Using Creative Approaches to Advance Gender Research in PNG


L-R: Dr Jackie Kauli and Dr Verena Thomas at the Pacific Gender Research Symposium and Workshop, 21-23 June 2016. Photo: Shazia Usman, Pacific Women Support Unit.


The Pacific Gender Research Symposium and Workshop held from 21 to 23 June this year was an exciting space for academics and practitioners to discuss their work in advancing the gender research capacity-building agenda among Pacific Island Countries.

Dr Jackie Kauli and Dr Verena Thomas, were two of the 50 participants at the regional workshop organised by the University of the South Pacific, UN Women, the Fiji Women’s Right Movement, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Pacific Community and the Australian Government, through Pacific Women. Read more about the workshop here.

During the three days, Dr Jackie Kauli, an Arts Based Development Practitioner and Researcher currently working with the University of Goroka (UoG) and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Dr Verena Thomas, Research Fellow at QUT and founding (former) Director of the Centre for Social and Creative Media at the UoG, shared their approach to research using creative arts and media in Papua New Guinea.

Both researchers worked with UNDP on the Yumi Kirapim Senis initiative – a Pacific Women supported documentary series capturing community led initiatives in Papua New Guinea.



How did you start working in this particular area and also working collaboratively? 

Dr Kauli: I am from East New Britain, in Papua New Guinea and work with both QUT and with the University of Goroka’s Centre for Social and Creative Media. My work mostly involves drama and theater. I started teaching after graduating from university but my work in the development area began with rural communities in Madang and other provinces in Papua New Guinea, where we used community theater to address HIV/AIDS. One of the driving forces behind this particular community theater program was ensuring representation and acknowledging the indigenous ways of working. This came out very strongly as it was the communities who did the work. My most recent work is on gender-based violence. I got into [this] while I was doing my PhD and researching on initiatives addressing gender based violence. But like the HIV/AIDS program I was working on earlier, I discovered this was another [area] where policies were not actually creating change for people in communities. These policies have things such as trainings, [they] talk about the rights-based approach and also about women’s access to services but they do not talk about power relationships that women need to negotiate. This gap gave me an idea of how we can possibly change this and make people’s voices heard. That led to a presentation within the University of Goroka, at the 2014 International OURMedia conference, about how we can use drama, as a communication medium to address social issues in Papua New Guinea. It was here that I met Verena [Dr Thomas] and we started working together. Due to the work that I do around gender-based violence, I was part of the Yumi Kirapim Senis initiative [meaning Lets Create Change Together in Tok Pisin. More on the initiative below], a community action against violence initiative. We produced six documentaries that capture the work of individuals and organisations and their challenges in addressing gender based violence in PNG. Being part of this initiative was different and challenging for me as film is not my genre of practice, drama is. It was a learning process but I think what underpinned our work was again, that local people need to be acknowledged and appreciated for their work. I was happy to be working with Verena because this is her field of study. We worked together on managing the project and making sure that the films represent people and communities that are doing the work.

Dr Thomas: Until recently I was the Director of the Centre for Social and Creative Media which I founded in 2012. My background is in filmmaking and I have a personal connection to Papua New Guinea because my great-uncle lived there for over 50 years as missionary. When I came to document some of the stories as part of his story, there were two components that were really key. One was the relationships, including my relationship with people in PNG and another, the opportunities to share stories. So that has really influenced my work and doing research, as I was looking for ways to do research locally. Throughout the years that led to many collaborations on various projects. Gender has become a key focus of our research because it’s so crucial to many social issues.  Through the Centre for Social and Creative Media at the University of Goroka, we have slowly built up a program on Communication and Social Change, we now have a Master’s Program and we are inviting different creative arts projects, whether that is film, drama or music. Jackie [Dr Kauli] is bringing her expertise with drama. My background is more in film so we are looking broadly at using creative approaches in research, in advocacy, in M&E and all these different fields to allow us to create links and understand how we can shift power dynamics because when people can share their stories and they are recorded, it gives them agency. So we are working with these components to look at equity, not only in terms of gender but also in terms of how communities’ voices are being heard. 


Does the Centre for Social and Creative Media offer undergraduate courses as well? What is the reception like with students?

Dr Thomas: Because the CSCM is a research centre we are focused on postgraduate studies at this point in time. We give out scholarships to postgraduate students and because they are involved in projects they become more like staff. Since we have started involving students in these projects, there has been a high demand for people to be involved. While the demand is very high, we are working on building further capacity of the university to also introduce this work at undergraduate level. 


You mentioned during your presentation at the Workshop, that one of the Centre’s postgraduate students directed one of the Pawa Meri videos. Can you share more on that?

Dr Thomas: Anything that we do includes capacity building and we work across research and media production. We realise we can’t make products unless we have done the proper research and we can’t do research unless we communicate it properly. The Pawa Meri program was an idea that first sought to share biographies of women – through stories, show their resilience and offer role models on a program around leadership. When we were discussing who could tell these stories, we realised it should be Papua New Guinean women. We then developed a mentoring program for upcoming directors and involved a number of emerging filmmakers, including people from the National Film Institute. Some of them were working within the university and already had experience. One had her own production company. It’s an amazing program in that sense and it’s become very popular. Pawa Meri has become a slogan around Papua New Guinea and when people do something great they call themselves Pawa Meris and the men were saying “hey what about Pawa Man!”. They want to be labelled as Pawa Man and there is more potential for that to be explored. The key component was to train and mentor directors. One of the directors that initially came from the National Film Institute is currently doing her Masters with us and she is funded under the Yumi Kirapim Senis initiative which Jackie mentioned. That’s a Pacific Women funded initiative being implemented by UNDP. This Masters student is now looking at the impact of the Yumi Kirapim Senis films in Papua New Guinea and trying to understand how we can improve the process of making socially impactful films. Some of the processes we want to use when we make films include participatory photo workshops; incorporating components such as ownership and building capacity in producing advocacy tools. The data she collects will be really helpful. We want to know where they are being screened, who is using them and for what purpose – and how we can best address family sexual violence in the different provinces, schools, organisations or settlements. It’s basically monitoring and evaluation but it is about understanding it within the context of how we make these products for them to have the highest impact. 


