Ridding Papua New Guinea of ‘Big Man’ Culture Will Take Time, Change of Mindsets, Delegate Says, Presenting First Report to Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee

22 July 2010
WOM/1815

Ridding Papua New Guinea of ‘Big Man’ Culture Will Take Time, Change of Mindsets, Delegate Says, Presenting First Report to Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee

22 July 2010
General Assembly
WOM/1815
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

939th & 940th Meetings (AM & PM)

Ridding Papua New Guinea of ‘Big Man’ Culture Will Take Time, Change of Mindsets,

Delegate Says, Presenting First Report to Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee

Women’s Lack of Participation in Parliament — Only One Woman Member — Hampers

Progress, but Government Managed to Reform Criminal Code, Create Women’s Machinery

Fifteen years after ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Papua New Guinea was still struggling to change entrenched cultural attitudes and norms that kept women from attaining crucial government and political positions and contributed to high rates of violence against them, the country’s delegation told the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee today.

Carol Kidu, the head of the delegation who served as the country’s Minister for Community Development and was the sole female in the 181-member Parliament, acknowledged the long delay in reporting — the country presented its combined initial, second and third report today — which she said was caused by financial constraints and limited technology.

Cultural norms had a detrimental impact on the perception of women as leaders and created major barriers to women’s entry into decision-making positions, she said.  Ridding the country of the “Big Man” culture took time because it was embedded in tribal culture and many systems of governance.  Change was also impeded by the image of leadership that people demanded and expected from their community and political leaders.

Women’s lack of participation in Parliament then hampered the passage of crucial legislation, such as reforms to the Criminal Code that would protect women from harassment or violence, or combat commercial sex trafficking, she said.  Even modest gains, such as the new Office for the Development of Women, created in 2009, had not been enough — the Office was not located in the Prime Minister’s Office as had been planned and it operated under tight budgetary constraints.

When asked by experts why the country had not used special temporary measures — the subject of the Convention’s article 4 — to move women more quickly into political life, jobs and the educational system, Ms. Kidu said the civil society sector had been trying to achieve that goal for several decades.  But the effort had been “knocked back” by Parliament.  It would not be easy.  “It was difficult to challenge cultural attitudes,” she admitted, adding that that shift could take another generation.  “The country had to break the age of tokenism,” she said, referring to women’s low participation in political and government life.

Nevertheless, experts commended the Government for its efforts to weave the articles of the Convention into its national legislation, but were also quick to note that with more than 800 languages spoken throughout this country of 6.5 million people, the Government also needed to address the Convention’s dissemination into other languages.  They were also concerned about women’s access to legal support and the judicial system.  More than 1,000 village courts were often the only judicial bodies available to women and even the delegation admitted “straightaway” that that was problematic; only now, policies mandated that there be one woman in every village court, and training for their judges was under way.

Almost across the board, experts were concerned about embedded cultural traditions that endangered women’s lives.  One emerging and worrying trend were cases in which women suspected of being sorcerers were being tortured and killed.  The delegation said that, while there was no special legislation on sorcery, those cases, which it reported were increasing, were being investigated and any person could be charged under the normal Criminal Code.  Though there was a traditional belief in sorcery, the identification of women as sorcerers and their subsequent torturing and killing them was not part of any tradition, delegates explained.

The experts also raised the need for legislation on child pornography, human trafficking and sexual harassment in the workplace.  One expert noted that women who worked on plantations worked in near slave-like conditions.  With some reports indicating that 75 per cent of the women in Papua New Guinea had experienced domestic violence, it was agreed that work must intensify to address the high rates of violence, including sexual violence and coercion, against them.

Delegates described the Government’s efforts to introduce legislation that would elevate women’s status in the country, such as the recent Cabinet endorsement of an organic law on gender equality and participation.  Though not ideal, piecemeal legislative reforms, such as the 2002 reform to the Criminal Code on rape and sexual violence, had set new benchmarks and helped to change attitudes and practices.  The country’s labour laws were also being reviewed and revised to ensure that they complied with international conventions signed by the country.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 23 July, to consider the exceptional report of India.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the combined initial to third periodic report of Papua New Guinea (document CEDAW/C/PNG/3).

The delegation, led by Carol Kidu, Minister for Community Development, included Robert G. Aisi, Permanent Representative of Papua New Guinea to the United Nations, and also from the Mission, Dino Mas, as well as:  Joseph Klapat, Secretary of Community Development; George Minjihau, State Solicitor; George Arua, Acting Secretary, Department of Labour and Employment; Theresa Siaguru, Principal Advisor-Social and Development, Office of Prime Minister and National Executive Council; Ruby Zarriga, Deputy Secretary, Department of National Planning and District Development; Brian Nakrakundi, Assistant Secretary (Gender), Department for Community Development; Walipe Wengi, Assistant Secretary, Department of Education; and Maryline Kajoi, Executive Director-Office for Women, Department for Community Development.

