World Rainforest Movement

Papua New Guinea: Women in Oil Palm Association become empowered

In late 2008, WRM and Friends of the Earth Papua New Guinea/CELCOR  jointly organised a workshop with local women in Papua New Guinea. The workshop referred to oil palm plantations that are being mainly promoted to feed the European market with palm oil (used in products such as cosmetics, soap, vegetable oil and foodstuffs) as well as for the production of agrofuels.

In a country where most of its 5 million population still lives in the rural area and rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, the oil palm export-driven production is increasing at the expense of traditional livelihoods.

The workshop gathered women from different provinces and enabled them to express their concerns regarding the expansion of oil palm plantations: possible land shortages due to oil palm expansion; contamination of rivers, streams, as well as soils and the air as a result of the use of agrotoxics in the plantations.

However, they went beyond and also tackled women issues, giving an insight into the impacts of oil palm plantations on their condition as women. They referred to the reinforcement of male control over women through the increasing control of men over the income from oil palm production; the restriction of women’s access to garden land as a consequence of the conversion of traditional farmlands to oil palm plantations; social disruption including increased alcoholism and domestic violence.

The meeting served as a catalyst for the need of women to organise themselves, and one of the outcomes of the workshop was a plan to establish an association of women within the framework of the campaign on oil palm issues. In November 2009 Women in Oil Palm Association (WOPA) was established, and this year 2010 it is in the process of being registered under the Investment Promotion Authority.

The Association was formed with the purpose of:
•          “Exposing the impacts of the oil palm industry in PNG on women and children through awareness and community mobilization
•          Campaigning for change in government policies, oil palm company management practices on the environment, social and economic livelihood and welfare of the women and children
•          Campaigning and lobby for women and children rights against deprivation and violation by the industry
•          Uniting affected women to form solid foundation and established a women network to campaign on issues affecting women and children
•          Protecting and promoting the rights of women and children
•          Acting as a body, a voice or catalyst for the oil palm affected women
•          Campaigning and lobbying for the environment and community livelihood to be defended, preserved and managed in a sustainable way.”

The creation of the WOPA is important to raise women’s issues in the oil palm industry in PNG. The initiative of the Women in Oil Palm Association is a relief for the women who are quietly campaigning on oil palm issues impacting their livelihoods.

There are many challenges ahead for the women organized under the WOPA. Yet, it is a major step in the process of women becoming empowered to demand for their rights and as they claim “for the environment and community livelihood to be defended, preserved and managed in a sustainable way”.

Adapted from the article “WOMEN IN OIL PALM ASSOCIATION (WOPA)” sent by George Laume, from Friends of the Earth Papua New Guinea-CELCOR, email: glaume@celcor.org.pg. The full article can be accessed at:  http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/PapuaNG/WOPA.pdf