training levy each year. Qualifying expenses incurred in training citizen-employees reduces the amount of the levy payable. Large international companies provide training for male and female workers alike, ranging from in-house management programs to overseas degree programs. Funds from the training levy are channeled to public adult education programs, as well as the economy’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programs.
Initiatives that support women’s access to capital and assets:
Initiatives that support women’s access to markets:
Initiatives that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business:
Initiatives that support women’s leadership, voice and agency:
Initiatives that support women and innovation and technology:
PNG’s government affirms its prioritization of gender integration and participation and that is evident in its adoption of a gender mainstreaming policy in 1990. The government lack of resources that inhibits its ability to provide many direct services to women entrepreneurs. In its vision through 2050, the domestic government of PNG includes women’s empowerment as a strategic pillar of its plan:
Women comprise some 50 percent of the country’s population, but are underutilized. At present, women comprise some 30 percent of the work force, fewer than 40 percent of the combined gross enrolment ratio for primary, secondary and tertiary education, and 50.9 percent of literate adults aged 15 and older. There are very few women in management, leadership, and decision-making roles in the workplace… Greater participation of women must be encouraged at all levels of society.