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UNFPA Launches Bilum Campaign: Harnessing PNG Traditional Culture To Advance Gender Equality And Bodily Autonomy

Press Release – UNFPA

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launches the bilum campaign on 09th September 2021 at the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery, with the theme Harnessing PNG traditional culture to advance gender equality and bodily autonomy in partnership …

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launches the bilum campaign on 09th September 2021 at the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery, with the theme “Harnessing PNG traditional culture to advance gender equality and bodily autonomy” in partnership with the National Museum of Papua New Guinea, Florence Kamel, founder of the Goroka Bilum Festival and PNG senior officials, including Hon. Alan Bird, Governor for East Sepik. Around 100 dignitaries representing donor countries, ministers, NGOs, media and other partners are expected to take part in the launch.

The women of Papua New Guinea contribute significantly to safeguarding important cultural traditions, especially those that mark the status and life of women. The Bilum Campaign shows us that reproductive health and the role of women have always been part of traditional PNG life. The meaning communicated to the community through rituals and bilum patterns were a way to reaffirm social norms and strengthen trust between generations and within the community. For example, the onset of puberty marked by the full diamond pattern provided younger girls the opportunity to learn about their bodies and social expectations. Today, the understanding of the deeper meaning of the bilum patterns is fading, as are the conversations that once accompanied rituals that set social expectations.

Taking inspiration from the conversations communicated through the bilum patterns, the campaign includes a series of haus man and haus meri conversations about social expectations about reproductive health and bodily autonomy. Paying homage to the wisdom of the past, the campaign leverages influential elders from PNG for a discussion about a modern PNG identity and social norms for men and women, including the need for access and information about reproductive health for the health and wellbeing of all Papua New Guineans.

UNFPA PNG Country Office takes the opportunity to also launch the State of the World Population Report for 2021 which places bodily autonomy at the center of a human rights approach to health and education.

Papua New Guinea is a country where over 60% of the population is under 25 years old. Most of the population is rural and most young people are not formally employed. 12% of girls have had their first child before the age of 18. PNG has a high rate of HIV/AIDs and STIs infections and one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDs drug resistance in the world. Intimate partner violence is common with almost 60% of women reporting experiencing intimate partner violence in their lifetime.

The Bilum Campaign leverages PNG wisdom and culture to mobilize support for investments in a strong primary health and education sector that prioritizes reproductive health services and information.

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