According to the only female Member of Parliament in Papua New Guinea and Minister for Community Development Dame Carol Kidu, “Women will never take their place in the community or society when they are economically dependent, they will only realize their full worth and participate meaningfully towards development when they are economically independent.”
Dame Kidu is also part of the small expatriate female group that started Business & Professional Womens (BPW) Group in Papua New Guinea in the 1980’s. BPW is a non-governmental, volunteer organization that fosters a main program that awards partial scholarships for disadvantaged young women to further their education and is a member of BPW International. It aims to promote and empower women in business and the professions.
The 100th year of International Women’s Day 2011, with its theme “Equal Access to Education training, science and technology” and its sub-theme of “pathway to decent work for women” was celebrated by BPW, other women groups and business houses within PNG. Thereit was pointed out by some that there were a lot of issues affecting women that did not allow them access to education, training and technology and the environment needed for decent place for women to work in PNG
Women make up 50 percent of the country’s population, but are underutilized. At present, women comprise some 30 percent of the work force. There are very few women in management, leadership, and decision-making roles in the workplace. The Gender–Related Development Index (GDI) ranks PNG 124 out of 177 countries, with a GDI of 0.529 (UNDP 2008).
A global research showed that women spend 90% of their income on family, unlike men who spend only about 50%. Dame Kidu believed that it was wise to make women more economically independent as they would maintain the overall operation of a family unit effectively.
Most women in Papua New Guinea are part of the informal sector, selling produce at the local markets; those who are skilled in weaving and sewing also sell their products to make some income for themselves; some are professional women holding positions in various companies, but very few have ventured into running businesses in the formal sector. The bulk of the women live in remote, rural areas and do not have other means of cash income to generate for the family and rely heavily on the selling of local market products to pay off school fees for their children. Some have to travel distances to bring their products and produce to the town markets to ensure that they make a good sale.
The few thriving business women run their own guest accommodations, second hand clothing shops, or hire car services--but this is only a small percent compared to men.
Beddie Jubilee, a PNG woman in business, stated that Papua New Guinean women need to gain financial knowledge in order to use it. Without this financial knowledge and also the lack of entrepreneurial skills training, women shy away from venturing into business, whilethose who have some knowledge give the support to their husbands.
Those who earn an income, whether from sales of local produce or in the formal workforce, mostly spend their money for family needs and save very little as most lack proper financial knowledge on how well to manage money. Managing money wisely is one of the biggest drawbacks for many individuals, both male and female, young and old in the society, which leads to other social issues also.
Another leading business woman, Sarah Haoda-Tod, shares her experience with running her own business and the difficulties she faced in obtaining a contract and applying for a piece of land, and states that policies need to be revised to change and give better incentives for local businesses.
There also needs to be more incentives for village women to venture into business, while the challenges and discrimination that prevent women from doing so need to be minimized.
One ofthe core development areas of the National Government’s Vision 2050 plan for the country is Wealth Creation. To increase more indigenous citizens to start up their own businesses as currently only 10% of business activities are owned by Papua New Guineans and roughly 2% of this owned by women. Efforts are already underway to improve business opportunities. A PNG Indigenous Business Summit will be held in April to encourage men and women to venture into businesses. A Women’s Advisory Centre will be launched, which will provide professional advice and knowledge to sustain and help women become financially independent and educated on many issues including: starting your own business, book-keeping, managing household finances and statutory requirements of a registered business. This would enable women, a majority of whom are only educated to a minimal level, to be able to access professional advice to enhance their professional and personal lives.
The National Development Bank, which is a leading financial institution assisting citizens through its microfinance scheme have access to credit and funding for small business, will also be setting up a women’s desk to help women gain access to information on low interest bank loans for women to go into businesses. It is the first bank in the country to give opportunity to women, as it sees that many times women are faced with difficulties in obtaining loans with low interests from commercial banks.
Women need to be empowered to identify their talents and hobbies and turn them into small business opportunities, as Donna Collin did. Donna had a passion for sewing, and now her favourite pastime is her source of income. She sews blouses of different styles and sells them at the local markets. More women in the rural areas who are not able to go on to higher education should be encouraged and given opportunities to learn skills in cooking and sewing, arts and crafts.
