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Women Demand Equality in Papua New Guinea

Dec 28 2012 (IPS) - Papua New Guinea, the most populous nation in the Pacific Islands, is ranked 153 out of 187 countries worldwide for gender equality, which is evident in education, employment, health and political representation.

During the last five-year government term, Papua New Guinea had one female member of parliament. But following the counting of votes in the 2012 national election, three women gained seats in parliament, raising women’s political representation from 0.9 to 2.7 percent.

Challenges remain, though, with low participation of women in decision-making roles at all levels, the need to improve the retention of girls in education and increase their means to achieve financial independence.

In 2012, the government introduced a fee-free education policy for pupils attending elementary prep to grade 10 in secondary school, increasing opportunities for girls, but schools are yet to expand their capacity to adequately cope with the rapid increase in students. The government, which conceived its own set of national Millennium Development Goals in 2004, aims to achieve gender parity at primary and lower secondary levels by 2015 and upper secondary and tertiary levels by 2030.

Even though the nation ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1995, 75 percent of women continue to suffer from domestic and sexual violence, which is impacting the spread of HIV, with women comprising 56 percent of all known cases, and the nation’s progress on all the MDGs.

The EU, which is PNG’s second largest international donor, has committed 142.3 million euros to supporting the nation’s development strategy and country-owned gender policies with a focus on strengthening good governance and education, boosting the rural economy and building the capacity of civil society organisations.

Half of the EU’s budget will target rural economic development planning, upgrading infrastructure to improve people’s access to markets and providing better market information to provincial communities.

Thirteen million euros is allocated to the development of quality primary education, improving the retention of students, especially girls, and enhancing the capacity of educational services in remote districts.

The EU also supports Haus Ruth, a women’s refuge and child abuse centre run by a local NGO, City Mission PNG, in the capital, Port Moresby. The centre, which depends entirely on financial assistance from international donors, NGOs, churches and business houses, provides emergency accommodation, professional counselling and practical assistance, such as food and medical care, for women who are victims of violence.

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