Ms Fredah Wantum, a project leader for the Highlands Hub of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), is working to help Papua New Guinean women who farm for subsistence to transition into farming as a business.
Ms Wantum manages projects in various districts in the Western Highlands, Jiwaka, and Eastern Highlands Provinces.
My parents believed that I could be someone if I put time into school and studies. As the second girl in a family of six, my father put his hope and confidence in me. He encouraged me to study hard and go to a college or university so that I could work and look after my siblings. My father made a decision to give a fair chance to both his sons and daughters despite our Min culture in Telefomin where men dominate decision-making and boys are given the first priority to go to school. Even today, my father still encourages me to continue my career, as well as studies.
I was trained as a registered nurse then I studied for a Diploma in Community Health and later, a Degree in Midwifery. I worked in the health field until 2007 when I began work with Baptist Union of PNG on capacity building programs for women. The aim of the current project I am leading is to improve the business acumen of rural women farmers. It will help women farmers move away from subsistence farming into farming as a business to empower them and improve their livelihoods.
Working with women and being there for them has influenced me to be who I am today. As I worked with women who are village birth attendants, I started to see that it was more than just training women to be birth attendants. It was also about helping other women in the villages have safe births. Their roles as birth attendants was voluntary so I went into securing funding for added skills-training for them so that they could generate an income to sustain their livelihoods. The training included lessons in sewing, learning how to save, growing vegetables, and chicken and fish farming. I also set up a ‘Micash’ agent with assistance from Mibank to help women access banking services where they are, so that they are not spending a lot of money on transportation to look for banking services elsewhere.
I will be running in the 2017 National Elections with an aim to make sure that women’s voices are heard at the decision-making level and that women are assisted with their programs and activities. As a woman who has worked with women for over fifteen years in the health field, and also for eight years with the Baptist Union of PNG to oversee activities for women in PNG, I have seen and learned that women are not well-represented at all levels of decision making. Women have needs, especially those living in the rural areas where accessibility to earn an income is limited and they are living in poverty.
My goal is to change the household by changing the attitudes of the father, mother and the child. They can work together as a family team to achieve their family goals. Women are planners and managers of their families so if we could change a woman then she will then change a family, a community, a ward, a local level government, a district, a province and eventually, the nation.
Women have an equal right to be heard and to make decisions. Women have an equal right to control resources and time. Women have the right to negotiate the terms of peace and to be free from personal violence. When a woman is aware of her human rights, she can change the world for herself and for the people around her.
Gender equality is essential in the development of this nation. When women are supported and assisted to participate meaningfully in all forms of development, they can fully develop their potential.