Also in the delegation was Karen Kaive, First Assistant Secretary (Gender), Department for Community Development; Rhoda Yani, Senior Programme Officer, Department of National Planning and District Development; Helen Saleu, Industrial Registrar, Department of Labour and Employment; William Lagani, Senior Medical Officer, Department of Health; Cecilia Kagena, Director-International Organizations Branch, Department of Agriculture and Livestock; Manna Kakarouts, Representative, Autonomous Bougainville Government; Gayle Tatsi, Representative, Autonomous Bougainville Government; and James Noglai, Assistant Director, International Organizations Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Introduction to Report

Introducing the combined initial, second and third periodic report of Papua New Guinea, Ms. KIDU, the Minister for Community Development, acknowledged the nearly 15-year delay in the submission of its report.  Constraints in the country’s financial situation and technical knowledge prevented it from fulfilling its reporting obligations after 1995.  Papa New Guinea had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1995, without any reservations.  She said the shadow report and other submissions to the Committee, such as the Amnesty International Report and a report on disability, provided valuable perspectives to guide future Government actions.

She also pointed out that the delegation understood or spoke 29 languages, a small percentage of the 800-plus languages spoken in the country.  Papa New Guinea was located in the Melanesian subregion of the Pacific, with a population of 6.5 million, mostly young adults.  The population growth rate was up to 3 per cent.  More than 80 per cent of the people lived in rural areas, engaged mostly in subsistence agriculture and informal economic activities.  Despite the global economic crisis, Papua New Guinea had experienced steady economic growth based on the exploitation of its rich natural resources, including petroleum and minerals.

Translating its economic growth into improved access to basic services for the remote rural majority and emerging urban poor was a challenge, she said.  Women and young people increasingly made up a large part of the country’s relative poverty.  In many parts of the country, women used to have more power in their societies.  Custom was a very important part of the society and the “wantok” system was a key element of the social environment; it was the safety net under which family and clan members were required to support each other.  However, many of society’s cultural norms had a negative impact on the perception of women as leaders and created major barriers for women’s entry into decision-making positions.

She said that the country was considering the best approach by which to weave the requirements of the Women’s Convention into its domestic laws.  It was also was considering amending its Constitution to enable the creation of an “organic law” to address the traditional and emerging issues of discrimination.  The Cabinet had endorsed the decision to produce an organic law on gender equality and participation.  That was reflected in the Gender Equality and Participation Bill for Reserved Seats in Parliament, now on “Notice Paper”, and the review Gender Equality and Participation Policy, expected to head to the Cabinet late this year.  Before the Cabinet decision, legislative reform that was relevant to the Convention was piecemeal.  Yet the piecemeal reform set new benchmarks, such as the 2002 reform to the Criminal Code on rape and sexual violence, which included removal of the marital defence for rape.  That has changed cultural attitudes, even though successful prosecution under the law was still difficult.

Papua New Guinea’s Constitution was compliant with the Women’s Convention in that it established equality and participation as its second national goal, she said.  The preamble enshrined rights and obligations for all citizens, regardless of gender.  The Constitution recognized custom, but it was clear that any custom that was abhorrent to the dignity of the individual or impinged on the rights of an individual, could be declared unconstitutional.  But another challenge was the static nature of many of the country’s laws; they had remained unchanged since the country’s independence in 1975 and were archaic, reflecting British laws of the 1800s inherited through the Queensland Criminal Code.  The country’s reporting duties were also was hampered by inadequate and poorly coordinated data collection.  Progress in that area was being made with technical assistance from development partners.

The Committee should be well aware of the country’s poor progress towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, she said, adding that this meeting was very important to the women of Papa New Guinea.  She hoped that local media coverage in Papua New Guinea would act as a new impetus for the country’s Millennium Development Goals campaign.  As women’s status improved, so would the social indicators of the Goals.  Those important human rights contracts, such as the Women’s Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the country had acceded, were based on a strongly individual concept of human rights.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked how the Government cooperated with the non-governmental organizations and how projects were funded.  How was the Women’s Convention effective on the national level?  Noting that more than 800 native languages were spoken in the country, had plans been implemented to translate the Convention into different languages?  Did the country have plans to ratify the Optional Protocol or the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment?

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that customary law would not be applied if it was inconsistent with the Constitution.  However, the first recourse for women was the more than 1,000 village courts.  Were those courts informed about the Women’s Convention?  Did women appeal village court decisions to higher courts?  In accessing the legal system, what support was available to women?  As for the development of the organic law on gender equality, would the Women’s Convention be incorporated into that legislation?

