VSA’s Bougainville partners attend workshop on women and land

Published on 5th July 2010

Representatives from two of VSA’s partner organisations in Bougainville were among the 11 delegates who attended a two-day workshop in Wellington at the end of June to discuss the issue of women and land in Bougainville.




They were Helen Hakena and Barbara Tanne, of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency, and Sister Loraine Garasu, who runs the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre. Both organisations are based in Buka.


Traditionally a lot of the land in Bougainville has been held matrilineally, but that has been challenged by colonisation and the effects of 10 years of civil conflict.


Sister Loraine told the workshop that during the conflict many people lost a lot of property which changed attitudes to land, with individuals seeking cash at the expense of the rest of the clan.


“So now, when they distribute land or when land is distributed it is always like someone in the family or clan does it as an individual so that they can get cash to, you know, sustain their livelihood. Whereas in the past it was always the clan doing it so that it was the members of the clan or the members of the families within the clan could sustain their livelihoods.”


Mrs Hakena said that men often ignore the matrilineal tradition, and sell land without the approval or backing of the women in the clan.


“Our husbands or our chiefs, our male members are signing agreements with the companies and they are getting all the money, whereas they should be consulting women, because women are the resource owners.”


The workshop, called Bougainville and New Zealand: Women and Land, was organised by the Pacific Cooperation Foundation and the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific, and co-sponsored by Victoria University. The purpose was to identify the key challenges facing women in Bougainville in relation to access to land, as well as to develop relationships between organisations with a common interest in the issue.


VSA’s Pacific Programme Manager Peter Swain talked to the workshop about the work VSA does in Bougainville, which focuses on capacity-building, rather than sending money. Maori Land Court deputy chief judge Caren Fox also gave a talk about customary land and legal issues in New Zealand.


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