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The Effects of Economic Growth on Gender Roles in Papua New Guinea and the Tolai People




            “The Land of the Unexpected” is Papua New Guinea’s well known alias among South Pacific societies, and not only has environmental and cultural implications, but socio-economic significance as well.  From subsistence economies in the highlands to multi-million dollar corporations in the cities, Papua New Guinea has the diversity to interest anthropologists and businesses alike.  The last century has presented such a high degree of developmental change throughout the country that inequalities in gender roles have been masked by the benefits of these changes.

            One of the most prosperous areas in PNG is the East New Britain province, where the Tolai people reside.  This area, mainly the Gazelle Peninsula, is an area of intense tectonic activity, producing many earthquakes, volcanic activity, and few tidal waves.  Three ancient volcanic cones dominate the scenery around Rabaul, the capital city, and the remaining landscape is hilly.  The fertile soils in the Gazelle Peninsula and their hunger for trade has allowed the Tolai to become the affluent and benevolent people that they are. 

To examine how economic growth has affected the gender roles in the Tolai society, all the cultural and economic components throughout history must be considered relative to the rest of the country.  The production and resources of any given community in PNG rely heavily upon the allocation of land.  Having control of a piece of land does not grant you legal rights to keep another party out, so warfare is the measure typically taken in order to defend land.  As in the Enga Province, where horticulture is prevalent and title to a piece of land is essentially determined by who it was that cleared and cultivated it, a weak spot in a tribe’s defense may result in stolen land.  The growth of tribes is obligatory in order to achieve strength in numbers, and therefore intertribal relationships must be established. 

Amongst the Tolai however, land ownership is based on matrilineages, differing

from the typical PNG tribe.  This may be due to the great importance placed on women’s work in early horticultural developments.  The term vunatarai (in specific contexts, as its meaning is very flexible) refers to a group of common matrilineal descent.  Although the Tolai are matrilineal, they are not matriarchal, and although some women have considerable power, they do not hold exclusive power within their vunatarai.  The leader of a vunatarai is called a lualua, and his reputation depends on his oratory skills, money resources, knowledge of customs and genealogy, land matters, and amount of controlled land.  The better a lualua is able to take care of his followers, the more people will align with his vunatarai, and the greater control of land they will have.  If one wants to identify a particular vunatarai, they might refer to a Bigman for direction. 

            If a woman leaves her home to marry, she is not incorporated into her husband’s vunatarai.  Throughout her life, she remained a member of her own local lineage, exercising her rights and enjoying the land that her vunatarai claimed as a joint estate.  She was bound into a  relationship with her vunatarai that went way back into the distant past and continued through the future.  By contrast, her relationship with her husband, upon his death, would end all ties with his kin and she would be free to return with her children to her own maternal kin, exemplifying how strong the matrilineages are amongst the Tolai.

Another resource influential to the local economy is labor.  The way that they divide labor by sex in the typical PNG tribe yields both prestige and subsistence.  The women are in charge of staple foods like sweet potatoes and pigs, while the men raise yams, sugar, and bananas for trading.  The yams are generally given as a gift to a woman in order to show support for her husband.  As a man’s wealth of yams increases, so does his influence and prestige within the community, and is eventually expected to throw a party and give most of it away.  This leveling mechanism in not only beneficial to those in need, but also fosters trust and strength.

            Distribution of one’s wealth like this is characteristic of how intertribal relationships commence and strengthen.  A Big Man may toil for months trying to accumulate enough wealth from reluctant followers, just to give it away to another tribe!  If he can give more than the Big Man of another tribe however, he has “won” and the other tribe is indebted to him for the next feast.  This balanced reciprocity is an insurance policy for allies to help in time of need.  Each tribe produces enough for it to subsist, but meanwhile saving every bit possible in order to gain prestige among neighboring tribes.  

If this reciprocity does not occur, tension may build between tribes and social relationships will cease, hurting the economies of both tribes.  These economic systems (or very similar)  have existed in PNG local societal networks since early after it was settled.

Forty to fifty thousand years ago when the first settlers to PNG arrived from Southeast Asia, travel was possible between islands in the South Pacific only when the water levels were low.  People reached the highlands about thirty thousand years ago, and finally inhabited the valleys about ten thousand years later.  It wasn’t until twelve thousand years ago that the East New Britain province was settled.