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, expressed concern that since “customary law ruled the day”, access to justice, a crucial instrument for women to receive justice under the law, was impeded by the village court system.  What was being done to ensure that the Convention was incorporated into the justice system?

Country Response

The Chair of the delegation stated that non-governmental organizations were usually funded by donor organizations and development partners.  Churches provided 50 per cent of all health and educational services, and the Government provided funding for that to increase service delivery.  Church health services and schools were preferred by the majority of the country’s population.

The Women’s Convention had not been translated, nor was it on the agenda to be translated into Tok Pisin or Hiri Motu, she said.  Provinces and local and regional women’s groups, however, would be encouraged to translate it into their own languages.

She “admitted straightaway” that there was a problem with the village courts being the only court system available to women.  There were programmes and new policies in the law and justice sector to ensure one woman in every village court, and training for village court magistrates and judges was under way.  However, the country’s geography impeded women from accessing higher courts; travelling several days by canoe to reach a higher court was not always possible.  In addition, paralegal training locally was being developed, but that would not encompass the whole nation.

She said she did not agree that customary law did appear to “rule the way”.  The majority of Papua New Guinea’s people were still rural-based and remote from any courts.  However, although there were many abuses of customary laws, those laws were not all negative, and she stressed the need to focus on how to legislate against the abuses rather than the laws.

The new organic law would incorporate the Women’s Convention, she said.  “Theoretically, we are gradually improving,” she said.  Legal aid for women was not available to the degree that it was needed for women, but there were steps to implement equality into village courts.

A delegate speaking further on the application of customary law in the village courts, stated that anyone who was “aggrieved” had the right to appeal to the highest court of the country.  Furthermore, legal aid was available from the Office of the Public Solicitors, and all citizens were entitled to it.  The Public Solicitor’s Office had financial autonomy; it was funded separately from the Department of Justice.  With increased funding, legal aid would be more available.

A delegate from the Ministry of Labour also commented that the National Training Council had allocated funding to train women and other vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities and youth.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, asked about the national machinery on gender equality, such as the recently created Office for the Development of Women, which, she noted, had 14 staff members.  What was its priority?  She said the national machinery should be adequately funded.

Country Response

Ms. KIDU said the country had mechanisms for dialogue with non-governmental organizations on all policy and legislative developments.  That communication was necessary, as policies should not be developed in isolation.

She said that the Office for the Development of Women had not been set up as originally envisioned.  The Office was to have been situated in the Prime Minister’s Office and be a high-powered organization that worked on all issues impacting women.  But, the Office now resided in her ministry, the Ministry for Community Development.  That was a side effect of her being the only female member of Parliament.  She agreed that the women’s machinery needed an adequate budget, and she hoped that eventually there would be a link between it and any future Human Rights Commission.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

NICOLE AMELINE, expert from France, said the use of temporary special measures in all areas of the country, including employment, education and political life, could help the society understand the role of women.  She noted that the country was moving ahead towards equality in a determined way.  It could use quotas in all areas and appoint women to key posts, and not wait for the implementation of laws.  It should send out those signals.

Country Response

Ms. KIDU said the civil society had been pushing for the use of temporary measures for 35 years, but it had been “knocked back” by Parliament.  Such a shift remained in the hands of Parliament, which included one woman and 180 men.  It would not be easy.  It was difficult challenging cultural attitudes.  It would take another generation.  The country had to break the age of tokenism.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

VIOLET TSISIGA AWORE, expert from Kenya, noted the increasing concern about violence against women.  Domestic violence was prevalent in the society.  Some reports estimated that it impacted 75 per cent of the marriages and affected 2 million adult women in the country.  She wanted to know about the status of developing comprehensive laws to deal with the country’s domestic and sexual violence.  What steps were being taken to complement any legislative reforms?

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked what different campaigns were being developed to combat violence against women.  What was the availability of shelters for women?

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, commended the delegation for its report and for the efforts being made to promote women’s equality.  The “unholy alliance” between custom and religion was a great challenge for women.  However, she stressed that the rights of the individual was not to be consumed by the rights of the community.  Women must be respected as individuals, and the State had an obligation to identify and modify the stereotypes that impacted women’s full rights as citizens of Papua New Guinea.

Country Response

On the issue on domestic and family violence, the head of the delegation acknowledged the increasing occurrence of domestic violence in the country.  The traditional customs that had been protective customs had broken down and the new systems were not working.  Although the country report stated that 75 per cent of women had experienced domestic violence, no fully comprehensive data was available and some ethnic groups had more occurrences than others.  There was obviously a need for far more targeted research on the causal reasons for that increase.

