At a recent Development Policy Centre event, two female professionals from Papua New Guinea spoke about the challenges women face working in male dominated professions in their home country.

Civil lawyer, Avia Koisen, and Principal Legal Officer, Emma Wurr, highlighted how women in Papua New Guinea are chronically under-represented in all levels of government and business, as well as face barriers to achieving a tertiary education.

Both women specifically spoke about their own experiences of being female lawyers. Emma spoke of the disparaging remarks and emails she receives in her role focused on protecting human rights.

‘I have had a case where the opposing male lawyer sent me abusive correspondence before I even entered the courtroom… The letter said, “Do you even know what you are talking about? Have you read your laws?”… And I just told him, “I’ll see you in court, and let the judge decide.”’

Avia also repeatedly stressed how tough it is to be a female lawyer, but felt that it made her ‘sharp’. The bigger challenge, she felt, was being able to effectively represent and help other women, especially those facing violence.

“With the absence of support, often as a lawyer I end up being a counsellor as well. It is very tough.”

A civil lawyer with more than 18 years’ experience and Principal of Koisen Lawyers, her own civil law firm in Port Moresby, Avia has also become one of the founding members and Interim President of the Papua New Guinea Women’s Chamber of Commerce, established in 2013.

“Through the Chamber we are setting up mentoring programs to support the younger generation of women and to teach female professionals to reach back and hold the hands of the ones who are coming up. So that we can break the cycle of violence and stand up strong together,” said Avia.

Emma Wurr is Principal Legal Officer for Human Rights at the PNG Office of the Public Solicitor. Emma graduated with Honours from the University of Papua New Guinea in 2007 and has since held various positions in the Public Solicitor’s Office.

Emma hopes that she can increase the awareness of human rights in Papua New Guinea, as well as set up a women’s lawyers association.

The event was a public lecture held at the Development Policy Centre at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

A podcast of the event “Challenges and opportunities for women in Papua New Guinea” is available here.

Australian Business Volunteers