Credit Access in Papua New Guinea: Women’s Battle for Independence

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SEATTLE — Approximately 68 percent of women in Papua New Guinea have experienced abuse, resulting in the country having one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world. Since many people earn their income through agriculture, they live in rural areas where it is difficult to access credit. However, women are disproportionately barred from creating a bank account because their husbands confiscate their income to use it for alcohol and gambling. Women are often met with physical abuse from their husbands if they attempt to keep their own money. This results from gender inequality and the belief that women should submit to their male superiors. With help from Oxfam and the World Bank, women are gaining more credit access in Papua New Guinea and dismantling traditional gender roles.

Since few women are given the chance to receive a secondary education, they have limited options for employment. A common practice is selling betel nuts, known for creating an effect similar to nicotine, at street markets. In addition to punishment for their attempts at being financially independent, women have to watch out for police who charge fines for illegally selling wares on the street and gangs who steal their products. In 2013, Papua New Guinea introduced the Family Protection Act to remove abusive husbands from the home of their wives and children. Despite this advancement, women suffer from emotional trauma even after they get a divorce. That is why it is important to not only promote economic opportunity, but to ensure that gender equality becomes the new cultural norm.

Credit Access in Papua New Guinea Vital to Women’s Empowerment

A study conducted in the Eastern Highlands Province reveals the lack of credit access in Papua New Guinea, especially among women. About 92 percent of coffee farmers in that area do not have bank accounts, partially due to poor road conditions that make it hard to travel to urban settings. When families do not have credit, they lack coverage in the case of an emergency and are at risk of being taken advantage of by loan providers. Even though many coffee farmers save their money, they can maximize how much they save and practice frugal spending when it is stored somewhere other than in their house.

The study has also shown that women are more capable of managing finances, so it is important to improve their access to financial services. Traditional gender roles have taught women to prioritize the well-being of their households, so they are more likely to save their income rather than spend it on alcohol and gambling. Plus, giving women their own bank accounts will lessen the chances of their husbands taking away their income.

Oxfam helps women gain credit access in Papua New Guinea by partnering with 12 local organizations. It is dedicated to providing more job opportunities so that women do not have to be financially dependent on abusive husbands. In the Jiwaka Province, Voice for Change teaches women how to grow food, which prevents their children from going hungry and creates produce for them to sell. Also, water tanks are being put in more convenient locations because less time traveling to fetch clean water means women have more time for their jobs. On average, these organizations supported by Oxfam are helping three women per week.

New Banks Help People in Rural Areas Access Services

The World Bank is improving connectivity by fixing roads and installing mobile networks. The Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Project has already restored more than 800 kilometers of roads and 50 bridges, which will also improve access to markets. Since the majority of Papua New Guinea’s population lives in rural areas, traveling to access services not offered in one’s town is not always an option. With that in mind, the World Bank has begun building banks in more locations. An estimated 1.3 million people have benefitted from increased credit access in Papua New Guinea.

The program prioritizes women farmers as part of its plan to help the agriculture industry. Women learn how to yield a greater harvest and earn higher prices, which can generate more revenue. More than 60,000 cocoa and coffee farmers have benefitted from World Bank’s efforts and the planting of three million trees and seedlings. But it is not just farmers who are part of the goal for gender equality. The World Bank is working to give women in general more financial independence by increasing their access to bank accounts. Community development is expected to help promote equality as well.

Even though the country is known for being isolated from the rest of the world, women’s lack of credit access in Papua New Guinea has not gone unnoticed by organizations looking to help. Instead of having to defend themselves against violent husbands, they can overcome those abusive relationships with financial independence. The overall economy in Papua New Guinea will benefit from their participation as well.

– Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr

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