            The primary means of travel between islands were canoes.  The earliest inhabitants of the islands were said to have been very dark/black peoples, followed by the Sundanoids, who subsisted by hunting and gathering for many millennia.  Eventually a sail was developed for a new, larger canoe, and was able to hold about five hundred people.  This significantly increased migration, and a Mongoloid race arrived five thousand years ago and brought many different languages.  The last groups of people to arrive before any contact with Europeans occurred were Austronesians and Micronesians who brought more horticultural skills.  The earliest evidence of horticulture dates back to nine thousand years ago, making the Papuan New Guineans amongst the earliest of the world’s farmers.

            During this time the people established distinct social units, or tribes, that employed unique systems of distribution and reciprocity that would carry through the ages and exist still today.  The units were typically small, consisting of immediate and extended families.  Intra-tribal social structures were usually patrilineal, had a chief and one or two Bigmen.  Bigmen were not selected by lineage, but rather by possessing extraordinary entrepreneurial and managerial skills for use in trade and war.  By virtue of their social structure, it appears that Papua New Guineans were pre-adapted to the capitalism that would later seep its way into PNG from the western world.

            Women have always been in charge of maintaining the family’s staple food products, while men’s responsibilities have varied.  The mobility of women was restricted by biological factors like bearing children and caring for the young.  So women did what they could to contribute to the family’s food by gathering and horticulture.  Men have aided in these activities, but have more principally been occupied by clearing bush, hunting, fishing, trade, and warfare. 

            Europeans were attracted to Melanesia principally for trade and missionary purposes.  They first arrived in the sixteenth century and by the mid-nineteenth century, despite their common presence throughout the East and Central Pacific islands, had been discouraged from entering PNG.  Lack of interest in PNG stemmed from undetailed maps and the inhabitants’ reputation for savagery.  On several occasions Europeans would land in PNG carrying firearms, and would be killed off with bows and arrows by tribes defending their homeland.  New Ireland (rumored to be the native land of the Tolai) in particular established a bad reputation as they were never defeated.  Trespassers were killed whether they were missionaries or traders.  In the 1840’s more Europeans returned to Melanesia only to evoke more violence and murders. 

In one instance in the New Hebrides, traders arrived and began chopping down sandalwood trees, were attacked, and many were killed.  After learning of this incident, the missionaries would no longer support the traders, but continued with their attempts at migration.  This migration was important as missionaries later played a large part in the women’s movement.  Missionaries brought with them beliefs of equality and virtuous relationships within the family.  It has been hard for them to influence such a strongly patriarchal society, but having been there for such a long time they are slowly making an impact on gender roles.

            Closer examinations reveal that neither side had a monopoly of virtue and fair play.  Traders had the disadvantages of few people and uncertain reception, but were still willing to enter foreign lands to take goods.  They also needed islanders to help cut and carry the wood, so they knew they could not continue to fight and attempt to trade.  The islanders knew that they could kill European crews and ransack their vessels, but eventually understood that this kind of behavior would only drive others away who might trade valuable goods. 

            Commercial dealings developed based on mutual accommodations of each other’s needs.  Melanesians demanded a range of items including iron, steel, metal fish hooks, glass beads, bottles, tomahawks, pots, trinkets, scissors, saws, tobacco and cloth, muskets, pigs, and shells.  The main commodity that the Europeans demanded was sandalwood, an aromatic timber, and in some cases would sail from island to island to find items to satisfy the Melanesians. 

            The economic consequences of trading with the Europeans yielded a boost in development for the islanders.  The new tools saved months of time that would have been spent fabricating them themselves and construction flourished.  Travel also intensified about this time (1850’s).  Islanders were soon employed at “sandalwood stations” on the coasts to facilitate the exchange of goods.  The majority of the sandalwood trade took place in New Hebrides or New Caledonia, but once the supply was exhausted in the 1860’s, more resources were discovered in PNG and it’s islands. 

The Europeans’ need for labor on the sugar cane plantations in Queensland sent them searching for islanders.  Islanders, mostly men, having been coerced with bribes and their own sense of adventure, went to Queensland and were put to work for wages sometimes as little as one box of items to be taken home with them after three years of work.  This “blackbirding” period, as it was termed, lasted only until the royal commission in Queensland investigated the labor trade in PNG and put a stop to it in 1885.  No more licenses were issued after 1890, and seven thousand islanders were returned to the mainland, New Ireland, New Britain, Murua, and the Louisiade and D’entrecasteaux archipelagos. 

