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Pioneer Women Leaders Shaping The Future

ONE of the nation’s most respected women has urged the government to acknowledge the skills and experience of senior female public servants by elevating them to head position in key national agencies.

Josepha Kiris, the former Secretary of the PNG Law Reform Commission and one of the driving forces behind the criminalisation of wife beating, said a true merit-based system would see many more women appointed to top leadership positions.

Ms Kiris, who many know as Josepha Kanawi, said she wasn’t asking for special treatment for women; just what they deserved.

“We can’t ask for special favours. Women must know their job and prove themselves,” she said.

“Women have unique knowledge and capacity. We are focused, and deserve to come out as leaders of our nation.

“We must respect the law which has been passed for a purpose. Women should naturally progress to decision making roles if they know their job and do it well.”

We currently have about less than 10 female CE0’s in the public sector including the acting Chief Ombudsman, Chief Magistrate, Commissioner General - but this is not enough.

Ms Kiris will be speaking at the upcoming Women in Leadership Forum on December 2, which honours PNG’s pioneering women leaders and the role they played in building the nation.

The trailblazer for women’s rights graduated from law school in 1978 at the same time as raising a family. As the daughter of a Police Prosecutor, her interest in the law stemmed from early childhood.

“My father raised me and my sisters alone; my only role model was my father. He was an elite police prosecutor of his time and I would sit at the back of the court room listening to him. I wanted to be like him and this is where my interest in the law started.”

Ms Kiris is a woman of many firsts. She was the first woman appointed as Secretary for the PNG Law Reform Commission and held this position for an impressive four consecutive terms.

Her appointment was recommended and based on merit. During her time in the job in the mid-1980s she commissioned a world-first study of domestic violence for PNG, which led to the creation of the offence of wife beating. She was also instrumental in pushing for PNG to sign the UN’s international treaty - CEDAW Convention.

“Despite the lack of funding and resources, we made sure the laws were more relevant and appropriate”, she said.

Her expertise in legislative development and critiquing of the law saw her become a pillar of the PNG’s legal establishment.

Following her decade long leadership at the Law Reform Commission, she became Chief Commissioner of the PNG Lands Titles Commission between 1996 and 2007. During her term she precided on two major reviews involving land ownership disputes over the Petroleum Project license areas in Hids and Gobe. She was also a key member of PNG’s land reform program and is recognized as an expert in land rights.

“During this time of Independence, we forged our way through, carrying the hopes of our women in a bilum on our back and leading with intuition.

“We knew the General Orders like the back of our hand and were steady to come out as leaders for our country.”

She said as the nation celebrated 40 years of Independence, it was timely that the contributions of female leaders were recognised.

Her advice to aspiring young female leaders – “Don’t lose your focus and always serve with our national interest at heart to overcome obstacles.”

Josepha Kiris will be speaking at the Women in Leadership Forum “Celebrating 40 years of women in leadership in the public service” - a partnership between the Department of Personnel Management and the Australian Government aid initiative, the Economic and Public Sector Program. The Forum will be held at Holiday Inn on 2 December, starting at 9am.

A series of panel discussions will feature prominent female leaders and embrace discussions on challenges and opportunities to shape women leaders of the future.

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