GNWP Reports from Papua New Guinea: Localizing the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda in the Highlands Region

GNWP Reports from Papua New Guinea: Localizing the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda in the Highlands Region

26 January 2024 by Bianca Pabotoy

Edited by Shawna Crystal and Jasmin Nario-Galace

From 25-29 September 2023, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), in partnership with Voice for Change (VFC), and with the support of the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI), launched the Localization of Women, Peace and Security (WPS) strategy in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea (PNG). This milestone training convened 120 stakeholders from across the region’s seven provinces of Enga, Hela, Jiwaka, Simbu, and the Eastern, Southern and Western Highlands.

Throughout the region, women and girls face significant threats to their safety, security and human rights. Deeply rooted patriarchal norms and practices deny women full citizenship, hinder their participation in decision-making spaces, devalue their contributions to peace and security, and engender violence against them. One of the most notable and concerning manifestations of these biases is the prevalence of sorcery accusation-related violence (SARV). In the Highlands, perpetrators of SARV act with impunity, subjecting women to extreme and brutal forms of violence, including abduction, public mob trials, detention as well as prolonged, and often fatal, sexual torture. Exacerbated by ongoing tribal conflicts, election-related violence and insufficient government response mechanisms, these dynamics contribute to a challenging environment for women’s rights and meaningful inclusion.

It is in this context that GNWP and VFC organized the country’s first Localization of WPS workshop to build on the momentum of women’s rights organizations from across civil society in advocating for more gender-sensitive conflict response. The four-day workshop mobilized diverse actors contributing to peace and security processes, including local women’s civil society organizations, women human rights defenders, religious and tribal leaders, peace committee members, police and security forces, as well as local government officials from Enga, Hela, Jiwaka, Simbu, and the Southern and Western Highlands. 

The security risks associated with active tribal disputes often prevent open spaces for dialogue. As such, this workshop provided a rare opportunity for key stakeholders to gather and an essential forum for local women to directly engage with officials and participate in decision-making conversations on peace and security in their local communities. GNWP and VFC leveraged this platform to raise awareness of the successes, challenges and opportunities for women’s participation in building and sustaining peace, including conflict mediation and peace negotiation. Participants learned about the WPS agenda and engaged in discussions on key local security issues — such as tribal conflict, SARV and gender-based violence — and how WPS can provide a framework for effective response.

Additionally, GNWP and VFC hosted an intensive, full-day session with local security representatives, including the provincial police commander, the provincial peace committee coordinator and the provincial coordinator of the village court systems. The session offered an in-depth introduction to the WPS agenda and the gendered impacts of conflict in the context of prevention and protection. This targeted engagement will facilitate enhanced security responses that incorporate gender considerations and ensure broader political support to the Localization process. 

Following the workshops, GNWP and VFC initiated the formation of the Highlands Women, Peace and Security Localization Steering Committee. Its mandate is to develop, advocate for and monitor the adoption and implementation of Local Action Plans or other local laws and policies integrating gender-responsiveness. Comprised of elected district representatives from each province, the steering committee will contribute to amplifying the WPS resolutions, fostering long-term, cross-provincial partnerships and generating support from local authorities throughout the region. 

Thus far, members of the Highlands WPS Localization Steering Committee have conducted 68 follow-up meetings and consultations across 7 council wards in Jiwaka and the Western Highlands and are already yielding results. Thanks to the leadership of the committee, a local area in the Western Highlands has developed community bylaws adopting the WPS resolutions. In Jiwaka, the mobilization and advocacy for women’s participation has led to the commitment from one community to nominate three women for the local government elections in 2024. As part of its ambitions to sustain these early successes, the steering committee hopes to increase engagement from tribal leaders and ward councilors in upcoming initiatives.  

Despite the barriers, the Localization of WPS in the Highlands has demonstrated the resilience and drive of women peacebuilders in PNG and the dedication of local communities to disrupting cycles of conflict and creating a more peaceful, safe and inclusive society. Lilly Be’Soer, the Executive Director and Founder of Voice for Change, emphasized: 

“We have to speak up and stand against the injustice, even if our voice is the only one around us. When it comes to the impact of conflict on civilians, the damage is huge, and we have to come together to address such challenges.”

GNWP’s engagement in Papua New Guinea is under its project, “From Global to Local: Localizing the WPS Agenda to Sustain Peace and Empower Women,” as part of the Support Her Empowerment – Women’s Inclusion in New Security (SHE WINS) initiative. GNWP thanks the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) for its support.

Picture of Bianca Pabotoy

Bianca Pabotoy

Senior Program Officer for Asia and the Pacific