Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gender Equality an Uncharted Terrain

This is the orignal version of the article published in Steven'w Window, a column in the Weekender of The National newspaper of Papua New Guinea. Friday 23rd April 2010, p.5.

Popular misconception, prevailing patriarchal notions of women’s place in society, and the struggle women have in articulating their experiences using their own voices seem to affect gender equality at work. The respected Papua New Guinean scholar, educator, and advocate for gender balance in workplaces, Dr. Kapa Darius Kelep-Malpo, has a recipe for addressing gender equality at workplace and in organizations. In her new book Gender Equality at the Workplace, Dr. Kelep-Malpo provides a recipe for smart organization to promote gender equality. The book is self-published with funding support from generous individuals. The book features provocative cartoons illustrated by Mr. Bunesito Thaross, a student in the Expressive Arts Department of the University of Goroka.

The book is also endorsed by Dame Carol Kidu, MP and Reverend Philip Tony Dalaka, Assistant General Superintendent, AOG-PNG and senior Pastor of the Cornerstone Gateway Church in Goroka.

Dame Carol Kidu says of the book: “Dr. Malpo’s book is an insightful analysis of this situation. Her recipe is for smart organizations with a purpose in Papua New Guinea to address the imbalance and to make gender equality in the workplace a reality. She skillfully analyses the fact that women in authority is uncharted terrain for men…It is imperative that politicians and bureaucrats who design policies and programs for gender interventions listen to the voice of our indigenous researchers to ensure appropriate responses to address the present gender imbalance in the executive levels of the workforce in Papua New Guinea”.

In his own words, Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane, the Governor General of Papua New Guinea, also speaks highly of Dr. Kelep-Malpo’s purpose in writing this book: “She strongly believes that smart organizations thrive and move forward, because women and men work together. She highlights many examples in this well researched and written book.” I couldn’t agree more.

Gender Equality at the Workplace has 13 chapters on gender equality and organizations smart enough to make decisions based on the skills and merits of individuals rather than on the traditional gender divisions.

Dr. Kelep-Malpo declares: “Literature on organizational management abroad illustrate that smart organizations are thriving both on their amalgamation of feminine and masculine leadership qualities as well as the general gender differences in the workplace…Global literature and media coverage illustrate that more and more women in developed and developing counties are entering the executive arena.”

To illustrate her point how this is possible in Papua New Guinea Dr. Kelep-Malpo gives a historical background to the promotion of gender inequality before moving on to addressing specific recipes for success in promoting gender equality at workplace. After each chapter a number of questions to consider are given.

In the chapter on smart organizations that value human resources, Dr. Kelep Malpo says: “Smart organizations are led by visionary leaders. The organizational vision emanates from an organizational culture which promotes competition and experimentation of ideas, knowledge and skills…Utilizing the best of both genders is part and parcel of the experimentation.”

“Papua New Guinea has to catch up with countries that are benefiting from the realization that equality between women and men is important in the successful transition to a market economy,” is the discussion in chapter 3. National development must not ignore the constitutional requirement of gender equality in Papua New Guinea.

Chapter 4 highlights the reality of gender equity and practices in the workplace in PNG: “Generally, the obstacles to women’s full participation in their country’s development and in public life can be grouped into these categories: legal and management; cultural, and social and economic factors, including access to and ownership of resources.”

The need for Papua New Guineans to be educated on gender equality at all levels is by Dr. Kelep-Malpo: “the lack of a consistent support towards national women’s actions from the national government …The absence of women in the national government could be a contributing factor to this inconsistency.”

In chapter 5, the challenges, women leaders face are considered. Women leaders are often tested by their male colleagues. “When women occupy leadership positions, the organizational landscape changes,” Dr. Kelep-Malpo writes in her 2003 study. “It becomes uncharted terrain for men, full of hidden bumps and potholes…because many men experience a sense of disorientation working for women because the top of an organization is where men make their last stand to be themselves and uphold what they think is the natural order of things.”

Beginning at chapter 6 and ending in chapter 10, the author describes how and why men test women in authority. Gender stereotyping and biases, cultural beliefs and practices, work ethics affected by gender and early childhood experiences, and finally Christian beliefs and practices are some of these factors.

In the last three chapters Dr. Kelep Malpo delivers the recipe for smart organizations with a purpose in Papua New Guinea: organization members have diverse personality, training for gender equality in the workplace is must, and the necessity of gender equity and diversity policies.

Dr.Kelep-Malpo says: “Smart organizations perceive staff diversity as an asset which can lead to enhanced learning, flexibility, organizational and individual growth, and the ability to adjust rapidly, and successfully, to the changes in the external environment…[to] promote and reinforce policies recognizing diversity and its richness”.

Dr. Kelep-Malpo has succeeded in writing this book. It is a well researched and articulated book written in simple, clear, and objective language that reinforces the sense of a successful woman speaking for herself and her lot. Second, it is a book that has the potential to become a workplace manual or reference in organizations and work environments in Papua New Guinea.

Dr. Kelep-Malpo is among leading PNG women in the likes of Dr. Cecilia Nembo, Dr. Orovu Sepoe, Dr. Anne Waiko, Dr. Angela Mandie-Filer, Dr. Julian Kaman, Dr. Anastasia Sai, Prof. Betty Lovai, Dr. Rose Kekedo, Mrs. Rose Ninkama, Ms. Margaret Taylor, Mrs. Josepha Kanawi, Judge Cathy Davani, Ms. Winnie Kiap, Ms. Helen Seleu, Ms. Margaret Elias, and Norah Vagi Brash.

The book is a compass for those navigating the uncharted territory of gender balance.

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