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Women's Economic Empowerment among Coffee Smallholders in Papua New Guinea

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Title: Women's Economic Empowerment among Coffee Smallholders in Papua New Guinea
Author(s): Eves, Richard
Titus, Asha
Date published: 2020
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: Dept. of Pacific Affairs, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University
Women’s economic empowerment is an important component of the Australian Government’s aid policy and programming in the Pacific (CoA 2014:8, 16, 25; 2015; 2016). There is a critical need for research to provide an understanding of the challenges to realising the goal of women’s economic empowerment and an evidence base from which development programming can proceed. This report details findings of research undertaken with coffee smallholders at four sites in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, comprising a quantitative survey of 143 households and qualitative interviews with 64 respondents, both male and female. The research was undertaken as part of the Do No Harm research project, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program. Coffee is one of Papua New Guinea’s most valuable export crops. It is a vital part of the local economy in several of Papua New Guinea’s highland provinces, with an estimated 400,000 smallholders growing coffee and nearly three million people reliant on income from it. Historically, coffee has been considered a men’s crop, since it is planted on land belonging to men, and consequently men tend to monopolise the income from its sale even today when women do a substantial amount of labour in the coffee value chain. The research found that despite some gains for women and greater awareness of ‘gender equality’, particularly in the two research sites close to the provincial capital of Goroka, women continue to be disregarded, or put on the ‘last page’, as one woman described it. Though there has been a lessening of the more rigid traditions of gender segregation that were practised in many parts of the Eastern Highlands in the past, gender norms and roles continue to impact negatively on women. Coffee labour is accepted as both men’s and women’s work, though gender determines the particular kinds of labour they normally do. This segregation of labour reflects, to some extent, the types of labour men and women traditionally do in the agricultural sphere. As has often been noted, women’s role in coffee production is usually in the least skilled aspects of the work, typically in the labour intensive and time-consuming tasks, such as harvesting, washing and processing. Men take the tasks requiring some knowledge of coffee technology, such as planting, shading, fencing and pruning (Barnes 1981:274). Above all, men control the planning of the production process and the sale of coffee — ‘standing up at the scale’ as one woman referred to it. Our research found that women are more likely to have the lead role in commercial gardening and the selling of fresh produce, largely because the income from this is much lower than that from coffee. Men refer to the income from coffee as ‘heavy money’, meaning that it produces substantial amounts of money compared to the insignificant amounts they believe other cash crops make. We found that almost 70 per cent (69.6%) of women had their own income, though this ranges from a high of 85.7 per cent of women in Unggai-Bena District, to a low of 50 per cent in Okapa District 2. Women had fewer means of earning than men, with the most common income generator for them being garden produce (38.5%), followed by coffee (24.5%). The most common income generator for men was coffee (76.3%), followed by garden produce (30.5%). However, in the last year, men’s main source of income was coffee (65.9%), followed by paid employment (10.9%). The research found that only a quarter (25%) of households had a bank account, with a high of 39.4 per cent of households in Goroka District, dropping to 14.8 per cent in Okapa District 2, indicating that proximity to Goroka is a significant determining factor. Of the household bank accounts, 67.7 per cent were operated by the husband. Women’s financial exclusion was noteworthy, with only 6.6 per cent having their own bank account. The situation was particularly dire for Okapa District, where only two women had accounts at Okapa District 1 and none at Okapa District 2. Despite the lack of bank accounts, 87.1 per cent of households saved, usually by hiding money (88.2%). Of the men, 84.1 per cent saved, mostly by hiding money (89%) and 75.7 per cent of women saved, also mostly by hiding money (91.6%). The research found that only 52.2 per cent of women had completed the formal education system, the majority attending only Grades 1 to 8 and only two women making it to Grade 12. Men fared much better than women in formal education, with 77.7 per cent attending school and 22 per cent having attended high school. Women had low levels of English language competence: 46.2 per cent could understand English, 24.2 per cent could speak English, 32.3 per cent could read it and 25.6 per cent could write it. Men fared much better than women in English language competence, with 61.8 per cent of men able to understand English, 42.8 per cent able to speak it, 50.4 per cent able to read it and 45.4 per cent able to write it. Because English is the language used by formal financial services, the lack of proficiency in English impacts negatively on women’s access to the financial services and products available. Women were also less proficient in numeracy than men, with only 49.6 per cent of women able to complete a basic addition of numbers and only 42.5 per cent able to do a simple multiplication. Men, on the other hand, scored much better than women with 76.2 per cent and 65.9 per cent respectively.


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