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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 21, 1999 – Independent)---Women on Bougainville want more representation and a stronger voice in the political arena at the province's governing and decision making levels, according to a concerned women leader on the island.

Although there are 69 constituent seats in the province, only two female candidates ran in the latest reconciliation government elections and, as the results this week show, neither was successful.

President of the Bougainville Inter Church Women, Sister Lorraine Garasu, said that the womenfolk are "bothered," as they see a need for a stronger voice and representation at the political level.

She said that at a meeting early this year a recommendation was made to nominate women representatives from the 12 districts on the island in the Bougainville Constituent Assembly. A paper was prepared by a working committee and brought up at the Bougainville Constituent Assembly. However, it did not get the support it needed to be taken on.

Despite these hiccups, the women are not deterred but continue to carry on with their programs and projects geared towards the betterment of women and families, resolving gender development issues and creating awareness of peace and justice issues.

The women of Bougainville have been at the forefront of the peace process from the height of the crisis days up until the present time, as normality gradually returns to most areas of the island.

For the sake of peace, the womenfolk, especially those in Church and peace groups, took great risks to go into the bush to mediate and negotiate with the young men, some of whom were sons and brothers, to give up both arms and fighting and to return home.

Had it not been for the women’s involvement and courageous contribution and determination, the task of achieving peace and reconciliation would have been made more difficult.

"Now that people are beginning to settle down in their villages, we are giving priority to the development of women’s welfare. However, we encourage gender development in our young people, as well as literacy and peace and justice programs," she said.

She said with opportunities such as the Micro-Credit Scheme being offered by the Provincial Council of Women and the Small Business Development Program by the Bougainville Inter Church group, women are going into small business projects in order to do something to earn an income for themselves and their families.

Train the trainers is one program which Sister Lorraine, with the assistance of an officer from BEST, a Madang-based NGO group, is carrying out in some areas of the island. The program involves trainers going out into areas where they are requested to give training and tips on running viable small businesses as well as giving lessons on business management and bookkeeping skills.

Handicrafts, cooking and sewing are also being taught as part of their daily living.

The smuggling of imported liquor into the island and homebrew consumption are areas of concern which women on Bougainville have.

Sister Lorraine said despite the liquor ban, which was imposed on the island in 1990, alcohol is still being smuggled into the island. Authorities and law enforcing agencies have tried to stop the practice but have not succeeded in doing so.

"As concerned groups, we are throwing the issue around for discussion to see what good can we come up with. Suggestions have been made to lift the liquor ban, but the impacts it could have on the peace process make it very difficult to make clear-cut decisions, " she said.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

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