Why Not an International Men’s Day? A Perspective from PNG

Every year, in the lead up to International Women’s Day, a vocal group comprising both men and women, claim that “gender equality” demands that we celebrate International Men’s Day alongside International Women’s Day (IWD). This year, articulate responses have been crafted by leading IWD advocates including Julie McKay, Jane Caro, and Georgina Dent who have outlined that whilst IWD is used to celebrate women from all walks of life, it is also an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the many inequalities facing women in Australia. Yesterday, Lucia Osborne-Crowley from Women’s Agenda, published her brilliant 10 point plan for International Men’s Day, outlining what the situation would need to look like for Australian men, if the tables were turned and men experienced the same levels of inequality that women face.

In parallel to the Australian IWD dialogue, I have noticed this year a groundswell among social media in Papua New Guinea (PNG) where a similar group is posing the question: Why not an International Men’s Day? So here is my attempt to answer that question in the PNG context. PNG’s very own 10-point plan for International Men’s Day…

We will hold an International Men’s Day in Papua New Guinea:

  1. When men comprise just 2.7% of the National Parliament.

Currently, only three women hold seats in PNG’s 111-member parliament. Since the first national election in PNG in 1977, only 7 women have been elected (including the 3 women currently holding seats).

  1. When a petition to reserve seats for men in a majority women led parliament is successfully overturned, so as not to be ‘unfair’ to the women by simply giving the men a free ride.

In 2011, Dame Carol Kidu, PNG’s only female member of parliament at the time and who was retiring at the next election, was so concerned that the obstacles facing female candidates were so overwhelming that not one women would succeed at the 2012 election. A bill to reserve 22 seats for women (20%) was proposed, advocated and eventually defeated by timings, politics and a general consensus among politicians that no free rides should be given to women in politics.

  1. When as many as 1 in 19 men die from an act so natural and so pertinent to the giving and fostering of new life and generations to come (such as childbirth for women).

For women in PNG, the lifetime chance of dying in childbirth is 1 in 19, one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The large majority of women give birth in a rural, village setting without any access to health care or trained professionals to support them to deliver safely.

  1. When domestic and sexual brutality against men becomes an epidemic and a state of emergency is declared in some parts of the country;

Medecins Sans Frontieres estimates that 70% of women in PNG will be raped or physically assaulted in their lifetime. Physical and sexual violence against PNG women is widespread, pervasive, and highly damaging, referred to by some as a “humanitarian crisis” with epidemic levels of abuse rarely seen outside of a war zone or area of civil unrest.

  1. When men must fear for their lives when they are simply trying to make a living by selling their crops at a local market.

One of the most dangerous activities for a woman to participate in in PNG is to sell her crops at an urban market. Some markets are breeding grounds for everything from robberies to ethnic clashes to rape to sexual harassment to sexual exploitation of children.

  1. When boys do not go to school because of the lack of gender-appropriate sanitation facilities and safety and security issues.

Girls in PNG are often forced to withdraw from schooling during menstruation simply due to the lack of adequate sanitation facilities. More than half of the population doesn’t have access to clean water and basic sanitation facilities, having a negative impact on female participation in education.

  1. When men have significantly lower literacy levels than women and cannot participate in education and work as a result.

A nation-wide survey found that only 57% of women reported they could read and write, compared to 69% of men. The resulting participation of women in the workforce is therefore low and is particularly scarce in top management jobs.

  1. When only 6.8% of males have reached a secondary or higher level of education.

Only 6.8% of adult women have reached a secondary or higher level of education compared to 14.1% of their male counterparts. We know that women’s education has benefits for their health status and access to health services, particularly in remote and rural areas.

  1. When men are ‘purchased’ by women through bride price and therefore entitled to control and discipline them.

“The practice of bride price is still largely followed in PNG, especially among the Motuan people of the Central Province. Although some say that bride price was designed to protect women, it is now a common belief that husbands effectively purchase their wives through bride price and are therefore entitled to control and discipline them. Women in abusive relationships feel unable to leave if they cannot pay back the bride price to their husband’s family” (Amnesty International).  

  1. When men are excluded from decision-making processes surrounding property ownership systems, including formal and customary land transactions.

Most customary lands in PNG are managed by male-dominated clans and are often leased to large commercial projects. In the majority of PNG’s patrilineal clans, women are effectively removed from the decision- making process in using the land.

So there we go. Just like Australia’s 10-point plan, if the above are ever realised then all us women will gladly organise an International Men’s Day.

But whilst these statistics are the here and now, we must remember that whilst this International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate all those extraordinary women in our lives, we must continue to grapple with arguably one of the greatest moral challenges of our time.

Dr Genevieve Nelson, CEO, KTF