She added that the report on domestic violence in the 1980s and the ensuing draft legislation had gotten mired in the legislative process.  It had been reviewed, but had not moved into the Cabinet.  Introduction of draft legislation on domestic violence had to be followed by implementation on a community level.  There were discussions about moving that legislation into the Ministry of Community Development and renaming it the Family Protection legislation.  The name was a bit more “palatable, but what’s in a name?”  However, she would be willing to rename the legislation and get it into law than not.

Female magistrates had worked on incorporating protection and restraining orders into the legal protection of victims of domestic violence, she continued.  However, there was a “weariness” among the police to make arrests, as quite often a woman would withdraw the charges, especially if she was economically dependent on the man.  Community model responses to domestic violence were being explored and police were setting up victim and trauma desks.  However, those were not available nationwide.  At present, it was not possible to give the number of shelters available.  However, non-governmental organizations, in partnership with the Government and others, had established trauma centres at hospitals.  There were also concerns that some of the shelters had stringent guidelines, such as smoking bans, which might be difficult for some of the victims.

Regarding the Sexual Offences Act, she said it needed to be amended.  Again, there was the issue of police reluctance to investigate such crimes because women frequently withdrew the charges.  Often, police would say to the women “are you serious about this or not?”.  However, “instructions from the top were clear” — that perpetrators of such crimes were to be prosecuted.

Turning to campaigns on violence against women, she noted that global campaigns, such as the White Ribbon Campaign, had been acknowledged and acted upon in Papua New Guinea.  Quite a number of men’s and women’s organizations were involved.  However, there was a need to bring such actions to community levels.

She said she understood the concerns about collective rights versus individual rights; however, there were also concerns related to incidents where girls and young women were taught aggressively and in a “western manner” of their individual rights.  Upon their return to their community where such rights were “completely foreign”, they found themselves struggling.  She knew of instances of suicides that had occurred because of that conflict.  In that regard, escape mechanisms were needed, where counselling and support were available to negotiate cultural perspectives and individual rights.

A delegate from the Office of the Development of Women added a comment on the campaigns on violence against women.  There had been an increase in the number of days from 16 to 20 days that acknowledged and celebrated women’s and children’s rights, among them, “Reclaiming the Night”, “Children’s Day”, and “Women’s Day”.

Another delegate spoke about the in-house training for lawyers on sexual violence against women by the Office of the Public Prosecutor, which had also issued internal guidelines on sexual offences and was developing awareness campaigns, among other things.  There were also efforts to educate victims of their rights.

Adding another voice, a delegate said that the Ministry of Community Development had initiated “Being the Best We Can and Saying No to Violence against Women”, which raised awareness of the issue among women.  The campaign targeted front-line workers and it was hoped the initiative would be mainstreamed.

A delegate replied to a request for clarification about the reference in the report to the increasing number of female victims often blamed and then killed for being suspected sorcerers.  He said there was no special legislation on sorcery, but if a person harmed another person, the person would be charged under the normal Criminal Code.

Ms. KIDU said that a resident doctor was investigating the matter, adding that the apparent identification of people as witches and their apparent killing was an emerging and worrying trend.  The sorcery tradition was common in the country, but identifying people as witches and killing them was not a tradition.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, said there was a need for legislation on child pornography.  She noted that the country had passed a child protection act in 2009 and asked what the Government had done to ensure its effective implementation.  One study showed that many sex workers were young, ages 14 to 24, and that 100 per cent reported taking alcohol and drugs while having sex.  Community leaders sometimes were the perpetrators.  What was the Government doing to eradicate that problem?

Regarding human trafficking, she noted that Papa New Guinea was a country both of transit and destination, and asked what it was doing to protect the victims of trafficking.  Could more statistics be provided in that regard?

Country Response

Ms. KIDU said the child protection act was in the implementation rollout phase.  Its progress had been hampered by procedural problems.  Commercial sex trafficking and child sex tourism had been deliberately excluded from the 2002 reforms to the Criminal Code because the term of Parliament was nearing its end.  Those issues involved international law and would have slowed the process of other legislation.  She acknowledged that the country lacked statistics in that area, including on the number of how many people were being commercially trafficked.  There should be more investigation and work in that area.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, urged the Ministry to engage the country’s religious organizations in the interpretation of religious texts and women’s role in society.

ZOHRA RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, wanted to know more about the prosecution of people who had committed the so-called sorcery crimes.

Country Response

MS. KIDU said that Government and churches in Papua New Guinea believed in constructive engagement.  The church doctrine on submissiveness was not true in all churches.  For example, many women received their first experience of leadership through church clubs.

She said that there was no data on sorcery cases or on any charges that might have been pressed.  There was a lot of fear about that issue.  She noted that any unexplained death in the society was frequently attributed to sorcery.  Recent horrific incidents where people were targeted and tortured and killed because they were suspected of being sorcerers was new.  It was an area of social change in Papa New Guinea that was of great concern.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, said the participation of women in public life was very important and showed how a country treated its citizens.  A country had to take the best from tradition and discard what was not useful.  Did all laws require absolute majority?

