The southwest Pacific islands of Bougainville were devastated by a violent civil war between local groups and the Papua New Guinea government between 1989 and 1998. Around ten percent of the population, or fifteen thousand Bougainvilleans died during those nine years, either from combat or as a result of conditions imposed by the conflict. Bougainville is a small but very complex society with a great diversity of clans, sub-clans and language groups. The divisions, suspicions and mistrust created by the war have served to compound that complexity in profoundly negative ways. Armed violence, massive and widespread human rights violations, disease and starvation resulted in displacement of more than half the population and had specific physical, economic and political impacts on women, the landowners in matrilineal Bougainville. Many fled to the bush, and stayed there for months or even years. Others were forced to live in ‘care centers' run by the Papua New Guinea government. By April 1995, over 64,000 displaced Bougainvilleans had taken refuge in 39 care centers throughout Bougainville.
All actors – the warring parties, the United Nations, donor agencies and NGOs – credit women for sparking and sustaining the cease-fire and peace process. This widespread recognition of women's role in creating and sustaining the conditions for peace stands in stark contrast to the absence and exclusion of women from the complex three stage disarmament and weapons disposal plan, which is intricately linked to progress on political and constitutional issues in the Bougainville Peace Agreement, finalized in August 2001.