Invest in Women, Build a More Peaceful and Prosperous Papua New Guinea

In his op-ed for International Women's Day 2024, our UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Nicholas Booth highlights how UNDP is fighting for gender equality in Papua New Guinea

March 8, 2024

Papua New Guinea is ranked 169 out of 170 countries in the 2021 UNDP Gender Inequality Index.

Clive Hawigen | UNDP Papua New Guinea

Today, the United Nations is celebrating International Women’s Day by advocating for increased investments in women to accelerate progress around the globe. In Papua New Guinea, our message couldn’t be simpler. We need to invest in all of Papua New Guinea’s citizens equally so that they can fully participate in the social and economic life of the country and move it forward.  Experts predict that equal participation by women in Papua New Guinea’s economy would boost GDP per capita by 20% within a generation, while reversing the productivity losses from gender-based violence would increase GDP by another 0.5%.

But this can only be achieved if we are serious about addressing the dire needs of Papua New Guinean women and girls. The state of women’s rights in the country remains alarming as Papua New Guinea ranks 169 out of 170 countries in the 2021 UNDP Gender Inequality Index. Furthermore, rates of gender-based violence remain stubbornly among the world’s highest, affecting about two in every three women.  

Fortunately, we have seen signs of hope over the last year.  Firstly, there have been signs of powerful political commitment. In 2023, the former Special Parliamentary Committee on Gender Based Violence became a Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, and organised a powerful United for Equality Summit together with the United Nations at the end of the year.  At the same time, women MPs from the national Parliament (including recently-elected Francesca Semoso) and from the Bougainville House of Representatives came together to form the Joint Parliamentary Women’s Caucus and issued a Joint Declaration on Women in Leadership. The life sentence for the murderer of Jenelyn Kennedy also sent out a much needed signal that justice and accountability are possible, even when horrific crimes are still being committed against women in epidemic proportions.

Gender equality is a key priority for all UN agencies operating in Papua New Guinea. In fact, our new joint Cooperation Framework for 2024-2028 prioritizes equality for women and girls as a key stand-alone goal. And since actions must speak louder than words, let me tell you what the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is doing in practice to achieve that goal.  

First, UNDP is committed to women’s economic empowerment across the country. In recent years, our various initiatives have provided trainings and other forms of support to more than 300 women-led businesses and 2000 businesswomen. Our new Blue Economy Accelerator, which we will be launching in Kimbe in the coming months with support from the United Kingdom, will provide financial and technical support to women-led businesses who will play a key role in strengthening Papua New Guinea’s sustainable blue and green economies.

To enhance women's economic empowerment in Papua New Guinea, UNDP has provided support to over 300 women-led businesses and 2000 businesswomen through its projects

Juho Valta | UNDP Papua New Guinea

Through our peacebuilding efforts in the Highlands and in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, we are also partnering with women entrepreneurs and women peacebuilders to lead the transformation towards peaceful and prosperous communities. In partnership with Japan, we will shortly open three Innovation Hubs in Bougainville, which will support start-up businesses to grow, putting women and youth-led businesses first.

Women’s political leadership is just as important as economic leadership. In partnership with Australia, we will not only continue to support the Parliamentary Committee on Gender Equality, but also work with the Joint Parliamentary Women’s Caucus to help them in implementing their new strategy of empowering a new generation of women leaders, including by ensuring that more women are elected to the national and Bougainville parliaments.  

We will also continue to do our part to eradicate gender-based violence.  We will continue to advocate for increased national funding (just 7.93 million Kina allocated in 2022) and to partner with the Department for Community Development and Religion to train thousands of frontline workers (such as police and safe-house staff) serving survivors. UNDP also helped establish a national committee to address GBV, and through it worked with every province to design strategies that will bring the fight against GBV to the community-level.

Through our EU-funded work on anti-corruption we will shine a light on the different ways in which corruption harms women and girls, including through gendered forms of corruption such as sextortion. Building on research that shows that women are less likely to report corruption than men, we will work with women’s associations to raise awareness and provide safe channels for women to speak out, thus empowering them to be at the front lines in the fight against corruption.

These are just some of the ways in which we are putting women at the front and centre of our work.  We understand that for as long as gender inequality persists, Papua New Guinea’s development will continue to be hindered and women’s empowerment must remain a key part of everything we do. On International Women’s Day, we invite everyone in Papua New Guinea to join us in making 2024 the year in which we step up our investment in women.  It is the only way real progress in the country can be achieved.