The exodus of thousands of Melanesians to Queensland over thirty years can not be termed as kidnapping however, because as one generation was sent back home, if they had been abused, there would be no other islanders waiting on the shore eager to go.  Between the islanders’ great desire for European goods, the novelty of travel, the impression perceived from those who had returned, and pressures within their own society (sorcerers, illnesses, leaders, or boredom), the islanders had motive enough to go. 

Chiefs and Bigmen received tools, firearms, and other goods for permitting their people to go, and along with all the goods that islanders returned with, vast quantities of European goods were introduced into island communities as a result of the labor trade. 

            Some customary forms of exchange assumed lesser importance as a result of the labor trade.  In some communities, as on the Gazelle Peninsula, the movement of men in the labor trade had increased the Tolai’s copra and coconut trade.  Many people turned to cash cropping and the element of competition amongst the Tolai became evident.  Returned people possessed new skills, habits, and values that, in some cases were stripped away and normal village life was resumed, and in other cases these skills were utilized to start their own businesses. 

The returned islanders were more likely to be receptive to Christianity and it’s promise of personal social and economic advancement.  Commercial and religious activities got the attention of nearby governments, namely German and British, who had already been attracted to Port Moresby following the discovery of gold in 1877.  In 1884 PNG was partitioned into the German Protectorate of New Guinea, and maintained control until they gave it up to Australia in 1906. 

            The Tolai’s prosperity is a function of the land and labor that East New Britain has to offer.  The Gazelle Peninsula’s fertile soils generated plentiful crops of bananas, yams, and taro (similar to sweet potatoes), but was mainly the “land of the coconut” and remains to be.  The coconut is used in the daily diet of the Tolai, whether it be for food, drink, oil (copra), or a mixture called ku-coconut which is a relish-like butter.  The fronds are used for houses, mats, and baskets, and the dried husks fuel for fires.  A commodity as important to society as the coconut is bound to have other importances too, and it is said to have magical properties and therefore is used in rituals.  The palm, a source of copra, was the chief means by which the Tolai became involved in extensive economic relationships.  Lime obtained from coral deposits is also traded between coastal and inland peoples to be used with the areca (betel)-nut and pepper plant as a stimulant.

            The proximity to volcanic activity that has benefited horticulture has also curbed the existence of fauna in the Gazelle Peninsula.  Although there are some wallaby and cassowary birds, pigs are scarce enough to eliminate the pig-exchanges that occur in the rest of the country.  Most of the protein the people get is from the fishing industry, which is the major economic activity of the men. 

            Late in the nineteenth century, Germany moved the capital of German New Guinea to Rabaul, East New Britain province.  This was a perfect place for the Germans to start making the profits they were searching for.  It had great land, and the Germans did not wait to establish roads and headquarters to stake their claim.  They prospered until WWI broke out and Britain pressured Australia to take over Rabaul, which they promptly did.  Although most of the Germans were out, the traces of organization and education they left behind, as well as the physical facilities, were appreciated and utilized by the remaining Papuans and Chinese, who were growing fast in the trade industry with the Tolai also. 

            Soon Australia recognized its obligation to provide facilities for the greater participation of the indigenous people that would contribute to the wealth and government of their country.  The emphasis on economic development in New Guinea prompted the Australian government to establish the Tolai Cocoa Project in the early fifties.  This development went hand in hand with other experiments on the Gazelle Peninsula to introduce a new system of native local government councils.  The Tolai demonstrated the intention of taking full advantage of the new opportunities presented to them. 

            A number of fermentaries were rapidly established in the area, and the project also provided supervisory and marketing services.  Some communities were unable to exploit the project as well as others due to lack of land and local ecological conditions.  In Matupit, for example, there were many people who took eagerly to the new production, therefore limiting the availability of land.  In the area of Rabuana (around the base of Mt. Mother in Rabaul) the soil was infested with snails, which had been introduced as food by the Japanese during their military occupation in the area, and would not allow the cocoa to survive until seven years after.  The area of Ranu however, had optimal conditions and generated some income. 

            In many areas of the Gazelle Peninsula cocoa gardens were small, around two-three hundred trees, but in Matupit the communities collaborated and made huge plantations (thousands of trees) and contributed equal labor.  In both cases, each contributor shared in equal profits.  If a grower had harvested enough cocoa, he was urged to register it with a specified fermentary for sale.  The project did generate some revenue and economic growth, but many growers ended up selling their produce to privately owned Chinese enterprises instead of registering it with the fermentaries.  In retrospect it was a project that had more potential that it achieved, but even though it did not actualize expected revenues, the project helped the economy.

