Papua New Guinea
Check Against Delivery
DELIVERED BEFORE THE
TWENTY-THIRD SPECIAL SESSION OF THE
GENERAL ASSEMBLY ENTITLED
"WOMEN 2000: ON GENDER EQUALITY, DEVELOPMENT AND
PEACE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY"
HIS EXCELLENCY, MR PETER D. DONIGI, CBE
HEAD OF THE PAPUA NEW GUINEA DELEGATION
06 JUNE 2000
UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK
June 6, 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I join others before me in congratulating you and your Bureau on your election to your important post on the occasion of the Twenty Third Special Session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: On Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century".
It is with profound pleasure that I stand here before this august body to declare my government's and my personal support for gender equality and the creation of opportunities for women. I say it is a personal commitment because, as it appears in my household, I am very much a minority. There is a six to one ratio -definitely slanted against me in every respect - for clarity my wife and I have five daughters. But I enjoy every moment of the trials and tribulations facing my immediate family and I couldn't ask for better.
I am also a son of a Melanesian Chief and am expected to set an example in upholding and enforcing customary laws amongst my clan members. Some customary laws may seem to the western eye, very archaic and need replacement by western values and standards. Others may be justifiable on the grounds that they have served our people for over 40,000 years and so why should we change them because some foreigner told us to do so.
My ancestors were the first people to settle the Pacific Islands apart from the Australian Aboriginal people. The Pacific Islands comprises settlement over 40,000 years. The last great migration was by people of European decent as recently as the last century to Australia and New Zealand, French Polynesia and New Caledonia. Each wave of immigrants into the Pacific introduces new ideas and methods of work and style of living. The Pacific way of life or for that matter Papua New Guinea - are very much influenced by new waves of people and ideas over time. And so, this trend will continue. There is however one difference. The change over the last 40,000 years was gradual. The change over the last ten to twenty years has been drastic. This was the result of the new and faster ways of communication. The space age has transformed a society, which was in the stone ages 75 years ago - into a fast moving age of computer and space technology. Whilst Australia has four of five televisions channels, Papua New Guineans are exposed to over 20 television channels from around the world. Papua New Guineans who were using stone tools 75 years ago are now using modern tools and accept technological changes more readily then previously thought possible.
Papua New Guineans who only spoke their own languages (and there are over 800 languages in PNG) are now able to learn foreign languages, be more computer literate and to operate space age technological machinery. The pace of change is therefore taking place in my country far faster, within one or two generations, than in the previous 40,000 years.
I am therefore able to report that what was contained in the Beijing Plan of Action for women five years ago, was already foreseen by Papua New Guinean politicians when they drafted and adopted the Constitution of Papua New Guinea back in 1975 some 20 years before the Beijing Plan.
For instance, the Constitution of Papua New Guinea contains what is generally called the National Goals and Directive Principles. These are the guiding principles for governance. Whilst they are not enforceable per se in a Court of Law, it is a requirement that all constitutional laws affecting rights of an individual must have a reference point in these Goals and Principles. The second National Goal provides for the equality of all citizens and directs that opportunities must be created for all citizens to participate actively in the political, social, education advancement and economic activities in the country. Constitution in furtherance of these National Goals and Directive Principles created a number of constitutional rights, which are absolute and also created a number of other rights, which are not absolute but can be regulated by an Act of Parliament that complies with a number of preconditions. Absolute rights include the right to life. There is only one qualifier - it is permissible to officially take someone else's life in the implementation of a law that imposes penalties for criminal conduct. Accordingly, the question of the right to life is sacrosanct under our constitution. Abortion than is a crime under our criminal law system and I can be very honest in saying that it will be very difficult to amend this constitutional provision.
Other constitutional rights include the right to hold public office, the right to equal opportunities for employment, the right to join unions and other nongovernmental organizations, the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech and publication of information, etc.
The constitution also recognises that the Papua New Guinea society is based on the family unit and it is the family unit that must be strengthened. A proper implementation of this Directive Principle in our constitution will mean that the exercise of individual rights must be for the benefit and strengthening of the family unit. This prime objective runs counter to the western philosophy of individual rights. We will continue to support every scheme and policies, which support the family unit as the basis of a Papua New Guinea society and nation. The primacy of individual rights breaks down the family unit, creates social discourse and disharmony and leads to breakdown of state services.
Thus, it can be said that Papua New Guineans enjoy many constitutional rights that are not available in some of our Member States. The Government has adopted many strategies and revised its strategies on many occasions in an effort to implement the National Goals and Directive Principles. These policies look good on paper.
Now you may ask: "What then is the problem with Papua New Guinea with low percentage of educational level for women and girl child, high mortality rate, high incidence of crimes against women, and an increasing incidence of women with confirmed HIV AIDS, pitiful involvement of women in politics, senior positions in government and in the business sector?". Yes, I have seen those United Nations reports in respect to Papua New Guinea. They do look pitiful for a country with so much mineral resources and one of the few most environmentally diverse nations in the world.
The problem is simply this. We as a developing country need development partners who are prepared to walk with us instead of dictating to us. We need to develop strategic long term plans to change the ingrained social structure that has been developed over 40,000 years and substitute it with one that is generally acceptable to the community as a whole, taking into account the changing circumstances of the country. Whilst it is true that the Constitution also recognised and gave effect to our customary laws as they existed before we became an independent nation, it is also true to say that customary law is not static - it is also a living law. It changes over time by outside influences. Having recognised the resilience of the Papua New Guinea society, it may then be possible to develop a plan of action, which will over time influence the change of customary norms. What is the most likely catalyst for change? The answer is very simple "education".
The Government of Papua New Guinea therefore gives high priority to education. However, every year 50,000 children of primary education level in Papua New Guinea cannot find places at High Schools and become what we call "school dropouts". They are not "dropouts" by choice. In fact, a high percentage of them have above average school aptitudes. The problem is lack of schools and teachers. The problem is not one of gender. It is a general problem that affects every Papua New Guinean child that is aspiring for higher and appropriate education.
Papua New Guineans do not need to reinvent the wheel. We came from Stone Age. We saw, we did not have to use a horse drawn cart, we adapted, went straight to age of computer science and technology, and we will continue to make great strides if only we were given an appropriate opportunity and assistance.
I therefore have only one plea to our development partners, invest in Papua New
Guinea's education system. You may be able to reap the benefits sooner than
• Education is a tool for the emancipation of women all over the world
• Education is a tool for changing behavioural patterns and attitudes of men and boy child towards the women and the girl child.
• Education will ensure women's health needs.
• Education reduces the illiteracy rate.
• Education will lead to shared-decision making.
• Education leads to economic empowerment and opens up employment opportunities.
• Education strengthens human rights.
• In short, education teaches respect for human dignity, motherhood and family
Education must be a tool for development.