Unsung heroines

Helen Hakena: Bougainville, PNG: HER village Ieta was burnt to the ground on the 28th of May 1990. The entire village had to plea to neighboring communities for safety and security. Young women were taken and raped. Authority was in the hands of the rebels. Helen Hakena, now the executive director of Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.

She has fiercely fought for the protection of women and children’s human rights during the 10 year long “Bougainville conflict”, being one of the key women leaders in Bougainville during the crisis who brought about peace. During which, one of the biggest challenges she faced was trying to influence both sides to lay down guns and join the peace process. There were multiple reasons and causes of the Bougainville conflict, compensation claims by the land owners of the Bougainville Copper mine which was not paid by the government of PNG, and damage to the environment among the few.

Then came the struggle for independence. In May 1990, Helen was seven months pregnant. She gave birth prematurely “as a result of being scared and frightened in an old abandoned bank.” She remembers two other pregnant women give birth in the same bank that day. However, they were not so fortunate and one of them took her last breath on the table while she watched and heard their cries for help. “There was no incubator for my son. Every morning, my baby was placed out in the sun to keep him warm – 

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