Mary-Elizabeth Kamang lives and breathes her work at the Madang Provincial Council for Women. This strong-minded, pioneer of women’s rights in Papua New Guinea (PNG) was the first president for the Council and claims: “It has been my heart ever since”.
A nurse by profession, 60-year-old Mrs Kamang is also no stranger to higher ranks of government and has twice run in the national elections. Incredibly, despite the extreme inequality between men and women in PNG, Mary came third in 2012 and fourth in 2007. In the last 40 years there have been just seven female MPs. There are currently three female members of parliament, one of them is also a minister and the other is a governor. There is still a long way to create balance but at least there is some female representation within government.
In the last 40 years there have been just seven female MPs in PNG.
The Provincial Council provides an extraordinary range of support services considering its limited funds. The most groundbreaking work that it is doing is the male advocacy programme within the gender based violence project. As well as providing emotional and legal support for people who have been affected by gender based violence, they have started the initiative of training men to educate people within their communities to help stop people perpetrating violence. They also help deserted wives with an initiative where they make bilums and school uniforms. VSO is working closely with the provincial councils and National Council of Women on the endemic issue of gender based and family sexual violence.
Alongside their work on gender based violence they run an adult literacy programme as they identified that many village women are illiterate. Adult literacy is 64% in PNG and only 57% of women were literate, compared with 71% of men. There is also a strong focus on communication and networking to raise awareness of women’s rights and the projects that they are working on.
Adult literacy is 64% in PNG and only 57% of women were literate, compared with 71% of men.
Mary works voluntarily for the Council and is passionate about women’s rights: “I want to show women’s strength”. She provides counseling to people affected by gender based violence and since July 2012 she has offered guidance and support to 1,200 cases. She helps women with referring their case to court and connects them with the specifically trained magistrates used to dealing with these sensitive situations.
Mary’s vision is to invest in young minds to create change: “I want to get more young people working in the district, then we will see change. It’s my dream.” It is enlightening to meet such an outspoken women so invested in the work she is doing.