Woman of many ‘firsts’ farewelled

By: Loop Author

A lady of many ‘firsts’ is what she is being referred to by family, friends, and all those who knew her and her contribution in the country’s development.

The Late Josepha Namsu Kiris (formerly Kanawi) was farewelled in Port Moresby today by all those who held her close to heart, including her former husband, Web Kanawi, in what was disappointingly a low key event for someone who had contributed a lot to the empowerment of women in the country.

Borne to a father from the East Sepik Province, who was a policeman, and Eastern Highlands mother, on 5 October 1952, the late Kiris was the first woman of many titles, who had colourful yet untold life achievements.    

She developed an early interest in Law from attending court with her father, who was a police prosecutor during her childhood.

She was among the first local women to graduate with a Law degree from the University of Papua New Guinea in 1976, a year after the country obtained Independence.

After attending Yarapos Our Lady of Mercy College from 1967 to 1970, she proceeded to UPNG where it took her six years, from 1971 to 1976, to complete her Law degree between having children.

Josepha Namsu Kiris

She worked part time with the Mining Department after graduating in 1976, where she was involved in years of negotiation work with the Bougainville and Ok Tedi mine.

In 1978, she got admitted to the bar where she did litigation work as lawyer till 1983.

She was later appointed to the post of Secretary for Land Reform Commission, a post she acted in for 13 years, from 1983 to 1996. She was the first woman to occupy that post.

From 1996 to 2007, she was the Chief Land Titles Commissioner from for 16 years, the first woman to hold that post also.

She was also the first female member to be appointed on the Land Board, where she acted as its Legal Advisor and also chaired sub-committees of the board.

At the time of her death (April 9, 2017), she was the Legal Advisor to the National Council of Women for 10 years.

She was also a technical legal advisor to Women Arise PNG, the National Haus Krai movement and actively advocated in pushing for PNG to sign the UN’s international treaty – CEDAW Convention, to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.

Her former husband, Web Kanawi, was among those who paid tribute to her today during the service that was held at the St Joseph Catholic church.

“My dream for her though, was to see her as the first female PNG Judge on the bench. I am more than certain she was offered an appointment after her many years of hard professionally driven legal work in different legally oriented institutions; but she gracefully declined,” Kanawi said.

Kiris holds a master’s degree in Law from the Southern Cross University.

Kanawi said she retired after acquiring a great invaluable knowledge on lands titles, land management systems, customary land laws and issues – such as landowners’ rights and was a consultant in that area after leaving Government service.

Her brother and fellow lawyer, Alois Jerowai, also paid tribute to her at the funeral.

Jerowai said Kiris left behind a big mission, and will now look at other lawyers to continue her work, especially on empowering customary landowners on land registration.

“She took her knowledge with her but also left a number of written documents to assist those who will continue her work,” he added.

Amongst her national recognition for community service, she was awarded an Imperial Service Order by Buckingham Palace in early 2000. She was also actively involved in the codes of hockey and tennis in her younger years.


Picture: Former husband, Web Kanawi



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