Women: the heartbeat of developing economies

In the developed world women are struggling to be equally represented in the economy across senior executive roles, retirement savings or political influence. But in some parts of the developing world, the story is different.

While women do suffer these same challenges, they are in many ways the heartbeat of the economy. Whether it is the Pacific, Asia or in Africa, women have central roles in changing commercial and social environments.

"Whether it is the Pacific, Asia or in Africa, women have central roles in changing commercial and social environments."
Carolyn Ive, Contributing editor at BlueNotes

In the Pacific and some parts of Africa, these include the women selling their garden produce at roadside markets or artefacts to tourists while in Asia women sell produce at floating markets.

Papua New Guinea women are very representative of this central role. Despite different traditions, customs and beliefs it has always been there – they have always been the managers of wealth for their family, village and community.

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But PNG is still a developing country. According to the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom for Papua New Guinea, the vast majority of Papua New Guineans depend on subsistence hunting or agriculture - the informal economy in which women play that central role.

The formal economy, dominated by gold and copper mining, oil and natural gas like other such economies does not have a significant female representation.


Traditionally, women managed the wealth of the family; she cultivates the land to feed her family and support her husband in his contribution to the traditional obligations, measurable by his status in the village and community.

Many studies have shown women are more likely than men to work in informal employment. In South Asia, over 80 per cent of women in non-agriculture jobs are in informal employment, in sub-Sahara Africa, 74 per cent, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, 54 per cent. In the rural areas, many women derive their livelihoods from small-scale farming, almost always informal.

In PNG, while the men have jobs in the formal sector, the majority of the female population are in the informal sector.

A typical Papua New Guinea woman will contribute to her family's income by selling her garden produce at roadside markets, or picking coffee cherries at a coffee plantation, harvesting palm oil and or picking tea at a plantation in the Highlands so that she can bring in extra income to her family - in turn contributing indirectly but importantly to the country's economic growth.

However, it is widely acknowledged when more women work in the formal economy, these economies grow. An increase in female labour force participation or a reduction in the gap between women's and men's labour force participation results in faster economic growth, according to the UN Women Report, Facts and Figures Empowerment.


A contributing factor hindering economic development is domestic violence which has become an economic impediment to the growth of the country.

Chief Inspector Miriam Yawa, Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary says within this “rich diversity of cultures the socio-economic position of women varies a great deal.”

“Violence against women has, and still occurs within these cultural contexts,” she says.

The Gender Analysis in Papua New Guinea commissioned by the World Bank states that 70 per cent of women in PNG experience domestic violence.

Gender-based violence is not the Melanesian Way but is somewhat a new phenomenon – traditionally in PNG's patrilineal society, for example up in the Highlands, a village chief would have more than one wife, but there was complete understanding between the wives, their husband as to their respective roles and responsibilities in the family.

The man would distribute land and wealth to his wives and accordingly the wives in turn manage their households, animals, gardens and each other's children.

Most of their husband's time is spent in the 'haus man', traditionally a house that is considered sacred and exclusively for men where they eat, sleep, meet, discuss the affairs of their village, tribe and clan and paramount, the protection of their families.


Melissa Jojoga is a Papua New Guinean woman and a lawyer by profession, having been admitted to practise in the Papua New Guinea Supreme and National Court Bar in 2002. Since then she has worked in various different industries from Private Practice, to Manufacturing, Mining and now the Banking & Finance Sector in Papua New Guinea.

In October 2015 she presented a paper titled 'Women and the Changing Commercial & Social Environment' at the 'PNG Gender Pathways to Parity' Symposium held recently in Australia.

“Our Melanesian way, our customs, our traditions, primitive to those who may not understand them are ingrained,” she says. “We are a country of over 7.5 million people, 22 Provinces and four regions, over 800 languages and a growing generation of children of mixed parentage. Our values are based on the basic principle of respect.

“But changing times, advancement in technology, foreign influences, social problems and what appears to be a dilution of custom and tradition, to name a few have in my personal opinion contributed to and created a situation where we have what we now call 'disadvantaged' people.”

Gender-based violence was not something they heard of, and across the more than 800-different dialects of PNG there is not a word or phrase that specifically refers to 'domestic violence'.

Traditional Melanesian ideals have been caught up in the modern PNG. Men who are working in the formal sector who struggle to find a job are increasingly not able to house, feed, and educate his children, because land is fast becoming scarce and his pay-packet is not enough to cater for his growing family, contributing to many social issues including gender-based violence.

There is no easy solution; however, the government, business organisations, non-government organizations and the civil society are all working together to address the issue for it has a direct impact on the country's economy.

But at the centre of this, at its heart, are the women of Papua New Guinea.

Carolyn Ive is a contributing editor at BlueNotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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