Take five: “Don’t focus on yourself as the leader, but look at others and improve their lives.”
Barbara Tanne is the president of Bougainville Women’s Federation (BWF) in Bougainville island in eastern Papua New Guinea. The federation is implementing a UN Women project to build the leadership skills of young women. In a late 2019 referendum, the people of Bougainville voted overwhelmingly for independence.
How are gender stereotypes affecting young women in taking leadership positions in PNG?
People have held strong negative views about women’s leadership, that “women cannot be leaders, women can’t be the fore runners.” They are actually missing out on women’s potential. Women can lead; women can be at the forefront. Women have creative minds and are born leaders. So gender stereotypes on women’s leadership are bad and unfair to women and to the whole society.
How did you overcome gender stereotypes?
Gender stereotypes can be surpassed by getting into an unequal field and doing your best to equalize it. When you become a leader, prove that you can lead and deliver results. This can be done by putting people’s issues and well-being before anything else. They may not be of your status or not as educated as you are, but these are the people you serve and should base your decisions on. Don’t focus on yourself as the leader, but look at others and improve their lives.
For example, I did not get any challenges to get to this position as BWF president. Based on my personality and leadership qualities, I was nominated for candidature. They believed in my leadership, and being the former executive officer of BWF from 2013 to 2016, I had a lot of experience and historical background of BWF. Out of 182 voters, I scored 146 against 33 votes for the second candidate.
What are the causes of gender stereotypes?
It is our culture and traditions that sometimes confuse us. Our cultures tend to value men more than women, yet we are all equal before God. When children are born, they are loved equally but the unequal treatment is learned along the way. It is through the gender process that inequality is learned and practiced.
What advice do you have for the public regarding gender stereotypes?
Gender stereotypes are part of discrimination. There should not be any gender stereotype. We have to unlearn all the gender stereotypes and give credit where it is due for women. Women can really take the lead and make a big difference in their communities.
As BWF, what programmes do you have to increase women’s participation in leadership?
Women have a role to play in the Bougainville post-referendum process. We shall continue to engage and support them to participate in the post-referendum strategic and economic development plans for Bougainville. We want to realign our strategy to the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s six-point strategic plan. An independence readiness plan will also be developed to guide and prepare our women and girls, including the communities. We will also focus on activities which economically support women including sustainable development for young women.