A woman’s world in PNG

A woman’s world in PNG

MAF Operations Manager Siobhain Dales explores leadership and the challenges of culture for women in Papua New Guinea

I was in the Royal Air Force before I joined MAF so being a woman working in a "Man's World" is nothing new to me. When I took up the role of Ground Operations Manager for MAF in Papua New Guinea (PNG) 18 months ago, I saw it as both a great opportunity and an exciting new challenge.

Being a woman in charge of a team of around 40 national staff at 9 locations across PNG has proved difficult at times; visiting remote bases where there is no culturally appropriate accommodation is difficult. Safety is much more of a problem than it would be if I was man.

Siobhain with MAF colleagues

But thankfully I am able to work very closely with my deputy Lessley Bents, a national from the Highlands of PNG for whom I have a great respect. He has a wealth of experience and the skills to deal with cultural issues. Wherever there is a culturally sensitive issue, we discuss it, decide what to do and Lessley makes it happen.

I have a number of highly capable national women working within my department and their positive attitude to the work of MAF is a great witness to their male colleagues who can see that women can be just as capable as men.

A constant threat

But the reality is that PNG is a hard place to be a woman. Ordinary women who work hard to provide food and a future for their children live under constant threat of violence and abuse.

Human Rights World Report 2015: PNG is one of the most dangerous places for women to live

High numbers of women suffer domestic violence or physical assault from strangers. Within the last month I have heard of one woman who was sexually assaulted and bled to death next to the Market where I buy my vegetables every weekend. The sad truth is that many PNG women live tragic and brutalised lives and the ones who get away are the fortunate few.

MAF's Siobhain Dales at the local market

Opportunities are limited and stories of girls who cannot finish their education because High School places are so few or they cannot afford the "Project Fees" are common. Then there are those in remote areas who die in childbirth for want of good medical services. We are able to help many, through essential medevac flights, but there is no guarantee of survival even for those who receive medical care. It is brought home to me I think that had my sister-in-law, who gave birth to her first child earlier this month, lived in PNG instead of the UK, she would have almost certainly died from the complications of childbirth.

Woman with childbirth complications medevaced by MAF

So inspirational

Many of the women I have met lead very simple lives, working as cleaners or spending almost every day in their "gardens" (although field would be a more accurate description) growing vegetables to feed their families and to sell to get some money to pay for the essentials. Many of these women cannot read, but they love God and they love their families and that is so inspirational.

I have a huge amount of respect for the women who try to make the most of the lives God has given them.

Increasingly women are gaining a foothold and stake in the future of PNG. There are several female pilots now flying with airliners in PNG. The nursing colleges have many women learning skills that will help save lives in the future and others are being empowered in organisations like MAF and finding their place and value as women, Papua New Guineans and precious daughters of God.

 Siobhain with 2 friends

I have a huge amount of respect for the women who try to make the most of the lives God has given them. But I know that when all else is gone, all that is left is to love God.

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