Making Papua A Better Place For Women
Making Papua A Better Place For Women
“Elsha’s song, I Am Free with God, is an anthem fuelled by the injustice she felt growing up as a girl in a male-dominated culture. Women are silenced because they are not valued as equals. They are excluded from participation in crucial decision making that impacts their own well-being“
Her words ring out with strength and conviction: “People said, ‘You women are poor! You are weak, with no value!' But with God, we can do it! We are going to make a change. We are going to make Papua a better place for women!” Once held back and oppressed by a patriarchal system, Elsha Abamy is determined to use her voice to be a beacon of hope for girls all over Papua.
“I made this song based on my own experiences,” she said. “I experienced how Papuan men view and treat women here. Their actions don’t align with what the Bible says in Genesis 1:27, when God created men and women in His own image.” Elsha’s song, I Am Free with God (quoted above), is an anthem fuelled by the injustice she felt growing up as a girl in a male-dominated culture. Women are silenced because they are not valued as equals. They are excluded from participation in crucial decision making that impacts their own well-being.
“This perspective has infiltrated our lives. Men are allowed to do anything they want to enforce their power over women, even in cases of abuse.” Elsha recalls a time when a man entered her bedroom in the middle of the night with the intention of taking advantage of her. “Whenever there are cases of girls getting assaulted and harassed, the male’s family is able to dismiss the case under tribal law and the abuser goes free with only having to pay a fine. It makes me sad, angry and scared,” Elsha said. Like many girls in Papua, she feared for her safety and her future.
Growing up in this environment, Elsha felt suppressed, unmotivated and weak. She felt like she couldn’t do anything significant, until she met Kashi, a TfN intern, who was recently assigned as principal of Elsha's high school. “Our school principal is a native Papuan woman. She leads, manages and gives her opinion. Her staff, including the men, follow her direction and the male school director appreciates her!” she said.
Kashi confirmed: “It’s not easy for a woman to lead here. I have to be prepared to not be heard and be under-appreciated by society. But TfN taught me to find my true identity in Jesus. Moreover, Mr. Paul (MSI International Director) always said that I am a smart woman with great abilities. TfN shaped my thinking and I now understand that being a leader is not a matter of gender but making a difference and impacting others. My students are being impacted as they witness that women are capable and should be given equal opportunities. I dream that my female students will become strong leaders in whatever area God calls them to: as parents, teachers, doctors, etc.” Kashi hopes that her female students will follow Jesus' example and forgive those who have hurt, mistreated and under-appreciated them.
Elsha shared, “This school is a safe place for me. I don’t feel afraid here. We discuss things together: the teachers, the girls and the boys. We are taught that God values women the same as men. During our discussions, the girls are encouraged to state their opinions. We are learning how to make our voices heard. At the same time, my male friends are being taught how to appreciate and respect us. The atmosphere is so much different from other schools in our area.”
So when Elsha got a social studies assignment to speak up about a problem in her community, she felt compelled to write a song to disseminate the new values she learned. “Papuan youth love singing and dancing. I hope that this song will encourage my female friends to know that they are valuable in God’s eyes and my male friends to be cautious and wise with their words and actions toward females. To the general Papuan society, I hope that that they will give girls and boys the same opportunities.”
Looking forward to the future, Elsha now feels empowered and confident that she will be able to contribute to her community. “I want to be a successful, entrepreneurial woman. At school, we learned to produce things and market them. I found my passion there. I love producing food, selling it and bringing home the money to my parents. By being a successful entrepreneur, I can help teachers in Papua to open many schools and teach the children here. I want to become their investor and supporter.”
Kashi hopes that a new generation of Papuan leaders will lead fairly, wisely, peacefully and responsibly while prioritizing the needs of the people.