Papuan women must rise up in defence of their rights!

Bintang Papua, 3 January 2012

[Abridged in translation by TAPOL]

Development activities which fail to involve women distorts the relationship between men and women and it furthermore is damaging to the development process itself. The position of women in Papua, both in the highlands interior and in coastal areas, is still very difficult because of gender discrimination and cultural biases that weaken the role of women. The deputy chair of the MRP, Angelbertha Kotorok said that women have made many efforts to put an end to this situation. Although conditions vary in different parts of Papua, it can be said that in general women face discrimination as the result of traditions and cultural circumstances. 

In Mimika where the giant Freeport copper-and-gold mine is located, women are the ones who work the hardest for their families’ livelihoods. Most women spend time panning for gold in the river tributaries, but the water of these rivers is contaminated by poison, which means that panning for gold is very damaging to their health. Women themselves are unaware of this damage which affects there reproductive organs. To remain in the water for many hours at a time is very damaging and has resulted in a fall in the birth rate in the central highlands. Although this problem has not been studied scientifically, local surveys confirm that this is true.

‘Women and young girls spend a great deal of time panning for gold and are unaware of the effect on their reproductive health,’ she said.

Besides serving their husbands sexual needs, the women must walk long distances with their noken (string bags) in which they carry their children while tending their gardens, looking after pigs and other animals, as well as panning for gold.

The location of their gardens has been damaged because of the spread of tailings which affect the food produced on this land.

Besides the daily work in their gardens and the panning for gold, women have to face violence from their husbands, as well as acts of violence from members of the security forces. In other words, they face violence from many quarters. They also face pressure from the security forces who demand from them money earned from panning gold. And moreover, they are forced to sell the results of their gold panning to members of the security forces for a very low price.

And now with so much of the land in Mimika occupied by Freeport, food has become very expensive indeed.

‘Should the women remain silent in face of all this?’ asked Angelberrtha . ‘Certainly not, I say. They must rise up and reject all the discrimination which they confront.’ Speaking to Bintang Papua, she said that the women are beginning to rise up against their position as second-class citizens and to put an end to the chain of violence which they experience.and regain equality with men.

These efforts to restore women’s equality with men have already begun with the support of NGOs which have been active in the area since 1998 and this is bringing an improvement in the lives of the women.

‘Whereas in the old days, the women remained silent in face of the violence that threatens their lives, they now have information and support and have become more determined to defend their basic rights and to report all cases of discrimination which they experience which reduces their social position within the family and in the broader community.’

She said that a number of groups have been set up to support the women while admitting that not all these groups are working as effectively as they should.

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