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said the use of temporary special measures, such as quotas, for elected or appointed positions, was not a concession to women.  By ratifying the Convention, the country had agreed to pursue a policy of eliminating discrimination against women by appropriate means and without delay.  She noted that the country had ratified the Convention 15 years ago.  She asked if there were any projects targeting men to help educate them about the need to expand the human rights of women.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, welcoming the delegation, noted the very low number of women in political affairs, both domestically and internationally.  The political parties, made of men, put forth candidates, and women had no access to those opportunities.  Could funding or subsidies be provided to political parties on the condition that they also submitted women candidates?  She also pointed out that ambassadors were appointed positions and thus a woman could be appointed.  She also urged the delegation to hold a press conference on its return to Papua New Guinea to inform the country of the proceedings at this meeting.

Country Response

The head of the delegation commented that ridding the country of the “Big Man” culture took time because it was embedded in tribal culture and many systems of governance.  Change was also impeded by the image of leadership that people demanded and expected from their community and political leaders.

Responding to questions about abuses of the secret ballot, she said that, for the most part, elections were not fraught with problems, and husband and wives could vote independently.  However, the abuse of secret ballot was evident in certain tribal areas, where an individual would do a “block vote” for the whole community.  She also noted that those problem areas used up enormous expense because of the use of force at the ballot area.

Turning to temporary special measures, she stated that they were making an effort in that regard but that “it wasn’t always easy”.  The lack of women participating in the political arena was not just an issue in her country, but in the whole Pacific region.

She pointed out that the delegation’s efforts in relation to the Women’s Convention were reinforced by the Constitution.  Changes to the law required two sessions of Parliament, so the passage of legislation was “quite stringent”.   However, because of the male dominance in the Parliament, there had been obstacles.  “Fifteen years was a long time but not for lack of trying,” she said.  In seeking to get the organic law on Gender Equality and Participation legislation passed, men, as well as women, had been targeted in awareness programmes, and the media had been “wonderful” in that process.  That was evident by the increasing number of positive responses from men on the legislation.

She also noted that Papua New Guinea had a woman ambassador in the United Kingdom and an increasing number of women in judicial and ministerial positions of leadership.  In her ministry, where there were 20 people in senior management, 10 of them were women, a situation that would not have existed some years ago.  She assured the experts that a press conference would be held on the proceedings of the Committee when the delegation returned home.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that in order to claim or retain nationality, birth registration was necessary.  Yet only 5 per cent of Papua New Guinea’s births had been registered.  Regarding marriage to a foreign national, did Papua New Guinea women retain citizenship?  Since dual citizenship was not allowed, when a woman was married to a foreign national, was it left to the parents to decide the nationality of their children or did the children decide?

Country Response

The head of the delegation said that the issue of dual citizenship was being reviewed at the Cabinet level.  Since dual citizenship was not allowed, a woman could either retain her own citizenship or renounce it in favour of that of her husband.  If the woman retained her citizenship, children would retain dual citizenship until they were 18.  If she renounced it, the delegate believed they could claim citizenship by lineage, but in most instances she understood that they became citizens of the foreign nation.

She said that nationwide birth registration campaign had been launched and birth registration numbers had increased.  Prior to the campaign, only 3 per cent had been registered, whereas, currently, it was at 15 per cent.

Another delegate added that the goal was to have every citizen registered, but that the isolation of the population due to geography was a challenge.  Although the current campaign had been focused on children, marriage and death registrations were also encouraged.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

BARBARA EVELYN BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, asked how the discrepancy between the number of girls in school and that of boys was being addressed.  Although the number of girls attending primary schools was high, at times more than 80 per cent, there was a significant drop to 20 per cent in secondary schools and to 3 per cent in upper levels.  She understood that the geographical distance between primary and secondary school might be a factor.

However, she also understood that poor sanitation, such as shared bathrooms by boys and girls, might be contributing to girls’ dropout rates, as well as to abuse by teachers and male youths.  She wondered if girls were being withdrawn at puberty by parents because of the threat of sexual abuse.  What was the Department of Education doing?  What were the consequences for the male teachers and students who were abusing students?  Also noting that women often entered low-paying and unprotected work, she inquired about the access to vocational training, which would enable women to access the new industries that were being developed in the country.  She asked if attempts were being made to eliminate stereotypes in textbooks and other curriculum materials.

SILVIA PIMENTAL, acting Committee Chair, in her capacity as the expert from Brazil, asked about sex education in the schools and if it covered, not just the biological and physical questions, but the importance of interpersonal relationships, based on respect and human dignity.

