Welcome, Salmah Eva-Lina Lawrence!

salmahevalina1Salmah Eva-Lina is a new PhD Candidate in Gender, Sexuality and Culture. She left a decade long career with a global business advisory firm leading risk management practices in London, New York and Sydney to undertake work in international and community development to enhance gender rights, working primarily in Papua New Guinea and in Afghanistan with the UN. She has a BA (Hons) in Political Studies, Philosophy and History from the University of London, a Master in Business Administration, a MA in International Relations (International Political Economy and Global Governance), and a Master of International and Community Development (all from Deakin University) and sits on the board of directors of several organisations, including an international NGO.

Salmah Eva-Lina’s research work is centered around her home community of Kwato Island, Milne Bay (Papua New Guinea). Her research project, in her own words, is inspired by her “lived experience as a woman from a matrilineal society in Papua New Guinea (PNG), working in international development specialising in gender, and observing how the voices of woman from the global south are marginal to the discourse of development.” She explains that,

“Central to the construction of the voiceless, powerless indigenous woman, is the appropriation of the telling of her story by those from the global north. Compounding this marginalisation, are well-intentioned but nonetheless paternalistic efforts to “save” women from the global south by delivering them gender equality, with little regard for indigenous models that provide precisely that, confirming Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s observation that class and race are also implicated in ideologies of womanhood. Like other decolonialists, I am skeptical of any effort to define the Other in which interpretation is undertaken primarily by the hegemonic culture – it has thus become compelling for me to offer my own analysis and interpretation of my culture. I am also compelled to identify and promote local models of equitable gender relations since the experience of working in international development has convinced me that the mainstream development model that continues to be top-down, Western-led, and excludes those whom it is supposed to benefit from decision-making processes despite the rhetoric of participation, creates resistance. The growing literature on unsuccessful development projects rarely addresses the issue of cultural resistance as a contributing factor. Concomitantly, there can be a failure to identify that this opposition can harm efforts to enhance women’s rights. This has prompted me to research local models of gender equality in Papua New Guinea which could form a basis for contextual policy”.

The locus of her research – the matrilineal culture of the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea – has “historically provided a framework of an egalitarian, different-but-equal ethos of rights balanced by responsibilities which colonization and Christianity have done little to diminish.” Her PhD research will build on her master’s dissertation Gender and development in Papua New Guinea: Matriliny and indigenous best practice in gender relations which “positions this matrilineal model as indigenous best practice in gender relations providing a positive note in a landscape in which PNG and Papua New Guineans are often bleakly and negatively portrayed.” She is currently working on a manuscript based on her MA research (to be published in 2014).

Salmah Eva-Lina’s doctoral research, Speaking for Ourselves – Matriliny, Gender and Kwato Society “is an historical ethnography of the people of Milne Bay who helped establish the Kwato mission, examining also gender relations through the nexus of Christianity and matriliny, how this has positioned the relatively high-achieving women and men of Kwato in the modern world, and policy lessons that can be derived” from this case study. She will be supervised by Prof. Margaret Jolly and Dr Kathy Lepani and associated with the Engendering Persons, Transforming Things: Christianities, Commodities and Individualism in Oceania ARC Laureate Project.

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