WErise: Mirriam Dogimab – A Leader in Women’s Empowerment & Gender Equality


Having a role model mum who was the first woman in her family to work outside of the home setting was an early inspiration for Mirriam Dogimab.  Mirriam, who grew up in Goroka in the Eastern Highlands Province, remembers her mum as the dedicated mother who worked at the Goroka Hospital.

Mirriam’s mum is one of the first few women in her generation to shift the cultural expectation that women should be confined to domestic housework. She had to navigate this transition on her own, without anything to measure herself against. As a mother of three daughters, she worked tirelessly to juggle work and raise her family, all whilst completing both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees! She showed Mirriam that, as a girl, there was nothing limiting her. 

Today, Mirriam plays an important role in empowering the lives of women in the country and the Pacific, as the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Country Manager for the Australian Government’s gender equality program in the Pacific, called Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development. She works with a team of dynamic young Papua New Guineans whose aim is to improve opportunities for the political, economic and social advancement of Pacific women.

Mirriam’s Early Years

Mirriam attended Adventist schools from primary through to high school. She completed Years 7 to 12 at Kabiufa Adventist High, where she spent six years as a boarding student.

Growing up with any close cousins around, meeting strangers that later turned into family and friends, playing the ‘tin game’ in the hauslain (village), learning how to play baseball (and breaking the classroom window!), experiencing menstruation for the first time… these are all part of Mirriam’s distinct memories of growing up in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Mirriam describes how she loved playing the ‘tin game’ because it gave both teams an equal opportunity to win, either by rebuilding the tin pyramid or by taking down the team that is trying to build back the pyramid. It is a game that requires teamwork and team strategy in order to achieve one goal – and that is – winning as a team!

Now looking back, Mirriam appreciates those six years she spent as a boarding student at Kabiufa Adventist High School because it taught her many significant life lessons. One of them is time management. 

My entire day was scheduled, from when I woke up to when I went to bed. It was important that a student kept to the scheduled time and there were consequences if you were late or absent from an activity. I used to hate it and complain a lot and I rebelled as well; but now as an adult, I am very time conscious and I know that I only have eight hours of work and I plan the day to maximize the time. The boarding school schedules were designed to ensure you completed the task within that given time.
In school I was not a ‘straight A’ student. I found education to be a real struggle as I was a slow learner. But I learned early on that a challenge was actually the opportunity to try something differently.

And to try something differently she did…

After completing Year 12, Mirriam received a university scholarship to further her studies at New Zealand’s Massey University. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and Community Development after successfully completing her four-year university course. 

Upon returning to PNG, Mirriam’s first job straight out of university in 2002 was with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). She worked in Kutubu, Southern Highlands Province and Kikori in the Gulf Province. “This job opened my eyes to the disadvantages that exists between urban and rural, remote communities,” she says.

Mirriam then had the opportunity to lead the concept of peer education in PNG when she joined the European Union’s sexual reproductive health project with the National AIDS Council. “This job taught me that our culture is not static and that it changes. HIV/AIDS, the disease, challenged the notion that sex conversations are taboo. The conversation changed to community-wide prevention messages on safe sex and the importance of using condoms,” Mirriam adds.

To further develop her career and pursue her personal goals, Mirriam returned to Massey University in 2007 to fulfil her Master’s Degree in Philosophy in Development Studies. 

Conducting research and writing a thesis required a lot of self-discipline and self-motivation from Mirriam to help overcome procrastination and successfully complete her master’s degree.    

In her thesis, Mirriam examined the protective mechanisms that exist within PNG’s culture that prevent violence against women. Her focus was on men’s protective role in the wider community and toward women and children. 

Thesis writing demonstrated to me that I was capable and established a sense of self-belief in myself. I really struggled with self-esteem when I was in primary school and high school. I compared myself a lot and felt I was not good enough. I am proud of myself for the thesis I wrote. I know I have contributed to the body of literature on development work in PNG.

On the day she submitted her thesis, Mirriam rewarded herself with a trip to the South Island of New Zealand,  camping and hiking in the Abel Tasman National Park. 

Mirriam Trekking on Abel Tasman. Credit: Mirriam Dogimab

With her master’s degree complete, Mirriam returned to PNG and joined FHI 360 to continue her work on HIV/AIDS. This time, her focus was on a specific target group – gender minorities and sex workers.

During that time, Mirriam took a lead in important projects that aimed to reduce cases of violence against women by working in communities, strengthening health facilities to provide the medical support needed, creating enabling environments by promoting economic activities, and working in schools to reduce school-based gender-based violence. 

What does this inspiring, well respected, vibrant Papua New Guinean leader hope for? A Papua New Guinea in which every girl and every woman is not experiencing violence in their home, on the street, in school, and on public or private transportation. And she hopes to see every Papua New Guinean view leadership as something that both women and men can perform.

Every day, women are performing leadership roles. As market vendors they make the decision on how much to charge for their vegetables. A mama at home is a leader; she develops her budget and does a cost analysis to do the family shopping and cooking. A woman manager in an organization is a leader. She makes decisions that need to be done in order to achieve the goals of the organization. Papua New Guinean women are great leaders already! This everyday leadership role women are performing benefits men, children and the women themselves.

Now, in her role as Papua New Guinea Country Manager for the Pacific Women Support Unit, Mirriam manages a complex portfolio of projects and relationships working to change the underlying attitudes and behaviours that lead to gender equality.  

In order to make a difference, Mirriam encourages us to speak up when we have something important to say, and to own our words, because no one will know what you want or need unless you say it out loud. She also encourages women to celebrate each other’s achievements, and support each other when work gets tough, because together as one, we can be unstoppable. 

Mirriam urges every Papua New Guinean to realise that change is possible. 

In our partners’ work, I have seen communities, families and individual Papua New Guineans changing their narrative by rejecting negative practices that continue to harm women and girls. Community leaders taking action to make their communities safer, families making decisions together about their income and individuals taking the bold step to change their own behaviour. This is refreshing because it demonstrates that change does not have to wait for future generations. It starts here and now.

Mirriam Dogimab

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