Country Response

The head of the delegation said that many teachers were not qualified to teach sex education and interpersonal relationships, and that not enough counsellors were qualified either.  In regard to the dropout rate in secondary and higher-level schools, efforts were being made, through policies and programmes, to address that, and some non-governmental organizations were working on securing funding, including scholarships, for girls.  However, she could not confirm that the gender gap was widening, nor was she sure if the gap reflected the girls’ fear of abuse or a choice made by the parents as to which child to educate, since education was not free.  That issue was not necessarily understood.  Vocational training was available for girls, but there were not enough programmes.

A delegate from the Department of Education, responding to the question about teachers abusing girls in schools, stated that there was a zero tolerance policy of sexual abuse and that, under the Code of Ethics, if a teacher was reported on acts of abuse, he or she was terminated and “de-registered” as a teacher, and not allowed to teach anywhere else.

He also informed the Committee that stereotyping had been removed from all teaching materials, which had all been rewritten or replaced to show gender equality.  That included materials used in teacher training programmes.  Furthermore, gender courses in teaching colleges were now mandatory.

Girls’ access to education was still a challenge, but new policies that established tuition-free primary education ensured that all 6-year-old students attended school, the delegate said.  In terms of sex education, sometimes a teacher was not comfortable teaching it because of taboos or religious beliefs.  However, the courses were included in the textbooks.

Concerning vocational training, programmes were being developed for women to be trained.  He related a story of a woman who had left school and had had two children.  She entered vocational training and just recently had graduated with an automotive mechanics certificate.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said the country’s employment laws were inadequate to protect women.  She asked whether there was technical assistance for women.  She noted that the country had ratified several important commitments of the International Labour Organization (ILO).  Was maternity leave guaranteed to ensure women their right to work? she asked, noting that the private sector provided 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, while female civil servants in the public sector had 12 weeks of maternity leave, just six of which were on full pay.  She also pointed to pay gaps between men and women, but said she was pleased that the country had an Informal Control and Development Act, about which she wanted more information.  It could be used as a best practice for other countries.  Had the Government made provisions for childcare facilities?

Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, noted that women made up 48 per cent of the population, yet only about 5 per cent held paid jobs.  Moreover, women worked in difficult jobs, such as on plantations, and were continually harassed.  There was no legislation covering sexual harassment.  Women worked virtually as slaves and that had nothing to do with stereotypes.

Country Response

Ms. KIDU informed the experts that the Informal Control and Development Act had been passed in 2004.  It gave national recognition to the fact that more than 80 per cent of people earned their living in the informal economy.  Many people equated the informal economy with street vendors in the urban areas, but most of the informal economy was comprised of rural workers.  The legislation provided financial literacy, micro-assistance and protection.  Much of the abuse centred on the harassment of street vendors as the informal economy was a new phenomenon.  But an understanding was emerging that the informal economy was a solution and not a problem.

The Government did not have plans to fund official childcare facilities, she said.  It was concerned that the private sector sometimes found reason to terminate a woman who became pregnant, but it was difficult to bring those cases to court.  She said there was no formal sexual harassment legislation, which should be addressed.  There were guidelines on this issue in the public sector.

Another delegate said the country’s labour laws were being reviewed and revised to ensure that they complied with international conventions signed by the country.  Those treaties prevented discrimination, and their provisions were being incorporated into the Industrial Relations Act.  The Government had just approved a restricted employment visa, which let immigrant workers, including women, work in the country without restrictions.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. AMELINE, expert from France, said many women were not literate and that impacted their ability to vote, their judicial success and their ability to assume social, professional and political positions.  Would the country consider accelerated programming so that women could learn to read and write?

Country Response

The low literacy rates were a national issue, the head of the delegation stated, with functional literacy below 50 per cent.  There were efforts being made to create a national language and literacy department.  At this time, however, non-governmental organizations were relied on heavily to help increase literacy.  The “PNG Advocacy Network” was making literacy its focus.  “There is a long way to go,” she said.  In terms of strategies, learning in one’s own tongue was the first step before learning other languages.

Replying to a question about the revision of the labour law, a delegate said there was a sixth draft of the industrial relations act.  The Committee’s recommendations about the inclusion of women would be taken into account.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about the deterioration of health services, and specifically about reproductive health and sexual education.  Sex education in schools was important, but it should not be limited to the school only.  Where else was sex education provided?  As for the poor registration rates of girls after primary school, were community programmes available to provide sex education and were men being included in them?

Stressing the importance of ensuring understanding of sex education, as well as access to contraceptives, she asked if the country had de-centralized health centres.  Also, how did people living in rural and remote regions access contraceptives?  Regarding maternal health and the stereotypes of motherhood, she commented on the high rate of pregnancies and the lack of professional or health-service staff.  What was being done to ensure safer pregnancies?

