Exploring the roles of women in indigenous businesses based on customary land : case studies from Papua New Guinea : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Development Studies at Massey University, New Zealand
The purpose of this research is to explore how indigenous enterprises based on customary land in Papua New Guinea (PNG) work to empower women. This research is part of the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden project “The land has eyes and teeth”: customary landowners’ entanglements with economic systems in the Pacific that draws upon the notion of land as ‘assemblage’ (Li, 2014). The study brought in a gendered dimension to the project to understand how economic engagements on customary land involve and benefit women.
Three examples of small-medium indigenous enterprises from PNG were selected as case studies. Utilising the Pacific Vanua and Tali magimagi influenced research framework, the involvement of women in these cases was examined to understand how they contributed to and benefited from small business engagements on customary land. From executing a mixture of tok stori/stori sessions (storytelling, conversations), semi-structured interviews and participatory observation, the study revealed the significance of indigenous social values and practices that were of critical support to business sustainability on customary land.
Women played an important role as the ‘social glue’ within the businesses, maintaining the local value of wanbel to keep social cohesion and harmony within the businesses, communities and, with associated people. This was seen through their work on the maintenance of wellbeing for workers, relatives and communities; meeting socio-cultural obligations and responsibilities, and allowing spiritual values and beliefs to influence their actions and decisions. The desire to maintain these social values influenced the way they behaved. They also played direct business roles as co-managers, financial managers, workers and producers that helped to support business viability and retain customary land for the benefit of the family, clan and community. Further, women benefited from these businesses in various ways including gaining recognition and status in their households and communities.
The study shows that customary land ownership is not a barrier to economic development, as widely held perceptions would suggest, rather it is an asset that can facilitate different forms of local development for people and communities in PNG and in the wider Pacific. There is a need to understand economic-centred intentions alongside the social-cultural interests of women to drive context-specific development. A culturally appropriate gender-sensitive framework is proposed in this thesis as an alternative development framework that can guide the work of government policymakers, development agencies and donors to formulate inclusive development programmes that also support women’s other interests in PNG and the Pacific.