IWD 2021: Meet Ruth J Kissam

It’s International Women’s Day and we’re celebrating women who #choosetochallenge every day!

We asked our team to nominate an inspiring female team member who is committed to challenging the gender status quo in their everyday lives.

With too many nominations to cover, we’ve selected just a few of our outstanding team to give you a flavour of the passionate, driven women we are lucky enough to work with every day.

Ruth J Kissam

Senior Technical Advisor, PNG Service Improvement Program at Catalpa

A self-described ‘Passionate Papua New Guinean’, Ruth is known in PNG as a champion of change and human rights defender. Throughout her life and career she has been committed to using her education, leadership positions and voice to represent those who do not experience the same opportunities as she has had.

Attributing her success to faith, family and love for her country, Ruth is passionate about leading grassroots initiatives with her extensive experience managing partnerships between the Government, civil society organisations and local communities.

Before joining Catalpa, she worked as the Director of Operations for the PNG Tribal Foundation, and was widely recognised for her work to reduce sorcery-related violence, and gendered violence in Papua New Guinea.

While her experience and qualifications are far too broad to list, Ruth is the current Board President of the Advancing PNG Women Leadership Network and Committee Member National Human Rights Commission.

She studied law at the University of Papua New Guinea, is a Draper Hills Fellow of Stanford University, and an Obama Foundation Scholar from Columbia University (amongst many other things).

Suffice to say, we have much to learn from Ruth!

Ruth was the keynote speaker for the International Women’s Day Breakfast for the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Port Moresby.

In her own words…

What does the IWD theme #choosetochallenge mean to you?

The first time I read the IWD theme #choosetochallenge, the person that come to mind was my Dad. My dad was late in his teens when the first contact with outsiders were made through missionaries were made. He wasn’t eligible to go to school but he persisted to know the ‘white man’s ways’ so did adult literacy and later became a translator, pastor, missionary, teacher and whatever else he could be.

Growing up in challenging places that he was posted as a missionary made me tough but I also wanted to be like him. He instilled in me the value of perseverance and told it was the womb of success. He also told me, being a female was a bonus because it meant I won’t be expected to ‘win’ which was all the reason why I should come out on top.

He championed my education and encouraged me to compete harder against my five brothers and gave me my first book when I was ten. The book was an old KJV Bible. I read it from cover to cover because it was the only reading material I had.

Looking back I see that he challenged the status quo of tribal obligations of a girl in PNG and got me thinking that I was more than just a village girl and I believed him. He got me believing that I belonged in this world of glass ceilings and marble floors instead of thatched roofs and mud floors and I believed him.

Drawing on the examples of my dad, I choose to challenge ideas and norms that I feel restrict the rights and growth of women in Papua New Guinea.

Do you have a personal philosophy that drives you?

The driving principal in my life has been to give back to my community and country. I believe I have been given so much. I would like to give back and make a difference in someone’s life — who might not have as good as I do.

What is your hope for women in PNG?

I want to see women in every place that decisions are made, especially in the PNG Parliament.

What change would you like to see that could bring greater equality for women in PNG?

I would like to see legislative reforms that evens the playing field for women to participate in decision making.

Ruth (bottom right) with her fellow graduates from the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University. Photo credit: Columbia World Projects

What the team said…

“Ruth is an exceptional individual, and we are so pleased she has joined our PNG team. With a strong attachment to her roots in Enga, Papua New Guinea, she is known for skillfully balancing her commitment to tradition and culture, with the will to challenge the status quo with regards to gender inequality. Ultimately she is committed to advancing her country’s fate which is inspiring and something we can learn from.”

Connect with Ruth on Linkedin.

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