This dissertation examines the barriers to gender equity in higher education in Papua New Guinea (PNG). It highlights the critical role higher education potentially might play in equitable human resource development, pointing towards a sustainable and strategic plan to reduce gender inequities. This study is motivated by imperatives at three levels: personal, national and international. At the personal level, drawing on the advice of feminist thought which recognises that the personal is political, several women’s stories set a frame that locates the candidate as a participant and a person interested in pursuing equity in higher education in PNG. The literature review provides the national and international contexts that frame this dissertation within these equity imperatives.
Importantly, this dissertation locates itself in PNG’s matrilineal and patrilineal societies, acknowledging the potential contribution of these lifestyles in the hope of adopting positive cultural values from both societies towards proposing sustainable and equitable gender strategies. The dissertation employs gender and feminist theory in order to embrace a relevant theoretical and conceptual framework to determine feasible and sustainable strategies and conceptual frameworks in analysing the research problem, the research questions, the research methodology and the thesis genre. The three adopted conceptual frameworks are: a Gender Inclusive Curriculum, a Cultural Competence and a Strength Based Framework. These frameworks reinforce the need for multimethod approaches in seeking answers to the research questions.
The study utilises a survey and document analysis methodology, with two universities selected for intensive investigation. Surveys were administered to samples of university lecturers, administrators and students, along with a content analysis of relevant policies and documents. The responses revealed the types of barriers encountered and sought understanding of gender equity policies, practices and inclusive curriculum. The research
revealed a range of gender barriers that can be classified as social, economic, cultural, educational and political. This reinforced what was predicted from the literature review. The striking finding of this study was the underlying factor causing the gender inequities, that is, the existence of pervasive, deeply entrenched cultural beliefs held by decision-makers and those in authority that positioned women as secondary, which marginalised and consequently impeded the progress of women. The findings also revealed that the staff, students and the wider community lacked understanding of the concepts of gender equity and inclusive curriculum. The study identified the need for positive action for gender equity policies to be administered. The main recommendations of this study outline strategic and sustainable plans for a national long term Gender Equity in Education Policy Implementation and Sustainable Strategic Plan 2008-2020 and a Long Term Strategic Plan for Women in Higher Education 2008-2020 Strategic Plan. These initiatives are recommended for inauguration at the national legislative level where they have the potential to be better resourced and managed. It is anticipated that after having established a national equity office as proposed by these two strategic plans, a role-model centre be established that will filter through to the regional, provincial and local institutions.
This dissertation is significant because it is the first of its kind in PNG, and it is aimed firmly at better understanding the reasons for gender inequity in higher education and importantly, in providing proactive strategic plans to address these factors. It has the potential to lead the way to a significant cultural shift in the higher education context of PNG.