Could you tell us a bit more about your work with the Yumi Kirapim Senis initiative?

Dr Kauli: One of the reasons why Verena and I presented together at this Workshop is because when we talk about collaboration on research projects that needs to be seen as well. UNDP contracted us to work on the Yumi Kirapim Senis initiative, as Verena mentioned earlier, under their grant from Pacific Women. UNDP had done an audit with partners organisations and through that audit came six positive initiatives. Our brief was to capture these stories. One of the things that was explicit in the brief was avoiding stereotypes of Papua New Guinean women as weak, victims and lacking agency. Stories were to have a positive framing but it was pertinent that we capture challenges without resorting to stereotypes. So that’s what we did. We went to six different provinces and meticulously captured the stories – we asked about challenges and how they overcame them; what is the social system like and how does it support them or can be strengthened. Within these narratives it was also important for us to capture the individuals who do the work because while the organisation did support the people, it was important to also show the efforts of people who have worked for over decades doing this work and haven’t really gotten any recognition. We wanted to make sure that was a key part of capturing the story. When you see the stories, there are women talking of economic empowerment on the ground and how they make it happen with a collection of networks working together. Men talking about sorcery related violence and how that impacted them as men, so exploring what it means to be a Melanesian man standing up and exposing vulnerability. The Centre is very much about making sure that these stories have a national audience. We made sure that there was a platform for that to be expressed nationally with all the partners that needed to hear the narratives for themselves.

Dr Thomas: When we take on a project, we design the processes according to what the needs are and one of the first is always is to build relationships with communities. The fact that we had made Pawa Meri, we were able to screen Pawa Meri at every workshop that we were going to in terms of explaining what we are there to do. It was so interesting to see that once everyone saw Pawa Meri they said “oh, you’re going to do that with us” and one of the actors asked “you mean I will be like a Pawa Meri?” It was a man who asked that and he asked that in a good way. Jackie did a lot of prep work with them in building confidence to speak up so when they appear in the video they are confident. They are there, they are role models when they are talking, and then when we take the films back to show them, they are in awe. It has been a very rewarding process in that sense simply because we have been working with organisations who have already done the work and are very strong. We just support the research component of it by capturing that knowledge that is on the ground and bringing that out. The solutions are already there and they can work for others as well.

Dr Kauli: They represent models of best practice but the difference is they are homegrown. There are loads of documents that highlight the challenges in the GBV response but not enough that present workable solutions. We captured examples of initiatives that are contexualised within communities and they know what to do and form the relationship and negotiate the positions they are in.  It was amazing to work with them. They have these social systems to protect themselves. We had a woman who was talking about the village court justice system specifically for issues around GBV. She told us stories about violence, where husbands come to take back their wives and children with machetes at 6am. A scary situation but she remained strong protecting the women and children who had sought refuge with them and her own sons provided protection. We met these kind of amazing heroes but it’s hard you know sometimes, trying to capture these brave acts and showing them in the right light.

Dr Thomas: We are constantly trying to learn from the different approaches and experiences. The key to Yumi Kirapim Senis was that we were working with UNDP and the Department of Community Development at the national policy level. This kind of partnership became quite fruitful in the sense that what we could contribute from the community perspective; how we interact and create that space as I mentioned in the presentation, for dialogue between different stakeholders. And then we continue to monitor how materials are being used and how conversations and dialogue happen. Through our M&E process we have identified the need for a facilitator’s guide to be distributed in conjunction with the DVD, so we are currently working on that. As such, our resource materials expand as we identify the need for these and know that people will make use of them.


How was the Pacific Gender Research Workshop for you? Did it meet your expectations?

Dr Thomas: It has been really great to meet people from different countries and places that have different research experiences and expertise, and working both in NGOs and the academic world. The most beneficial to me has been the exchange of ideas, debating on what some of those issues are and challenges and bringing all these different ideas together. It has been a very useful space. It has also been great for us to come and present some of our work at this kind of forum and part of the partnership the Centre for Social and Creative Media has with Queensland University of Technology is also to see how we can expand some of the work we’re doing in the wider Pacific and the use of arts based research approaches. This has provided a forum for us to talk about that and to exchange and get feedback from other people, which has been great.  

Dr Kauli:  For me the presentations have been great because you get to see the different kinds of presentations and what has been happening in the Pacific. I learnt so much about what the practitioners and implementing partners are doing and their excitement about using different kinds of new media for research. Seeing the passion for doing new and different things in their own projects was the golden moment for me. It’s interesting also to see and meet Pacific Island women that have been there at the forefront working for women’s causes and rights and to appreciate the foundational work they have done as a Pacific women’s movement for women’s rights. We want to see how we can work with that and continue bringing to the forefront voices of women. The workshop has been very beneficial and fruitful for me personally; a space where we have been able to bring all these Pacific scholars together and share knowledge.