Project to end violence against women in New Guinea wins global competition

19 June 2020
Black lives matter in Australia and the Pacific too
PhD candidate in Sociology, Kaiya Aboagye and her team have won the prestigious Map the System Global Competition, which challenges students to create systemic social or environmental change.

Each year over 3,500 teams, from more than 16 countries register to compete in the prestigious Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, University of Oxford Map the System Global Competition, which asks students to use ‘systems thinking’ as a guiding approach to understanding complex social and environmental challenges.

Kaiya Aboagye and her team secured first place and the audience choice award at the global finals competition on Wednesday 17 June.

Kaiya Aboagye

PhD candidate in Sociology and Social Policy, Kaiya Aboagye.

Kaiya, whose PhD research centres on the shared experience between people of African descent and Indigenous/Black Oceanic peoples of Australia, was approached by fellow Australians at the University of Oxford to join their team and use the competition as a way to bring international attention to significant issues in the Pacific region.

Having defeated rival teams at the University of Oxford, the team went on to steal first place with their research on Women, Violence and Modern Slavery in Papua New Guinea and West Papua, at the finals.

Winning in this space is much more than just the competition, this issue is deep-rooted for me. I am an Indigenous woman of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander descent, as well as of Ghanaian heritage, and the impact of intergenerational inheritance of slavery has guided everything that is important to me in my work and my life.
Kaiya Aboagye

The team presented their examination of the systematic and causal relations between violence, colonialism and the exploitation of women in Papua New Guinea and West Papua, going up against 31 finalists.

“Papua New Guinea and West Papua are considered among the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman, with over 70% of women experiencing rape or sexual assault. Our analysis has revealed a highly complex system of interacting forces including colonial occupation, modernisation, patriarchy, poverty and weak institutions that maintain and perpetuate the exploitation of women in the region,” explains Kaiya.

A ‘systems thinking’ approach involves identifying patterns and underlying structures that drive certain events or outcomes. By understanding and changing structures that are not serving society, people, or situations well, partitioners can look at all the available choices and create more effective, long-term solutions to ongoing problems.

For Kaiya, the approach has been incredibly rewarding: “I am passionate about finding or using any platform or process that might redirect power back to our communities. It’s important to find ways to interrupt, speak back to and rebuild the narratives we have inherited from global systems of oppression.”

By mapping the various systems in Papua New Guinea and West Papua the team were able to show the different levels of interaction in the stakeholder ecosystem, with key stakeholders being the women of the region.

The research findings report (PDF 261.3KB) demonstrates a clear trend where systemic power consistently flows away from women towards governing bodies and institutions outside of Papua New Guinea and West Papua. This trend reveals a clear gap between the stakeholders with the most systemic power, which is relative to their direct impact on the affected women.

“What is happening in Papua New Guinea and West Papua is inextricably linked to Australia and its participation in the wider international system of exploitation that disproportionately affects Indigenous women. 

“Women in these regions often do the hard work of building, uplifting community and carrying families through trauma. Too often they are invisible and left without any recognition and suffer great violence. This is something that urgently needs to change.”

Despite not being able to compete in Oxford due to the coronavirus crisis, using Zoom to interview stakeholders and participate in the finals hasn’t dampened Kaiya’s spirits.

“I’ve enjoyed utilizing Indigenous knowledge methodology to decolonise the systems mapping approach, which meant involving relevant stakeholders throughout the process and not just taking ownership over the research, but enabling them to inform our analysis and interpretations of findings. The whole process has been a privilege, extremely rewarding and humbling.” 

Beyond the competition, the team will coordinate a community forum to present their research findings and develop future outcomes and objectives. They are currently engaged in talked with a variety of stakeholders at grassroots level, in the commercila sectors, as well as government departments dealing with foreign trade and Indigenous issues. 

Map the System 2020 virtual global final

Watch Kaiya Aboagye and the Oxford University team win first place.

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