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Feminism in Bougainville

  • 22 February 2012

Yesterday I interviewed a former Bougainville Revolutionary Army combatant. I'm in PNG for three months to visit my boyfriend, a linguist who is documenting an endangered Austronesian language here. With an interpretor, we began documenting the former combatant's story, which is harrowing.

Beforehand, I wasn't sure about the ethics of interviewing someone about conflict who was a perpetrator in conflict; how to ask important questions but not to retraumatise someone who was a very young adolescent when he first entered battle.

But he was more prepared than I was to fully document his story, which includes details of torture and rape, of cold-blooded murder, and of corpse mutilation, perpetrated by his side and the other sides during the crisis that spanned the 1990s, killing upward of 10 per cent of Bougainville's population.

His story is long and painful, and we're not sure what to do with it just yet, so we'll just keep meeting and piecing it all together.

This was the first time I'd heard about the real events of the conflict: most of the information people give is their frustration at the politics of it, or their disgust at the various factions that emerged, armed and dangerous.

With the support of the Leitana Nehan Women's group, Gregory put down his arms later in the conflict and was heavily involved in weapons disposal programs. He's now a community leader and activist, running programs for young people.

The generation of Bouganivilleans who have school-aged children now are those who were thrown into conflict during their adolescence. Being traumatised and having never had time to be children themselves, Gregory, and other community leaders say many of these folks aren't able to meet the responsibilities of parenthood.

Outside the family there are few resources for their children to get support here, so his ideas are quite radical. His dream is to have a place for troubled young people to access education (education isn't universal in PNG), rehabilitation and other support.

During the war, women's groups in Bougainville were very powerful in providing resources: food, shelter, and educational workshops, to young combatants and other at-risk young people during the conflict. They were successful in disarming many young combatants.

Since the conflict, they have been some of the only organisations to provide trauma rehabilitation