Papua New Guinea, a country diverse in its vegetation, its culture, its natural beauty and its resources in the land, air and sea, has immense opportunities of wealth and income-generation, though this is not recognized by its own people. But many foreigners who have developed great successful businesses within the country and the local people simply become observers and workers in their own land. People need to be educated on these opportunities and to become business-minded. A coconut tree brings an opportunity of income, as its liquid can be turned into cooking oil, or fuel. The coconut fibre or coir can be spun into rope that can be used for manufacturing and other purposes which, is of high demand in developed countries. But the main thing coconut is being used for is for copra, which in some areas of PNG doesn’t pay well. Shells from the sea, stones from the land, which there are so many varieties, can be made into jewellery and used for other ornaments and sold to tourists. Flora, of which there are so many unique varieties, can produce sweet smelling fragrances and perfumes.
Education is vital, and so is communication access to other parts of the world, through the internet, to other pacific countries and developed countries in order to learn about different skills and creative methods in cooking, sewing, art work, crafts etc.
“Lack of education and skills development have contributed to a lax attitude and dependency mentality among the population. This has resulted in our people being unable to enter into small business opportunities which are currently dominated by foreigners. This compounds the rate of growth towards self-reliance. The future development focus under Vision 2050 will shift from a poverty reduction mentality to a positive wealth creation mind-set. It is the intention of Vision 2050 to turn struggling rural Papua New Guinean communities into economic growth centres through the mobilization of the masses. It is essential that a rigorous program in entrepreneurial skills development is established, and that communities are arranged into cooperative societies or nucleus estates for collective economic growth.” - Point 20.17 Vision 2050 on Entrepreneurship.
Rural PNG people face the difficulty of establishing a market to sell their products, while deterioration and lack of essential services such as health, transport, communication contribute also to low participation of rural people in income-activities and to do better. These services also need to be improved.
Papua New Guineans, especially women are also given the opportunity to be involved in personal business schemes where a person sells products, usually health products, and recruits others to become distributors and grow their network in return for bonuses and payments. This allows them to have a work-at-their-own-time schedule, marketing the products and building networks to earn an income. There are a few women in Papua New Guinea who have been very successful in this and are earning so much more than if they were in a full time job. It gives them the opportunity to travel, take good care of their health by using the products, and network with many people.
It is everyone’s dream to run their own business, be their own boss, and be the one making the decisions, but only a few have the courage to step out and venture into the business world and have become successful.
With the Government’s Vision 2050 Plan, and its aim to ensure that 50 percent of PNG citizens become self-employed entrepreneurs, there is now and will be greater support from the government and other services, as shown already with the establishments of the Women’s Advisory Centre, the National Development Bank having a women’s desk and providing easy access to loans with lower interest rates for women and men to become entrepreneurs, and the staging of the PNG Indigenous Business Summit.
The education system should also include opportunities for class projects for small income opportunities for their students to develop the “business-mind” at a young age and teach on saving and investments. This may also encourage more people to snap out of the “hand-out” mentality in which they depend on parents, donors, and working relatives to give them money. In this way they can create a more active, creative future group of entrepreneurs in the country and in the region and provide opportunities for those who do not make it to higher education to learn skills that they can use to provide an income opportunity. This will also keep them off the streets and from turning to crime and other negative social issues.
I have also thought of running my own business. Being a professional I.T. person whose good with computers, there is so much opportunity-- especially in the smaller towns of Papua New Guinea and Rural Papua New Guinea, where information technology is minimal. I see a great demand and need in these areas to develop and educate the people with basic computing.Also, small businesses are always looking for support in fixing computers, establishing computer networks, creating websites and databases. There is great opportunity. Then there are my hobbies of photography, graphics design, cooking,which I would like to develop and maybe turn into an income-opportunity. I would like to learn skills in sewing also, but I have never taken that step forward.Thoughts plague me like: what if I don’t succeed? What if my business doesn’t do well? What if I find that I have no money at the end of the week to cater for my family and I? How do I go about starting a business? Is it a good idea? What are the legal aspects of an income opportunity? These questions and thoughts go through my mind, as they do many other young Papua New Guineans who would like to venture into the business world.
I hope to one day soon do take a shot in entrepreneurship and to see more women, young and old, do the same to be part of the wealth creation and assist in achieving our country’s Vision 2050 goals.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard from corners of the world.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2011 Assignment: Feature Stories.