Women in village courts in Papua New Guinea
The transformation of gender roles
As for many African countries, the legally pluralistic architecture of family law in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has become a subject of controversy. My analysis of PNG’s village courts addresses scholarly debates about the subject. I use my empirical material to discuss two conflicting positions: 1) that male-dominated village courts contribute to the subjugation of women through the prescribed use of «custom»; and 2) that village courts form the only local dispute resolution forum in which women have a chance of their rights being acknowledged.
In my PhD project «Legal pluralism and the limits of state sovereignty: an ethnography of the local state in the Markham Valley, Papua New Guinea» I try to achieve a broad understanding of the various relationships between the forums for dispute resolution existing in the area. I focus on one forum in particular, that of the Nazab Village Court among the Wampar. During the case collection process I concentrated on gender-related disputes rather than on quarrels about damaged gardens, stolen pigs, debts or land rights. My work is situated at the intersection of various debates on issues of legal pluralism, the anthropology of the state and women’s access to justice.