Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
I wrote my application to Rotary Peace Fellowship program from my lodging in a township in the remote highlands of Southern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea. It was week-eight of the humanitarian response to 7.5 magnitude earthquake affecting an estimated 544,000 people in Enga, Gulf, Hela, Southern Highlands, and Western Provinces, of which more than 270,000 were estimated to be in need of life-saving assistance. Over 239,000 of these were women, girls and children.
As I weaved my words for the essay under the light of my solar-powered torch, the town was fast asleep, the air was cool and damp, and as with most nights, there was no electricity.
While I was exhausted from the day travel on an unpaved road, I was also very conscious that the deadline to submit the application was looming.
As I tried to write, my thoughts drifted to the events from the day, and the women I had talked to.
They had said to me, “this earthquake was a curse, but it was also a blessing. It destroyed our food garden, damaged our schools and health clinics, but it has brought warring tribes together to face this adversity. Before the earthquake, we were enemies, but after the earthquake we are friends.”
The epi-centre of earthquake was an area afflicted by ongoing tribal conflicts. These conflicts had been exacerbated by the proliferation of guns and the breakdown of traditional peace-making structures.
Allocation of royalties from extractive industries operating in the region remains a flash point for violence.
There has been a notable absence of Government services (health and education) and governance structures at all levels are politicised and weak.
Highlands’s warfare is predominantly initiated and led by men. Women and girls suffer a disproportionately negative effect as they are more prone to become victims of sexual and gender-based violence, their ability to access basic health and education services is impaired and they are not able to have their grievances addressed in a formal manner. Women are often widowed and their status in communities becomes undermined and this leads to exploitation and abuse.
I was deployed by an Australian humanitarian agency, RedR Australia to UNWomen in PNG, as Gender and Protection Specialist to lead and coordinate UNWomen’s relief response to the affected PNG Highlands communities. We worked to ensure women and children who are the most vulnerable and marginalised due to the earthquake have access to the support and protection they need during the disaster response.
During my time in the highlands, the women living in the earthquake affected areas showed me an incredible level of strength, courage, and capacity of resilience. They showed me the value and power of nurture, and ability to weave trust, and the importance of maintaining harmonious relationships. Harmonious relationships in the family, and in the greater community circle. In this part of the world, the women are the backbone of the family and communities. They maintain micro economic production and management of community resources. Conflicts have different impacts on men and women, and understanding those distinctive effects is critical for designing effective peacebuilding approaches and ensuring greater gender equality and protection for women and girls. Yet, with these qualities and experiences of women, they have very few opportunities to influence the decisions of community leaders and peace building processes.
I found aspirations from these women I met in the Highlands. I am indebted to them for what they thought me very meaningful lesson of women’s roles in the family and the community and participation of women are key to peace building.
Finding myself in the midst of a cohort of 22 impressive individuals of Rotary Peace Fellowship program of Class 26, I realised I have been endowed with an incredible honour and important platform. That is to bring into light, the plight and strengths of women in peace building. As such, I’d like to use the ‘spotlight’ to honour the women’s leadership going forward. With that in mind, I am dedicating my learnings from the Rotary Peace Building and Conflict Resolution to the women of Southern Highlands and Hela Province of PNG.
Anggia Anggraini – Australia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 26