When he took over the Ministry of Home Affairs and Youth Nakikus Konga had been a logger and had spent twenty years in agriculture. He confessed he knew almost nothing about the department. But he soon learnt that this was one of the most complex and crucial areas of government. It is the primary avenue for social development and implements policies concerning women, youth, the handicapped, sport, civil registration and the special needs groups like non government organisations.
The Department’s mission is to “promote integrated human development with an emphasis on the social needs of individuals, families and communities.” A new policy approach has been adopted which reflects a major shiftaway from individua l programmes to an emphasis on the family as the basis or core of society. The Sports commission has developed a ‘Sport for All’ policy that would cater for all regardless of sex, age, physical ability etc.. Nakikus Konga wants to see “small children, big children, father and mother all participating in sport together. That would be family unity”.
The Social Development Policy seeks to promote and maintain harmonious family relationships consistent with traditional family values and Christian principles. But how to get the message across? Literacy, functional literacy, is seen as the answer especially for the bulk of the people who live in rural areas. “People need to understand the world around them, especially those things that are important to improving their lives. For example; a Mini Credit scheme, or awareness of health risks, the right food to eat, general housekeeping, toilet hygiene or how to calculate profits from vegetable marketing.”
The department is actively encouraging community based activities. It is working to strengthen and support available resources within the community for settling disputes, handling offences and the village court system particularly with concern for the custody of children and jailing of juveniles.
“Youth is causing about 80% of the problems in the country now. We spend a lot of money on them, treat them when they’re sick and then toss them out on the street because there are simply no jobs they can do.” Says Nakikus Konga with some passion. “What we offer is non-formal education that will provide them with the basics of how to run a business or how to build a house. We have to do something about the 30% who don’t finish their s chool ing and even the 70% who drop out . Without a literate base there is no chance of a reformed Papua New Guinea people”.
One such scheme is at Hohola in Port Moresby. Centre 2000 provides boys and girls with some basic training. The boys, mostly school drop-outs aged 16 to 22 learn metal-work and woodwork. They learn to measure, assemble, weld and, at the end of the course, are given a certificate which they can show to a potential employer.
The boys made the bread oven which the girls are using in their cookery class. In PNG all the cooking is in one pot. At Centre 2000 the girls have successfully learnt the rudiments of international cooking styles and are skilfully producing pizza, mince-meat balls, bread and bread rolls. They sell their efforts at lunch times and are sold out every day. The girls do a one year training, six months cookery and six month sewing. Again it is basic sewing, six stitches, a little embroidery, tie-dye, rag rugs and simple costumes. Many of the items are for sale. There is only one problem. Currently there are fourteen girls on the course and this is the maximum number.
As in most other countries women are the homemakers in PNG. Women make up 58% of the population. They produce and process over 80% of the country’s food much of which is done with limited technical assistance. They are acknowledged as the backbone of PNG society but as Nakikus Konga says with some force, “in Papua New Guinea, unlike other countries and totally different from western countries, women are always regarded as the lower order.”
Molly Daure of the Women’s Division does not disagree with this assessment but she and her staff are intent on creating a National platform on which to discuss women’s issues such as violence, particularly domestic violence, transport and communication, health issues and education. The disadvantaged position of women in PNG was recognised at Independence in 1975 and actual policy measures were implemented. Ten years later in 1984 the National Women’s Development Programme was introduced which aimed to mobilise women and build up a strong network of women’s organisations from districts to national networks. Unfortunately it was consistently under-funded.
Current indicators reveal that the literacy status of women, for example, is lower than that in other Melanesian countries. In employment very few women occupy managerial positions. The majority of young women do not receive adequate training either to participate in the formal sector or to function productively in their own villages. The health status of women is low. Papua New Guinea has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. The life expectancy of women is 47 years and most women die of preventable diseases.
In the late eighties and nineties there has been a decline in the number of women engaged with the decision making process. Although the National Constitution provides for the equal rights of all citiesns women have not been able to fully understand and exercise their rights. This has been due to ineffective government mechanisms advocating and promoting the rights of women.
1995 is the year of the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women. As the Independence celebrations begin in PNG, a group of Papua New Guinea women will be in Beijing discussing sustainable development for the next decade. The Beijing forum and the National Policy for women are raising awareness of women’s issues in PNG. Efforts are under way to establish a Women’s Information and Data Base System. Whether these measures alleviate the condition of the majority of women in the rural areas of PNG remains to be seen.
The Home Affairs Ministry is also responsible for liaising with Non-Government organisations. There are thousands of NGOs in Papua New Guinea. Church based NGOs run schools, health clinics and other humanitarian projects. Large-scale NGOs run by in ternational organisations like the Red Cross or Red Crescent and Salvation Army do charity relief work. Indigenous NGOs, some of which ar e community-based, do development work and others, including advocacy groups, deal with social justice.
ICRAF, the Individual and Community Rights Advocacy Forum was founded three years ago by lawyer Powes Parkop. Based in Gerehuin the outskirts of Port Moresby, it is a resource for any group interested in issues concerned with human rights, women, land and the environment. Funding comes mainly from international aid including the Germanybased Bread for the World and the Dutch ICCO (Interchurch Group in Development). At present there are 9 full-time staff and 5 part-time workers.
ICRAF has three lawyers and a number of staff with para-legal training. It sees one of its functions to monitor the law, lobbying for or against proposed or existing laws and checking whether new laws are being complied with. It runs campaigns. One is the campaign to protect forestry law which involves press publicity, petitioning government and running workshops to make people aware of their rights. ICRAF declares that the registration of customary land is not necessary and could well result in the alienation of land which has sustained the people of PNG for thousands of years. This is a controversial position.
When asked why the NGOs play such an important role in PNG today Powes Parkop answered that they had filled a vacuum. There was a need for a critical perspective and a need to reassure people that a sustainable model of development could work. In Papua New Guinea today the NGOs, the media and the Judiciary are doing a grand job of keeping us sane with our eye on the future.