EXPERT OPINION : Piwen Langarap



Posted on 02 June 2014  | 
Piwen Langarap
© Efrimal BahriEnlarge
Piwen Langarap is one of the extraordinary women recognized by the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security  (CTI-CFF) for their contribution in protecting and sustaining the world’s epicentre of marine biodiversity. In a detailed interview, the Program Coordinator of the Manus Environment Communities Conservation Network in Manus Province, Papua New Guinea, shares her experience in moving forward the conservation agenda in her part of the world.

Please tell us about your background and where you live?

I come from Pere village, Manus Province, Papua New Guinea. I left my home, Manus Province in 1975 for Port Moresby to continue with my education and later worked in the Public Service and Air Niugini. In 2009, I returned back to my village and have been living here since.

When first arrived in the village, I learnt that our marine resources had reduced in numbers and sizes at a very fast rate due to overfishing, to meet the demand for food and money to sustain the people’s livelihood.

Our greatest challenges also were the increasing population, lack of income generation options, reef ownership issues and human induced activities on our marine areas such as destructive fishing methods and use of fishing gears that were introduced.

For the people of Pere, our livelihood is totally dependent on the sea and the sea is always our life. Though these issues and challenges were addressed at leaders meetings and community meetings since the 1990s, the many attempts taken to manage our marine resources were seen to be a failure.

In 2004, the community leaders agreed to set up a “Pere Community Marine Area Management Committee” and appointed me to be the leader of this committee.

I went through many challenges initially when I realised that the issues were not only about the physical environment that was depleted and the need to develop strategies to work towards improving it, but also most importantly, we also had to develop strategies for improving the social environment as both need to be addressed to effectively manage our marine areas and its resources.

I also learned that my team needs to work very closely with the Local-Level Government (LLG) leaders, traditional leaders, reef owning clans and the general community. We formulated and agreed on a community governance structure that incorporated all these stakeholders to ensure a participatory planning process is maintained.

I am thankful to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and partners for supporting me in building my leadership capacity to lead the Locally-Managed Marine Area (LMMA) programme and later Ecosystem based Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) and Community Conservation Area (CCA) programmes in Pere and replicate the process to Manus communities. They also supported me when I was tasked to lead the process in facilitating the management planning process at the communities’ level for clans, Community Based Organisations, Wards and the 2 pilot LLGs to develop their Integrated Resource Management Plans that incorporate EAFM, CCA, R2R conservation and governance.

What is the traditional role of women in your community?

In the past the traditional role of women in my community was mainly confined to household chores like cooking, laundry, fishing, washing sago, gardening, taking care of children and submitting to the orders from husbands as the head of the family and male leaders of the extended family and leaders of the clans they are married to.

But today, the traditional roles of women in Pere community and Manus has gone through changes due to social, economic, and political changes impacting our communities. Today, women are more encouraged to participate in leadership roles, participate in income-generation projects, decision-making and forming women’s groups for advocating women’s development needs in the community. Much of the traditional roles of women in my community have changed with new roles being integrated into women’s roles. Today, we see more women in our communities participating in decision-making processes as well as working in partnership with men in advancing developments. 

How did you start getting involved with LMMA and why?

After I came back to live in my village, I learned that the community had already accepted the concept of LMMA after realizing that their marine resources that their livelihood depends on were declining. Though they accepted the LMMA concept, it was very difficult for the community and especially the fishermen/women to abide to the LMMA rules and the regulations set up by the community.

The LLG law was also formulated, endorsed and launched through our LLG Assembly and, but this also did not make any difference. More people changed their minds and were opposing LMMA and breaking the LMMA rules. More challenges were emerging relating to reef ownership that really affected the community's social cohesion.

My interest to start getting involve with LMMA was two-fold. Firstly, because I had an interest in conservation of marine resources and environmental conservation in general. Secondly, in the midst of the great challenges my community was going through, I was motivated and interested to work within these challenges and find possible strategies that can minimise them in order to advance the Pere LMMA Vision.

Do women face constraints in taking leadership positions in Manus / PNG? If yes, how did you manage/overcome these?

Yes women do face constraints in taking leadership positions in Manus and PNG. These constraints were not only coming from men but women as well.

I believe that the reason why I managed these constraints in taking leadership position is that the people over time built trust in my leadership style and my commitment to my leadership role.

What (or who) inspires you in taking your mission forward?

TNC, as our lead facilitator on the ground, is always very supportive in conducting capacity building training and workshops for us in the communities. TNC's understanding of our local context, together with our good working relationship, makes life easier and joyful for me in leading programmes.

Other NGO partners on the ground and our National Government reps from the Department of Environment and Conservation visit us in the communities and province to do research work or just visiting local communities to discuss our work inspires me to continue advancing my work.

The regular visits by the Coral Triangle Support Partnership reps, USAID reps, UNDP reps, AusAid reps really inspired me to work hard in advancing my mission and vision. My LLG President and the Governor of Manus all played a very supportive role that have motivated me highly to continue my leadership role in conservation programmes.

I also owe the traditional leaders and local people with whom I work with everyday, as they taught me about traditional ecosystem knowledge and traditional governance systems. My LLG president and the 18 LLG ward councillors also supported me to build the partnership between the local communities using their relationships and government networking connections. These were important for expansion of EAFM programs and CCA programs coverage to bigger areas including coastal marine areas and inland communities. My collaborative approaches with these different stakeholders made it possible for me to lead the replication of the success of what was done in Pere to other LLGs and Manus province communities.

In what ways has the Coral Triangle Women Leaders Forum helped you?

  1. I was motivated to see more women leading the Coral Triangle Regional Programme and this inspired me to plan about what I can do when I get back to my province. The challenge I have now is that, by end of 2014, a Network of Women in Conservation for Manus Province will have been established and we use this Network to encourage and promote more women to participate in conservation programmes.
  2. When meeting with my 6 Coral Triangle countries women leaders, I was inspired to hear that our programmes are similar and we face the same environmental issues and challenges so we are connected in many ways with what we are doing on the ground.
  3. This Forum is a great opportunity that brought us together and enabled us to discuss and share what we are doing as well as sharing some of our way forward for promoting women in conservation leadership in our communities, provinces and country.

What words of recommendation do you have for other women who want to make a difference in their community in your part of the world?

  1. Women are good leaders in leading conservation work because it is all about preserving and conserving our marine and terrestrial resources for our livelihood now and for our future generation.
  2. The livelihood of our children is always our concern, and we must actively participate in conserving our marine and terrestrial resources for sustaining our children’s livelihood and to take the Ecosystem based Approach for Resource Management.
  3. To be effective women leaders in conservation, we need to work in partnership with our male counterparts, our government, NGO development partners, traditional leaders, resource owning clans and adopt a holistic approach in our work.
  4. The Manus learning and training network (MECCN) is our provincial hub to support you in your work. You must register your groups to be a member of MECCN. MECCN will be facilitating your training and workshops or else we seek assistance from NGO partners and government partners to support us to effectively perform your conservation work.
  5. Even if your conservation work may seem small, what you are doing in your communities must be recognised as this works towards improving our larger ecosystems that in turn will work towards supporting our livelihood. Come and register with MECCN so we can all work together to achieve our vision for natural resources management for sustaining our livelihood.
Piwen Langarap
© Efrimal Bahri Enlarge
Ward Councillors and LLG President posing their respective Management Plans.
© Piwen Langarap Enlarge

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