            In rhetoric (according to the 7th aim established after PNG’s independence from Australia in 1975), the government has aimed to increase women’s’ participation in social and economic activity.  Little has been done to meet this aim however; political parties have ignored women in their policy statements.  Although female employment wages have substantially increased, this has not been accompanied by any significant change in their social standing. 

            The limited ability of women to participate in the economy (which in many areas is related to their inability to own land) has in some cases discouraged the development of commercial agriculture.  Amongst the Kewa in the Southern Highlands, women have undisputed rights to their crops, but cannot operate large commercial projects because they do not own the land, and therefore cannot call the needed work parties to come clear the land.  Instead they take their vegetables to the market for sale.  More commonly today women have taken an increasing role in cash cropping, especially for coffee.  In fact, in many coffee growing areas, women’s labor inputs into cash cropping have been more than those of men.  Consistent with other historical anthropological studies, this increased vegetable production by women has reduced the significance of the activity. 

            Regardless of the market returns on the coffee, individual returns/incentives are determined by the household power structure (male control of money), which many times results in a gendered (female) market failure.  Women’s returns on coffee production are at times so low that they spend more time on food production for the family, resulting in a shortage of labor for the coffee harvesting.  Some crops are not fully harvested due to shortage of labor resulting from lack of incentive. 

In societies like this, incentives and production may even be negatively correlated.  As incentives increase (coffee prices high), less production is required to meet the restricted level of income, yielding less available coffee.  But on the other hand, during price slumps, labor is simply withdrawn; villagers generally think that their time can be spent more fruitfully on other activities, which are not necessarily commercially productive, like socializing and organizing events.  In these cases, the coffee that is harvested is usually stored within the home awaiting price increases.

Trade and the introduction of steel axes also played a huge role in the inequitable labor inputs of highland people.  Previously, women and men spent and equal amount (80%) of daylight hours on gardening, pig husbandry, and household work, but with the introduction of the steel axe came more free time for the husbands.  Women were soon spending 43.5% of their time on these tasks while men spent 18%.  After cash-generating activities became their work, men spent 35.4% and women 53.1% of their time working.  The time men gained was spent on inter-tribal fighting and increasingly elaborate ceremonies.

The matrilineages of the Tolai permit women to own property in her own right: land as well as cash and prestige goods.  Men and women are often found working side by side as a team in their gardens, while in other contexts they are seen as partners; the man’s success is often attributed to the fact that he had an industrious partner.  But as mentioned earlier, the patriarchal system gives the man’s voice more weight in most economic decisions.

Between 1976 and 1986 attempts were made at coordinating integrated rural development projects (IRDPs) in five provinces- East and West Sepik, Southern Highlands, Enga, and Simbu – some of the least developed provinces in PNG.  The projects sought development that would improve health, nutrition, education, and the status of women, therefore improving the general standard of living.   Coffee, tea, and rubber estates were established, along with processing factories in the Southern Highlands and East Sepik provinces.  Hundred of kilometers of roads were constructed, schools and aid posts were built, but the IRDPs still failed to provide and develop opportunities where villagers could raise their economic productivity and increase their incomes over time.  The IRDPs did not positively affect gender roles, as the agricultural work schemes might have been expected to foster women’s subordination.  In one project in East Sepik, the position of the women within the project was actually worse than in neighboring villages.

PNG is one of the few countries where men have tended to outlive women.  This is mainly a result of the high child and maternity death rate, but also because of the high work burdens placed on women.  The IRDPs attempts to improve health did work to decrease deaths in children and mothers giving birth, and people that took advantage of the aid stations were generally healthier.  One downfall to the system was that wealth was usually correlated with body size, and so in the areas where an aid station should be placed to serve the maximum number of people, there were the wealthier, better-fed and less diseased people.  The small villages were poorer, poorer fed, and more in need of aid, yet it was more difficult to get to the aid stations.

Population migration also impacts gender roles.  The sex bias toward males in migration is often driven by education.  Work conditions and wages in urban areas tend to favor single males rather than females and families.  Migrants are usually between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four, and most intentionally return to their villages after their migration before it is too late to make an impact on their people.  Returned migrants are more highly educated than those who have remained in the provinces where they were born, and because of the sex bias results in the majority of the educated population in rural areas being male.  This migration does create a more evenly distributed educated population however.  As more migrants return to their home province with an education, the uneducated migrate in the opposite direction where they will soon be educated, providing they can find a job. 

