Growing up in Paramana village in Central province, Australia Awards alumna Rakara Raula-Nelson learned early on about culture, particularly the ways a gender divide can be created. She also learned how men too could support gender equality through her father’s teachings and investment in her education.

“When culture limited women’s participation to kitchens and childrearing, my dad taught me otherwise. Today, I’m the first woman in my family to hold a degree because my dad invested in me,” Rakara shared.

Throughout a decade-long career in international development, Rakara has adopted her father’s teaching and is continuously reminded that education is a catalyst for development and advancing women’s progress. In 2014, Rakara secured an Australia Awards Scholarship.

In 2019, Rakara graduated with a double degree from James Cook University with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Business – a goal she had set out to achieve in five years. As a result, she has become firmly established in her career and developed strong professional networks.

“There was a huge difference in my growth after the scholarship. The scholarship builds you up to take different approaches in your career. Using my new knowledge and skills, I was able to move from a mid-level executive to a senior management role,” Rakara said.

Now a Senior Program Manager at the Australia-Papua New Guinea Law and Justice (APLJ) Partnership Program, Rakara is driving gender equality programs to ensure women’s rights are recognised, and advocating for a legal environment that empowers women and tackles discrimination. At the same time, she is keen to see this empowerment start from households through to communities.

“To accelerate progress for women, we need to invest in the wellbeing of women and girls in our families. They should be provided with quality education and opportunities to meaningfully participate in the economy. That way, they can reap the benefits of financial stability to support themselves and be independent.”

A recurring theme of investing in women remains close to Rakara’s heart. She has seen the fruits of this labour and hopes other women can gain the same. On PNG National Women’s Day, she encourages other women to take the leap with an Australia Awards Scholarship.