Papua New Guinea

‘Our cultures are changing and they are changing in favour of men and this has further marginalised women. There is this expectation from men that we still play our traditional roles while they move on.’

Ms Ume Wainetti, former National Program Coordinator of Papua New Guinea Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee.1

Papua New Guinea has a population of more than seven million people. There are over 800 languages spoken in Papua New Guinea, demonstrating its extensive cultural diversity. Remoteness of most of the population and extremely poor infrastructure adds to the challenge of delivering nationwide programs. Gender inequality is a major social, economic and political issue and shifting some of the critical barriers to women’s equality from household to national level will take a concentrated and targeted approach. This is not possible across the whole country. Papua New Guinea ranks at 154 of the 188 countries on the Human Development Index, despite being resource rich country.

Leadership and Decision Making

Papua New Guinean women are underrepresented in political leadership and senior public service roles. Many decision-making structures including in customary, religious and private spheres are dominated by men. The Government of Papua New Guinea has amended laws and policies to promote equality, but there has been insufficient support for women to act effectively in leadership roles and bring additional benefits to women in their communities. Although the 2017 national elections saw an increase to five percent in the number of women candidates as a percentage, from 3.5 per cent in 2012 to 5 per cent in 2017, no women were elected into parliament.

Economic Empowerment

Women who are economically secure are better able to seek out education and health services, leave violent relationships and have expanded opportunities to take on leadership or decision-making roles in their households, communities and workplaces. Gender norms and attitudes constrain women’s work and economic opportunities and hamper productivity. About 38 per cent of women in Papua New Guinea are in waged employment, and eight per cent of small or medium enterprises are wholly women-owned. But restricted mobility, relative isolation from markets and limited formal economic opportunities see many women operating in a dual economy where they barter produce with neighbouring villages instead of participating in the cash economy.

Ending Violence Against Women

Rates of violence against women in Papua New Guinea are high, with an estimated two thirds of women affected. A recent study with a number of businesses in Papua New Guinea on the cost of violence found that family and sexual violence resulted in an average loss of 11.1 days for every staff member each year, costing these business between 2 and 9 per cent of their salary bills. With support from Australia, the Government of Papua New Guinea has established Family Support Centres in hospitals, set up Family and Sexual Violence Units in many police stations, amended existing legislation, and endorsed the National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender Based Violence 2016–2025. Despite these changes, efforts to end violence against women in Papua New Guinea remain fragmented and rates of violence are still unacceptably high.

Enhancing Agency

Gender issues are gaining momentum in Papua New Guinea and are becoming an important aspect of the country’s changing political and national development policies. Papua New Guinea has ratified the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Key Statistics

Leadership and Decision Making

Papua New Guinea’s Parliament has no women as of the 2017 national election.

Only seven women ever elected to Parliament in 40 years.12

The Organic Law on Provincial and Local Level Government requires two female nominees in local-level government. This should translate into the appointment of approximately 12,000 women in wards and local-level governments, but compliance is low.13

Women are equally represented, with men, at Community Government level across the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

By June 2014, women occupied 23 per cent of all senior management positions and 31 per cent of middle management positions in Papua New Guinea’s central government agencies but are poorly represented at provincial level and within the uniformed services.14


Economic Empowerment

Economic Empowerment62 per cent of women participate in the labour force.

38 per cent of women versus 66 per cent of men are in waged employment.15

46 per cent of women versus 15 per cent of men are involved in the informal sector.16

8 per cent of small or medium enterprises are wholly woman-owned and 26 per cent have at least 50 per cent female ownership, consistently across urban, rural and remote locations of Papua New Guinea. This compares with 88 per cent with at least 50 per cent male ownership.17

It is estimated that less than 37 per cent of Papua New Guinean adults have bank accounts and that less than 12.5 per cent of women hold deposit accounts.18


Ending Violence Against Women

Ending Violence Against WomenAn estimated two-thirds of women are affected by physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.19

Women in the National Capital District, report they are 5 times more likely to be victimised at home than on the street.20

44 per cent of the 130 cases of family and sexual violence treated each month at the Port Moresby, Tari and Maprik Family Support Centres between 2007-2014 were for rape.21

78 per cent of surveyed women engaging in transactional sex had been sexually abused in the previous year.22

Recent work with a number of Papua New Guinean firms found that the impact of family and sexual violence resulted in the loss of 11 days on average for every staff member every year.  Costing those businesses between 2 and 9 per cent of their salary bills.23


Enhancing Agency

32.4 per cent is the contraceptive prevalence rate of women aged between 15-49.

As of 2014 the gender parity radio had increased to 90 per cent for early primary years, 80 per cent for primary school but fell to 64 per cent (from 68 per cent in 2002) for secondary education.24

60 per cent of women are literate compared to 65 per cent of men.25

Note: Statistics in this section are from the Asian Development Bank (2016) Gender Statistics: The Pacific and Timor Leste report unless otherwise stated.

Partnership with Pacific Women

Through Pacific Women, the Australian Government will spend approximately AU$66.4 million over ten years (2012-2022) on initiatives supporting women’s empowerment in PNG. Approximately AU$31.9 million has been spent delivering activities in-country (FY2012-2013 to FY2015-2016). More information on the partnership and nature of support is included in the Pacific Women PNG Country Plan Summary 2014-2019 valued at AU$58 million. This is PNG’s second country plan and several of the activities are ongoing and a continuation of the first country plan. Details on activities currently underway in-country with various partners are available via our interactive map. The list of program partners can be found here.