Migration to the cities is somewhat discouraged nevertheless.  Urban areas have a very different socio-economic system in that there is an extraordinary diversity of groups and also concern for personal safety.  In most rural areas it is possible to maintain a comfortable style of living with a combination of subsistence farming and cash-cropping.  Due to increasing competition in urban areas and demand for educated people to fill important positions, many of the new migrants have trouble finding work.

Depending on the differing labor inputs of males/females, migration can either strain or relieve workloads.  In an area in Southern Highlands, men did little more than gather firewood and several other small communal duties, so their absence upon migration actually reduced the workload for women.  Women had to produce that much less to subsist, spent more time filling the duties of their husbands, and had more free time and capital.  In other parts of the country, where male labor inputs were greater, migration imposed a heavier workload on women and children.  In most of these cases women spent more time cash cropping which gave them more control over finances and increased their prestige within the community.  The absence of the males allowed them to prove their entrepreneurial skills.

Migration has not only led to the increase of cash in rural communities, but also the introduction of modern economic, social, and political values.  It has contributed to greater individualism, diversity of people, and business opportunities.  There are also cases in which the absence of youth (men in particular) have enabled tribes to stick to their strong traditions without interference.  Geographer/ethnographer John Connel observed that, “crude contrasts between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’, and between disengagement and incorporation, point to the manner in which migration simultaneously acts as a force of conservation and dissolution.”

Achieving literacy through formal or non-formal education is difficult for many women who have never been to school.  In very rural areas, secondary or tertiary education is discouraged because it would require the woman to leave the village.  Parents fear for the lack of security for migrant women.  Gender inequalities in the schools have declined recently, according to reports in the World Bank publications, females accounted for 44% of all primary grade students in 1992.  Female numbers in secondary education fell well below 40% though, and even fewer went on to tertiary education.

Education has proven expensive and inefficient so far in PNG.  About 5% of GNP is spent on education, which is more than most Asia-Pacific countries despite the limited geographical coverage of the system.  Only 2% of the population have attended tertiary schools, but this 2% absorbs around 40% of the public subsidy, leaving 60% of the funds for the rest of the schools.

The emergence of cash cropping, wage labor, migration, and greater individualism within nuclear families and clans have all came about as capitalism has stepped foot into PNG cultures.  It seems as though families are more separated from the community now, but men and women are closer to each other, as shown by the husband-wife teamwork we see amongst the Tolai.  Many males still exhibit patriarchal attitudes even in New Britain though, as in Kove, where a woman who seeks to have children, receive the support of her kin, and experience the prestige of being viewed as a ‘good woman’ must accept the restrictions placed on women. 

Males generally dominate cash cropping activities, while females are involved with food production.  Women and children provide a large part of the labor for food crops, coffee pulping and picking, pig rearing, and the raising of children/siblings.  In coastal, and especially matrilineal societies, women were less likely to be perceived as secondary and more likely to control cultural resources and exert a degree of autonomy.  The more successful male cash croppers were those who were able to mobilize the labor of their wives.  Sometimes this occurred to the extremity of pulling some of the girls out of school in order for them to produce coffee.  The fact that women continue to provide too much labor relative to their incomes in both subsistence and cash economies has prompted them to develop their own systems of exchange like Wok Meri in the Eastern Highlands and Kafaina in the Simbu province.

Such groups are organized by women and began as a plea for economic and political equality.  They usually have substantial and widespread membership, but are more of a tool proving women’s competence than generating large sums of wealth.  They have planted their own coffee and vegetables in an attempt to be recognized for the importance of female labor, and to challenge some of the prevailing ideology of male domination such as financial control, gambling, and beer drinking.  Unsurprisingly, many men have not been happy with the whole idea. 

 Wok Meri is a network of autonomous groups (two to thirty-five women) that are recruited from wives of lineages or sub-lineages within the same village.  Each group has one or two leaders called Bigwomen.  The concept was adopted from Bigmen, and are therefore similar in duties.  Bigwomen, like Bigmen, maintain their status by possessing recruiting and managerial skills.  She establishes and maintains ties with Bigwomen from other groups, with whom the group conducts exchange. 

