When Safety Succeeds, Women in Papua New Guinea Do, Too

A course on leadership and management helped Violet Aopi become a more confident and assertive manager. © IFC  

Violet Aopi, a human resources manager in a private company in Papua New Guinea, has a tough job: she works in a country where violence against women is pervasive, and where other women sometimes feel envious of her success.

Here, women are only half as likely as men to hold a job with regular wages in the formal sector—just 24 percent of women hold such jobs, compared with 40 percent for men. Papua New Guinea is sometimes listed as one of the most dangerous places to be a woman—with more than two out of three women experiencing rape or assault in their lifetime.

This has a dire effect on the productivity of one of the poorest countries in the world.

Victims of violence, especially women, are more likely to miss work or leave their jobs. The risk of violence has a ripple effect, affecting the decisions of companies to expand their operations and hire more people. That’s why IFC works closely with the private sector in Papua New Guinea—to help reduce violence against women, and to increase women’s participation and leadership in the workforce.

In 2014, working with just 17 companies, we helped launch the Business Coalition for Women, a group of businesses that aims to bolster gender equality and combat violence against women. The coalition now encompasses 60 companies, and its work is influencing a much wider array of businesses across the country.

IFC and the coalition developed the Model Policy on Family and Sexual Violence to serve as a guide for companies to create a safe workplace for employees, particularly, women. This includes leave, safety planning, and referrals to services for victims of violence. The coalition has also developed other gender-smart policies and a suite of training services for businesses, human resource professionals, and female staff.

Aopi’s employer, catering firm NCS Ltd., an IFC client, was a founding member of the coalition. Thanks to the coalition’s training courses, Aopi acquired new skills to tackle the challenges of her job. In April 2016, she finished a new course—designed for high-potential women—on leadership and management, helping her become a more confident and assertive manager. Thirteen other women completed the course with Aopi. Six of them were promoted to more senior management positions within six months of completing the course.


Untapped Talent

Initiatives like this are especially important given the challenges of recruitment in Papua New Guinea. Many industries have resorted to importing foreign workers because of the shortage of skilled professionals locally. The lack of qualified workforce, in addition to poor security, is among the top impediments to developing business in the country, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Hiring, developing, and retaining more local women can be part of the solution. With a formal labor force participation rate less than half that of men, women represent the largest pool of untapped talent.

Other companies in the region, facing similar problems, are taking notice of the coalition’s efforts to encourage women in the workplace. Telecommunications firm Digicel, an IFC client, has agreed to send 40 women from Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Island nations to attend the course in the future.

Today, Aopi, who started at NCS in a largely clerical job, is building on the foundation offered by the Business Coalition for Women. She recently acquired a Business Management degree from the University of Papua New Guinea, taking her one step closer to her dream of becoming a CEO.

To learn more about IFC’s work in gender equality, visit www.ifc.org/gender

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Published in January 2017


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