Involving women in business makes good economic sense, says Lesieli Taviri


Ending violence, positive discrimination policies, promotion of women and expanding opportunities for women are the four key ways to get more women into business, according to Lesieli Taviri, Chair of the newly-formed Business Coalition for Women.

The Business Coalition for Women's Lesieli Taviri

The Business Coalition for Women’s Lesieli Taviri. Credit: INA

Women make up 50% of Papua New Guinea’s working population but only represent one third of employment in the formal sector.

Since it was founded last year, with the help of the IFC and a A$1 million commitment from former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the Business Coalition for Women has resolved our mission is to ‘be the innovative, relevant, and inclusive driver of business growth through positive change for women in PNG’.

We have identified four core areas that we believe are impediments to empowering women:

  1. Addressing violence
  2. Developing gender-smart workplace policies and best practices
  3. Promoting women into leadership roles
  4. Expanding opportunities in the supply chain for women-owned businesses

Economic benefits

Empowering women is not just an ethical move but an economic imperative.

Studies show that when women are given economic opportunity, the benefits impact a wider social structure: families will have more access to disposal income, which will provide better opportunities for family growth, personal development and progression. This will, in turn, strengthen the country’s skill base and sustainability. Business growth will contribute more largely to economic growth, in turn creating more opportunities for formal sector employment.

So, opening economic options for women puts poverty reduction on a faster track.

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We are all aware that the issue of violence is a major impediment to development, affecting women’s access to education, employment and their ability to participate freely and confidently.

Sadly, Papua New Guinea is one of few places in the world where violence against women is seen as normal.

According to recorded statistics from the PNG National Department of Health, 68% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence, one third were subjected to rape and 17% of sexual abuse cases involve girls between the ages 13 and 14.

‘Empowering women is not just an ethical move but an economic imperative.’

Whilst the statistics are horrific, and the issue of violence stems within society, the Coalition’s focus will be specifically on its impact in the work place, with a strong focus on awareness.

Organisations such as The Anitua Group are on the forefront of this challenge, through their Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) Program, which has greatly influenced the communities in which they operate and has secured great interest from other organisations—in particular, their White Ribbon Project.

The focus on developing gender smart and relevant work place policies aims at creating organisations that can be an ‘Employer of Choice’ for women.


Promoting women into leadership roles aims at developing innovative and relevant mentoring and training programs targeted at career progression and development for high potential and aspiring women leaders, enabling them to advance into senior management and board of director roles.

Research has proven than only less than 1% of boards in PNG have female representation. The Coalition also aims at developing relevant awareness to encourage women’s migration into formal sector employment.

‘Opening economic options for women puts poverty reduction on a faster track’

Through expanding opportunities in the supply chain for women-owned businesses, the Coalition aims to develop linkages between larger businesses and female suppliers and customers.

Business support

Since March 2014, the Coalition has received increasing interest in memberships, with a total of over 60 business houses registering as members. The interest is growing each week.

‘I have seen first hand men and women enter the workforce with similar credentials and career aspirations but their career paths often diverge.’

This is a strong indication of the business community’s interest in empowering women, but more so creating an investment climate that is conducive to private sector development.

I have seen first hand men and women enter the workforce with similar credentials and career aspirations but their career paths often diverge. Women tend to hold back on career advancement because of family responsibilities, lack of family support and lack of a conducive working environment.

It just seems too hard, so they throw in the towel without realising their wider contribution and potential.

Unless these core underlying issues are addressed through time and education, we are far from progress.

Lesieli Taviri is Chair of the newly-formed Business Coalition for Women. This is an edited version of Ms Taviri’s speech to the 30th Australia PNG Business Council Meeting, Cairns, Queensland.

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