Most initial members to a Wok Meri group are between forty and sixty years old, and younger women are recruited when larger numbers are needed for ceremonies.  Because movements like this challenge and may threaten men’s role in society, women have waited until they reach these ages.  By this time, a woman has a stable relationship with her husband, and is no longer raising children that must be provided for.  Elder women also command respect within the community, and consequently allowed the liberty of doing business.  Through the organization of these groups, Wok Meri has been able to develop a savings and loan system to invest in commercial activities, but has done little to improve gender equality.  Much of this is a perceived challenge to men’s status. Because of the importance of money, and the fact that many women have their own now, men feel threatened, and there has been an increase in crime and domestic violence toward women.  As innocuous as Wok Meri may seem, gender relations have worsened and women have failed to secure development.

The Tolai people have come to be known as the most well educated and prosperous of the Papua New Guineans.  Because of their early European contact and the move of the German administrative center to Rabaul, the Tolai were given a headstart in education and economic development.  It was their strong ambition that never hesitated to take advantage of new opportunities, however, that brought them to the position they are in today.  The Tolai have also been described as being ‘preadapted to capitalism’ by virtue of their long experience in utilizing a universal, divisible currency. 

This currency was of principal importance in establishing respect and gaining prestige within a community, and many observations describe the reason for their prosperity as being due to the Tolai perceiving money as the most important item.  Money did serve as the basis for personal prestige and efficacy, but only to the extent that money was used to motivate and maintain relationships which constituted sociability.  Bigmen, for example, used their social skills to manage intra/international relationships by recruiting donors and accumulating goods and money.  They used money as a mechanism of their social life, and likewise, villagers’ socializing was a function of their capitalist activities.

Utilizing two different currencies within one society is a manner in which the Tolai hoped to distinguish themselves and create an important national identity.  National currency was essential for trade with other peoples, and so it was incorporated as a common medium of exchange.  The effort to create national identity through the creation of national cultural property was another aesthetic accomplishment of the Tolai.  Both currencies, both shells and money (for lack of a better term) were (and currently) accepted as mediums of exchange.  When German collectors interested in cultural artifacts visited East New Britain, Tolai jumped at the chance to gain some international identity.  They prepared a shipment of shell money to be sold to Germany, but the package was inspected and the export was stopped by PNG officials that flew in from Rabaul.

These officials expressed the need for policy on national cultural property that would protect PNG as a whole.  The country already had enough diversity and, still struggling with political instability since independence was gained from Australia, did not want any additional currencies to divide PNG.  Their attempt to export shell money failed, but its monetary value still exists.  Interestingly, shell money can be bought with regular money also.  Because shell money has been used historically as a means as well as a marker of intertribal negotiation, it represents part of the culture that regular money only defies.  Because of this cultural significance, and largely because of the Tolai capitalizing, shell money was used to increase revenues from some commodities.  It was very difficult for European firms to obtain shell money to purchase copra with, and so were completely dependent on the natives for negotiating prices.  At times, you can imagine the prices were driven up absurdly high.

Shell money was a major standard by what everything, and everyone, was evaluated.  Bigmen played such an important role in society by creating organized communities in which people could identify themselves with by distributing shell money for activities and festivals.  Hence, the commercial activities of the Tolai are not as individually capitalistic as they could be interpreted when Tolai quotes such as “I love money more than anything else” (Errington 1995:136) are discovered.  A shell spender’s short-term personal gain as well as long-term social gain were both expected.

The Tolai people have enjoyed the benefits reaped from combining their strong economic base of goods and the high level of education needed in order to prosper.  Gender roles have been dependent on the strength of the patriarchal society, and many men and women are becoming more open minded.  The quality of life may be at a relatively high level in East New Britain, but gender inequalities remain a detriment to society’s well being.

            In the past century, the economic changes within the many diverse cultures of Papua New Guinea have directly affected men more than women.  Examining the changes, the historical inverse relationship between capitalism and women’s economic health becomes apparent.  Although gender-based discrimination occurs both within pre-contact patriarchal societies and in capitalist relations that followed the introduction of cash cropping, we see that as more capitalistic opportunities arise, men are allowed more free time while women’s workloads remain the same.  Women have responded to their deteriorating economic status by taking recent commercially oriented steps made possible by the insistence of equality by western missionaries.  As few strong industries offer potential for Papua New Guinea’s economy, its prosperity depends on the conduct of commercial enterprises and their harmony with traditional practices.




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