Despite having important roles and responsibilities in Bougainvillean culture, women have struggled to participate directly in the formal political peace process, which has been dominated by men. However, our different forms of support for a negotiated solution to the conflict, often expressed from the sidelines at official meetings or through discreet lobbying of the different parties, have maintained vital pressure on the men to continue to search for peace.
During the Sandline affair, a delegation of three women travelled to Port Moresby, where we met up with other Bougainvillean women. Together we produced a written petition that was presented to the Prime Minister's First Secretary, urging the government not to involve Sandline and to instead seek a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
An official delegation of leaders of women's organisations played an important role at the Burnham talks in New Zealand in July 1997. This was because Daphne Zale, Marilyn Havini and I, who had all attended the 'Bougainville Women Speak Out' Forum in Sydney, Australia were able to speak with a united voice about our quest for peace. About 50 Bougainvillean women also attended meetings in Lincoln, New Zealand that led to the signing of the Lincoln Agreement in January 1998. Women drew up an adjoining statement on peace, which was presented by Agnes Titus of the BTG at the signing ceremony and which called for greater inclusion in the peace process: 'We, the women, hold custodial rights of our land by clan inheritance. We insist that women leaders must be party to all stages of the political process in determining the future of Bougainville.' One observer said, 'the women showed tremendous strength and unity. They spearheaded the union of Bougainvilleans during all exclusive Bougainvillean sessions'.
Back in Bougainville, women's groups combined outspoken criticism of the violence with quiet initiatives behind the scenes. In July 1998, the Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom (BWPF), an organisation representing women from BRA and BIG, released a statement condemning the presence and conduct of the PNGDF in their areas. They demanded a complete withdrawal of the army from their areas as well as autonomy for the Bougainville Reconciliation Government.
Other groups continued to play an active role in local peace initiatives and negotiations. For example, Helen Hakena from the Leitana Nehan Women's Development Agency (LNWDA) accompanied the Prime Minister's wife, Rarura Skate, to meet women leaders in central Bougainville. The BICWF negotiated with the BRA to care properly and provide for John Momis, then the regional member for Bougainville in the PNG Parliament, who was being held hostage by the BRA in Tinputz.