Turning to abortion, which was penalized except when the life of the mother was at risk, she asked how many abortions had led to the death of the mother because of unsafe conditions and how many women had been penalized for abortion.  Although asking Papua New Guinea to institute the right to an abortion was not the role of the Committee, the Convention ensured a woman’s right to a safe pregnancy, as well as to her right to determine the number of pregnancies she had.  With abortions performed in cases when pregnancy was deemed a risk to the mother, were there qualified staff and appropriate facilities?

Ms. RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, said she appreciated the “open and frank” responses from the delegation, which were essential to a successful dialogue.  Noting that the Convention addressed the issue of health services for women, she said she understood the country’s unique challenges in that regard, but reminded the delegation that it was the Government’s responsibility nonetheless to implement all provisions of the Convention.  Furthermore, the re-education and education of men was essential to improving the health of women.

Returning to the issue of sorcery and witchcraft, she stressed that women were terrorized and abused by that practice, which had a huge impact on their health and put their lives at risk.  Although she understood that changes took time, the Government must take necessary steps to eliminate such harmful practices.

She then asked about the status of the national health plan, noting that women in Papua New Guinea had a low life expectancy, lower than men, which was unusual according to international statistics.  Women also had a high maternal mortality and high HIV rates.  What measures and implementation of existing laws had the Government undertaken to improve the conditions and health of women?  She also asked whether the country received international support in the area of women’s health.

Country Response

The head of the delegation said she regretted that there was no representative present from the Health Ministry.  Alternative sources for sex education were not available to the extent they needed to be.  There were programmes through non-governmental organizations to provide education and services, but those were not widespread or comprehensive.  Maternal health and mortality were national concerns and, in recent years, maternal mortality was increasing.  At present, five women died daily because of pregnancy complications.

She said that the Health Ministry had released a maternal health report and that an action plan had just been “locked up” last week.  The lack of midwives and supervised deliveries had been identified as the issue for the high mortality rates.  There also had been an ad hoc meeting last week to create a “safe motherhood alliance”.  It had brought together various partners, including from government agencies and civil society.

Only 40 per cent of families participated in family planning, and services were not where they needed to be, she acknowledged.  Developing awareness and accessibility were components to addressing that.  However, a recent survey showed that even men were becoming more supportive of family planning.  “There’s a mind shift occurring,” she said.

She said that abortion laws had been ongoing issue, but there was no comprehensive data in that area and, in fact, attempted unsafe terminations and mortality rates were increasing.  Traditionally, an unplanned child in the past had been absorbed into the extended family.  Three medical symposiums in the early 2000s called upon Parliament to reconsider abortion as a criminal offence; however, the Prime Minister at that time practised a religion that did not accept abortion, and he had refused to look at the recommendations.

She also remarked that there were certain private medical practices which would reinterpret the risk to the mother in regard to access to abortion.  However, that access eliminated poor women from taking advantage of that service.

She agreed with the comment made by an expert about the need to change the mindsets, especially of men, in order to re-educate and educate about the need to improve women’s health.

She apologized that she could not give a statement on the status of the health plan, which would end in 2010.  She did say, however, that the HIV infection rate was of great concern and Papua New Guinea was facing a general epidemic.  There were people willing to be open about their status and active in lowering the rate in their community.  However, that was specifically happening in the urban and semi-urban areas.  In terms of educating men, there were proactive movements in the medical arena through the media and talk-back sessions, and a lot of those initiatives were focused on male youth.  She added that a brief would be provided on the status of the health-care plan at a later date.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

XIAOQIAO ZOU, expert from China, asked what the Government had done to guarantee that women had access to financial services, such as setting up bank accounts.  She also wanted to know if women living in rural and urban areas had access to entertainment and cultural activities.

Country Response

In general, women had poor access to financial services and it was an overall problem, a delegate said, adding that few people in the country had awareness of financial issues in general.  Access to financial institutions was necessary for empowerment, but only 8 per cent of the population had such access.  There were some pilot facilities, which had generally been successful, and those programmes should be expanded throughout the country.

The delegate noted that many cultural activities were based on traditional feasting, dancing and festivals.  Women were the managers of those feasts and they enjoyed that role.  Church festivals were another important part of community life.  The introduction of nightclubs into urban areas, however, was creating problems.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. ZOU, expert from China, noting that rural women did not have access to basic education and health services, asked what measures the Government had taken to help those women and what were its future plans.  Also, what steps had it taken to mitigate the impact of climate change?

Similarly, Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, wanted to know what the Government was doing to help women deal with the adverse impact of climate change.  More generally, what steps were being taken to provide safety nets to help rural women living in poverty.

