Women’s Representative for South Bougainville to the Autonomous Bougainville Government Hon. Ms Isabel Peta, MP continues to work tirelessly to empower local women and farmers. Ms Peta who won one of three dedicated seats for women in the 2015 Bougainville Election, speaks to us in this interview, about her work in leading positive change in the local cocoa industry and representation of women in politics.
I represent the women of South Bougainville. One of my priorities is economic development for women and farmers. We are currently working towards forming cooperative groups to help achieve this objective and help to empower women in the cocoa industry. As an MP, I know that these are challenging times and development can only be achieved through empowerment of the rural people. In my view, cocoa farming is the appropriate vehicle to drive this. Once our people are empowered and financially resourceful, our government only needs to facilitate opportunities for them instead of providing handouts.
I grew up in a very caring family. There were always people coming into our home and we took care of them. My mum was a housewife and my dad was a health worker. Dad really wanted me to become a doctor or a nurse but I didn't want that. My family’s sense of caring for others inspired me. I developed my passion for helping others. And I learnt how to bring people together. This is what I like to do now - bring people together for positive change. My family has always been supportive. For women to become leaders, the love and support of our families is very important.
I am a teacher by profession. My husband worked for a mining company. While we were away, I was always thinking of coming home to the village, to my family; but we wanted to work and build something for ourselves. We wanted something to fall back on after we stop working. After 12 years, I came home to my husband's village. We became part of the community and the church. I spent time talking to the women in the village. They did not have as many opportunities for education so I helped them. I started working with the cocoa farmers because I saw that it was one of the only ways that women could make money in South Bougainville. They rely on cocoa. I was running a small business and could see the impact cocoa production had on the livelihoods of the local people. When production was high, I was getting more customers but when production dropped, I hardly saw my customers. I was inspired to help and now, we have a range of programs for sharing skills and better practices that reaches over 560 farmers across South Bougainville.
It was the cocoa farmers that encouraged me to enter politics. They told me, ‘you are here with the community helping us to improve our cocoa’, so that's how it all began - that's how I entered politics. My passion is to help others, and I saw that I could help as a member, and in the end, we won.
We are now talking to people to establish a micro bank for the women and farmers and to provide training to help them to grow their wealth, and save a bit of money. This is a key area for me, teaching people how to manage and budget their money. Our farmers are also taking part in the Bougainville Chocolate Festival to help improve the quality of their cocoa and build skills to sell cocoa to wider markets.
I am also passionate about literacy and education for women. Many women in the village have not had the chance to have a high level of education. We need to help our women, particularly our women in the villages. There are many projects run by NGO groups to help with literacy and economic development, but many women may not really understand what is being offered and how they can step into these programs. As women representatives and as leaders, we must work with the women in the villages and with their communities to help them access these programs to build their skills.
I think a quality you need to become a good leader is to have a positive outlook, but more importantly, is to be a good listener. When you take the time to listen to people, then you know what their needs are, and only then can we work towards addressing these needs. If we are to listen to women and especially those who need the most help, we must meet them where they are, in the villages, and help them to stand up.
I hope to see the women of Bougainville stand up for positive change and to see more women in leadership roles. To do this, leaders need to encourage women to stand up and show that they can bring change to the community. As a women representative, we can help open the door for other women leaders to help women in their community.