WHO WE ARE
Among Equals is a not for profit, aimed at empowering communities of women bilum weavers in Papua New Guinea.
We seek to do this by providing weavers with greater income from the sale of their bilum, opening up further markets for bilum internationally, and to help provide the weavers with more certainty and sustainability of income.
Among Equals has developed our mission through listening and talking with the weavers themselves. We work with communities across PNG, including but not limited to Goroka, Mt. Hagen, Telefomin and Madang. What we have heard consistently since our first engagement in 2014 is the weavers’ desire for a wider market of buyers for the bags that they create. The women told us that they weave bags not knowing when or where or how much they will sell for, often waiting in hope of a customer for days or even weeks in street markets. A greater volume and certainty of sales would create a more sustainable income for them and their families.
Among Equals works closely with a number of community leaders across the highlands of PNG, along with Pacific Trade Invest, an agency that supports economic opportunities in the Pacific Islands by facilitating trade and attracting investment into the region. We particularly value our close friendship with Florence, who has become an Ambassador for Among Equals, as well as Barbara, our Ambassador for the MT Hagen region. Together with them, we consult with the weavers to price the bags so that they receive a significant premium over and above their normal sale price. The amounts differ from bag to bag, region to region, and negotiation is handled by the community leaders themselves.
However, the weavers have told us that the increase in the number of sales and the enormous time saved by not having to stand for days and sometimes weeks in markets have had the biggest impact on their lives.
The response from the weavers has been overwhelming in every way. You can see testimonials from some of our weavers here. Many of the weavers are now able to provide for their family as a result of income earned through sales to Among Equals. Barbara Pagasa, our Ambassador from Mt. Hagen Handicraft Group, remarked about the experience with Among Equals: “When there is money coming into their pockets they see it makes a difference, we can see it puts food on the table, nice decent clothes to wear and they can go to school with the money they earn. I am so proud because I can see the light coming at the end of the tunnel”. Florence, our primary liaison and Ambassador says “If you are buying a bilum through Among Equals, you are buying a bilum that has a very big downstream. It goes back to our village and our community. One bilum benefits 10-15 people. It’s not about charity, you are giving business to us.”
With our non-for-profit certification pending, any profits actually made by Among Equals will be ploughed back into the communities, on projects determined in consultation with the women. With the business relatively new and the quantity of supply still relatively small, we are yet to be in profit but already provide regular financial support for the communities we work with beyond the payments made to individual weavers for their bilum. For example, the weavers in Goroka told us of the need for a simple house, with electricity and running water. It is common for most weavers to work in candle light and this has caused many eye problems. Among Equals responded by funding the BlueHaus, a place where they can share their knowledge, receive training and come together to weave and feel safe. Read more about the BlueHaus here.
Among Equals aim is also to provide an opportunity for traditional bilum to participate in the contemporary world of slow and ethical fashion. We are doing this with the full support of the women themselves. They are proud to bring their stories, woven into the bilum, to a segment of the global audience who may not have encountered bilum before. A greater demand for bilum also helps address one of the weavers’ key cultural concerns - ensuring that their craft is passed onto their daughters and grand-daughters.
We invite you to be a part of the journey.