There are No Shortcuts: Reflecting on 8 years of gender equality programming in PNG
Written by Angela Lenn and Mirriam Dogimab
There is broad consensus that a commitment to long-term programming is key to good development outcomes. In practice, however, relatively short funding cycles tend to be the norm. For this reason, Australia’s commitment in 2012 to a 10-year $320 million gender equality program in the Pacific was laudable.
Since 2012, the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Program (Pacific Women) has been one of the largest donor-funded gender investments in the world. Around one third of this funding has been directed towards PNG. As Australia is now working towards the design of a new gender equality program in PNG, it’s an opportune time to reflect on what has been learned.
To answer this question, the Pacific Women Support Unit, together with more than 10 program partners, engaged in a deeply collaborative analytical exercise during 2019 and 2020. Their goal was to identify the core programming elements that have led to the transformation of harmful gender norms in PNG. The results are captured in a collectively co-authored paper entitled What Works in Gender Transformative Approaches in Papua New Guinea (known as ‘GETA’).
The key elements of successful programming identified in this paper are:
- Gender transformation must be explicit in a program’s design;
- Long term commitment is required;
- Women must be engaged as agents of change;
- Men must also be meaningfully engaged;
- Change must be led by locally credible partners;
- Work must be undertaken at multiple levels (from individual to family, community and beyond);
- Work must build on existing protective customs and practices; and
- Capacity building in gender equality must be highly contextually specific to the target communities.
In sum, there are no shortcuts to achieving gender transformative outcomes – facilitating reflection on deeply held beliefs and negotiating power dynamics at the relationship, household, community or structural level is a long-term endeavour. It requires a complex orchestration of factors including: relationships of trust; local capacity building; trusted change agents; negotiating the partnership of male leaders, including through consultation with or the participation of women; careful, incremental implementation to avoid negative unintended consequences (backlash); and the introduction and reinforcement of new norms that resonate locally. Long-term funding also enables partners to focus on their programming instead of fund raising and provides the opportunity to test, review and refine their methodologies.
After six years of working intensively in Western Highlands and West Sepik using a context-specific and evidence-based approach, FHI360 contributed to behaviour change at the relationship level, resulting in statistically significant decreases in violence against women. This included a 23% reduction in marital rape. After training more than 2000 female and male educators, advocates and counsellors over three years, Bougainville’s Nazareth Centre reached more than 22,000 Bougainvilleans, with women reporting less acceptance of violence against women, feeling safer and being accorded more respect.
These are just two examples of gender transformational change that is taking place as a direct result of Pacific Women’s work in PNG. These examples and the findings of GETA provide essential lessons for both gender-focussed and non-gender targeted programming in PNG and the broader Pacific region.