In the 2021 Pacific Resilience Meeting, Maxine Anijaga, the coordinator at Papua New Guinea Center for Locally Managed Areas, spoke about “women and traditional governance in marine resource management in PNG without the use of the word gender.” In the areas Anijaga’s organization has been working to restore, things are primarily governed by the male chiefs. In many of these communities, women have not been given the opportunity to assume a leadership role. The organization is working to empower the women of these communities to assist and lead in their restoration projects. The organization began working with gender equality in traditional societies when restoring the most diverse mangrove forests of PNG.
Anijaga said that when they tried to introduce concepts like gender equality or gender equity to these communities, the male chiefs did not positively receive the information and wouldn’t allow the women to become decision makers. As a result, Anijagas organization looked for different ways to empower the women of the village to lead conservation projects.
They heard of a success story in just a singular village in central PNG where a woman was given the opportunity to assume a decision making role. They decided to perform a case study and document how this was achieved. They found that, without framing gender equality in a western context, the women were able to assume leadership by organizing themselves, talking with the wives of the chiefs about their intentions, and having the wives talk to the chiefs themselves. Through this process, the women achieved some leadership.
The organization then took what they learned from this case study to three other communities in pursuit of creating the same positive change. By adapting and replicating what they learned from their case study, they were able to give women a leadership role in these communities. Anijgaga says that now, “women sit with men and make conservation decisions, then take leadership in implementation with the support of men.” Anijaga says that they watched the men, for the first time in years, happily babysit the children while the women lead the conservation projects.
“Even after the project ended, women are still taking the lead and men are supporting them” Anijaga said.