Papua New Guinea has more cultural and environmental diversity than anywhere else. With 800 languages and a dizzying mix of dense rainforest, coastal mangroves and alpine woodland, it is fascinatingly unique.
Life is not without its daily difficulties in this beautiful place. It has been described as ‘one of the most dangerous places in the world to live as a woman’ with two-thirds suffering from domestic abuse.
Fighting gender inequity is one of the most pernicious global challenges that needs nothing less than a step-change in unfair and outdated social attitudes. But it also requires progressive legal frameworks and sustainable initiatives that promote equality between women and men.
Olive is a single parent with one child. She lives in a village that is part of a Cool Earth partnership in Papua New Guinea, where a micro-credit scheme is helping balance the books when it comes to women’s access to income. In the K20 challenge, women are given 20 Kina, the equivalent of £5 or $7 and are challenged to make a profit. They then pass the original K20 onto another woman to continue the challenge.
As one of the pioneers of this scheme, Olive used the money to buy a bale of rice and one sack of sugar biscuits to sell in the local market. From these products alone, she earned K240. Some of this profit was saved and the rest reinvested to buy more rice and sugar, plus tinned fish, coffee, milk and laundry soap. After just a few weeks, Olive has K100 in her savings account and has passed K20 to the next challenge participant.
Next up, its Nino: Grandmother, mother and rainforest entrepreneur. Having raised her four children alone, she has used the money to buy a small amount of sweets to be sold from her home. When she easily turned a profit, she set her sights higher and invested in more products to sell. Between February and June, she had saved a total of K510.00. She gave most of it to her daughter who’s just given birth to her first child. But Nino made sure to keep K100 to buy a range of dyes for weaving pandanus mats and baskets to sell to continue the challenge. She’ll take these traditional mats to Alotau to sell to tourists. Nino told Cool Earth that her dream is to buy a new sewing machine, and is committed to continuing with the K20 challenge until she has achieved this.
Promoting gender equality doesn’t just bring about a day to day income. The best thing about schemes like this is the resilience it gives women so they can manage their finances long-term and plan their future.
Addressing imbalance also has potentially vast environmental and ecological benefits too.
Islands in the tropics are disproportionately impacted by climate change and related extreme weather events. A fact not lost on Papua New Guinea which is already facing the impacts of sea level rise. Empowering women to be equal economic agents increases the resilience of vulnerable communities as a whole. In Papua New Guinea in particular, it gives all people in a community a voice that helps challenge extractive industries and keeps the interests of all residents heard. It means more money for emergencies and better financial planning skills – vital parts of any climate resilience strategy.