PNG is also supported by Pacific Women’s regional program, details of which can be viewed on the interactive map under regional activities.

Pacific Women works in the following areas within Papua New Guinea

Further Information

Stories of Change


Empowering women starts within the family

Research on the interconnectedness of women’s economic empowerment and their decision making and safety in the family is informing programming to improve women’s livelihoods. A number of Pacific Women funded projects in Papua New Guinea work with husbands and wives together to change how they relate to each other, allowing women to have more control over decisions that affect their lives. This approach is showing that norms can be changed over a short period of time and that these changes are improving livelihoods and income for the entire family.

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Independent, educated voters in Bougainville

Independent, educated voters in Bougainville

The Bougainville Women’s Federation and International Women’s Development Agency are implementing the Voter Education Project to provide education on voting rights and responsibilities. It is having an impact on the way women exercise their right to vote, and on women’s leadership more generally.

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Gender-Smart Safety Resources

The Papua New Guinea Business Coalition for Women, with support from the International Finance Corporation, works with members to develop and adopt policies and practices that encourage the participation and leadership of women in the workplace.

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Pasin Bilong Lukautim Pikinini Gut or Parenting for Child Development

The findings of research are clear that reducing children’s exposure to family violence has significant benefits for their development and has the potential to break the cycle of family violence. A pilot project in Western Highlands and Madang in Papua New Guinea has supported mothers and fathers to learn positive parenting techniques. Following training, parents reported that they know more about child development and have significantly reduced harsh parenting practices.

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1Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development (2015) First Progress Report 2012-2015
2United Nations, Human Development Indicators 2015
3Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015 Estimates by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank Group and the United Nations Population Division
4SPC Stocktake of the Gender Mainstreaming Capacity of Pacific Island Governments (2012) Papua New Guinea
5Department of Personnel Management (2011) Gender Equity and Social Policy
6SPC Stocktake of the Gender Mainstreaming Capacity of Pacific Island Governments (2012) Papua New Guinea
7Asian Development Bank (2016) Gender Statistics: The Pacific and Timor Leste
8Asian Development Bank (2016) Country Partnership Strategy: Papua New Guinea, 2016–2020, Gender Analysis Summary
9World Bank et al (2013) Papua New Guinea Country Gender Assessment 2011–2012
10Economist Intelligence Unit (2012) Women’s Economic Opportunity 2012
11Ganster-Breidler, M., (2010) Gender based violence and the impact on women’s health and well-being in Papua New Guinea, Contemporary PNG Studies, Vol 13, November. While national statistics are not available, this study used a validated WHO instrument designed for multi-country use. 65 3 per cent of 200 women surveyed in rural areas in coastal, highland and island provinces in 2009 were identified as survivors of family and sexual violence.
12World Bank et al (2013) Papua New Guinea Country Gender Assessment 2011–2012
13Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (2016) Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration Trend Assessment Report 2012-2016
14Haley, N., (2015) Australian National University State of the Service – Women’s Participation in the PNG Public Service In Brief 2015/60
15Asian Development Bank (2016) Country Partnership Strategy: Papua New Guinea, 2016–2020, Gender Analysis Summary
16Asian Development Bank (2016) Country Partnership Strategy: Papua New Guinea, 2016–2020, Gender Analysis Summary
17Tebbutt Research (2014) Report for SME Baseline survey for the Small-Medium Enterprise Access to Finance Project. Prepared for the Government of PNG.
18Information available on the Centre for Excellence in Financial Inclusion website to 31 March 2017.
19Ganster-Breidler, M., (2010) Gender based violence and the impact on women’s health and well-being in Papua New Guinea, Contemporary PNG Studies, Vol 13, November. While national statistics are not available, this study used a validated WHO instrument designed for multi-country use. 65 3 per cent of 200 women surveyed in rural areas in coastal, highland and island provinces in 2009 were identified as survivors of family and sexual violence.
202009 National Capital District Crime Victimisation survey. Cited in Lakhani, S. and Willman, A.M. (2014) Trends in crime and violence in Papua New Guinea, World Bank: Research and dialogue series: the socio-economic costs of crime and violence in Papua New Guinea Paper no.1.
21UNDP, The Equality Institute, and the Department for Community Development and Religion. (2016) Understanding Gender-Based Violence to Secure Sustainable Development in Papua New Guinea. Port Moresby: UNDP and the Department for Community Development and Religion.
22Norbetus, M. (ND – 2010 research) Link between gender-based violence (GBV) and most at risk populations (MARPs), PowerPoint presentation, FHI360. Cited in UNDP, The Equality Institute, and the Department for Community Development and Religion. (2016) Understanding Gender-Based Violence to Secure Sustainable Development in Papua New Guinea. Port Moresby: UNDP and the Department for Community Development and Religion.
23Emily, D. et al (2015) Gender violence in Papua New Guinea The cost to business: Overseas Development Institute.
24Department of National Planning and Monitoring/UNDP (2015) Papua New Guinea – Millennium Development Goals Final Summary Report 2015
25UNDP (2016) Seeding Social Enterprise in Papua New Guinea