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked how the Government, in the absence of a social security network, ensured the human rights of elderly women and women with disabilities living in rural areas.  What legal services and remedies were provided for rural women who suffered from domestic violence?  What access did they have to transportation and electricity, and what remedies were available for women affected by HIV/AIDS?

Country Response

Ms. KIDU said that the most disadvantaged people were those living in very remote areas.  To walk six hours was nothing for those people.  Some walked for several days.  Technology and education was the best way to transform those areas, and that would help connect them to the Government.  It was not a dream to bring satellite technology to those areas.  The marginalized urban poor were also facing problems.

Traditionally, she replied to another question, women were not denied access to land, even if they were widowed.  However, as land gained more commercial value, the customs were being abused and women’s access to land was being marginalized.  She stressed that, in general, older women were respected in the country.  On other points, she said that there was a rural electrification programme, and 97 per cent of the country’s land belonged to the people.

Turning to climate change issues, a delegate said that the Office of Climate Change was working strenuously to incorporate into national strategy climate change initiatives.  Because of the rising sea levels, and the refugees from islands, Papua New Guinea was addressing the issue “head on”.

The delegate said that the global economic crisis brought a lot of change to the Pacific Island region and, thus, the Government had decided to invest in social protection for the vulnerable, disabled, unemployed youth, elderly, survivors of natural disasters, landless people and victims of climate change.  Of course, women would be a major beneficiary of the new policy to receive assistance.  The Government was also looking at labour retraining of people in those vulnerable populations.  That was a new concept and a challenging one, but with the revenue coming in to the country from its natural resources, that policy would be supported.

A delegate from the Department of Agriculture also stated that the Department was working closely on policy with the Office of Climate Change and that those efforts would incorporate gender issues and perspectives.  With the anticipated drought in 2012, the Department was developing educational programmes to prepare rural communities, as well as investigating drought-resistant crops.

Regarding transportation and marketing, her Department was working with the Department of Transport.  She expected the relevant agencies to address the reality of women who were selling their wares amid harassment in marketplaces.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. AWORI, expert from Kenya, sought clarification on the issue of early marriages, saying she was confused between the definition of the child, which was under the age of 18, and the marriage law, which allowed girls to marry at age 16.  She also understood that, in order to get marriage, marriages now had to be registered.  How was that new programme working?  Noting that customary marriages were still occurring, she asked how the customary marriage practices harmonized with the marriage act.

Country Response

The head of the delegation noted that law and customs were not harmonized.  There was discussion of creating a new marriage and family protection act.  There were so many laws from colonial times, and they all needed to be reviewed.

Another delegate said that the definition of the child had moved from under 16 years of age to under 18 years of age.  The marriage law should be amended to reflect that new definition.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. AWORI, expert from Kenya, asked about the incidents of violence against women in detention.

Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked about rural women travelling to marketplaces and how much say they had in the regulations of the marketplace.

Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, said that the 2002 legal code on marriage should address the case of rape within marriage.  Because of the level of domestic and sexual violence, marriage could be a risky situation.  She urged that the Penal Code that was being revised include provisions to ensure safety for women in marriage.

Turning to abortion, she expressed concern that there were only private services available under strict circumstances.  What happened to women who were raped?  Were they obligated to have the children of criminals?  Was that part of the reasons why unsafe abortions had high incidences of maternal mortality?  Was there a possibility of reviewing the law so that women could be given broader options?

Country Response

The head of the delegation said that safe terminations of an unplanned pregnancy were only available from private facilities, which meant that those services were only available to those who could afford it.  There were no public facilities, which was of great concern to her.  In those circumstances, women with unplanned pregnancies often turned to traditional methods and practices to terminate the pregnancies, and those were very unsafe.  She personally thought it was essential to review the law on abortion, and that it should be liberalized.

She said that market management was a local, and not a national, function.  However, in one urban area, where the market had been managed by the city and had been riddled with corruption, there was now a market service management board that was a public-private-community partnership.  This was a pilot system that was inclusive, whose replication would be considered in other areas.

There was a zero tolerance policy towards abuse of women in detention centres.  She hoped those incidents were decreasing.  Regarding gender-based violence overall, she said that the victims would receive all necessary medical attention, free of charge.  That was a huge proactive step.

She concluded with thanks to the Committee, on behalf of the delegation and the representatives of the civil society present at today’s meeting.  She promised to do her very best to convey the results of the meeting to the relevant parties in Papua New Guinea.  She hoped that today’s meeting would be a catalyst to speed up the progress towards women’s rights and equality in the country.

The Permanent Representative then thanked the Committee.  The Mission in New York was very involved in those important issues and would serve those goals as well.  “The work continues and we are invested in that,” he said in closing.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.