Grammar Woman, Caitlin Wilson (1986), leads change in Port Moresby

Grammar Woman and Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian High Commission, Caitlin Wilson (1986), was first posted to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 1999, where she managed an aid program designed to support better basic education across the country, and championed girls’ education.

Now, two and a half years into her second posting to Port Moresby, Caitlin reflects on the changes evident in PNG over the past 20 years.

‘Some of the most considerable changes from my perspective have been the emergence of a more substantial middle class, a higher proportion of educated women in the private sector and more women in business. I think better access to primary and secondary education for more Papua New Guineans has played a part in this. But there’s still a way to go towards achieving universal primary education.’

In her current position, Caitlin has a far broader range of responsibilities, including playing a lead role in managing Australia’s bilateral relationship with Papua New Guinea and ensuring the overall quality and effectiveness of the aid program.

Caitlin is passionate about the importance of education (especially for girls) to economic and social development, including gender equality. However women in PNG remain under-represented in the formal economy and in politics. There are no women in Papua New Guinea’s national parliament, and women and girls are extremely vulnerable to domestic violence.

‘Australia and Papua New Guinea have partnered over a number of years to fund a series of projects to help improve women’s political representation, leadership presence, influence in decision making, economic opportunities and to strengthen violence prevention.’ Caitlin said.

Caitlin says she’s also seen a strengthening of the relationship between Australian and PNG on a number of fronts, including through long-term development cooperation partnerships as well as cooperation between Australian and PNG police and defence forces.

Earlier this year, approximately 100 PNG Defence Force personnel were deployed to Victoria to help support Australia’s bushfire recovery efforts—a move she describes as a real sign of the strength of two-way cooperation between the countries.

While the Australian Government has provided health assistance to PNG for a number of years, during the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a focus on supporting PNG’s preparedness and response efforts, in the event of an outbreak.

‘COVID-19 has had a number of impacts on the work we’re doing in PNG. This includes increasing health efforts such as the provision of personal protective equipment for PNG health workers, additional test kits, support for mobile health clinics, and water and sanitation products to support better hygiene.

‘Due to some temporary changes in our staffing profile in PNG as well as social distancing, our Australian High Commission workforce is now more dispersed than ever, which requires me to think differently about leadership and management, and how to continue to promote teamwork and productivity. It hasn’t been straightforward but it’s allowed us to think and work differently’.

Caitlin says despite these challenges, having a fantastic team makes the world of difference and that PNG women inspire her to continue the important work she is doing.

‘The women I have met in Port Moresby and across Papua New Guinea manage to combine their work roles with motherhood, fundraising for social impact projects, volunteering in professional associations and supporting their extended family and communities. I really don’t know how they do it! They’re amazing leaders and role models and I have seen firsthand that education has enabled a number of impressive women to pursue different pathways and given them new opportunities.’