An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
PAPUA New Guinea’s national parliament has 2.7% of its members who are female, just a tiny number to represent the women who compose half the population.
In PNG, educated women have a slim chance of being appointed as departmental heads or elected to parliament. Men regard the Reserved Seats Bill as an offence to cultural norms and men talk for women as if women don’t have mouths.
This caste-like system in PNG makes women vulnerable to exploitation even though women’s intelligence, adept decision making and productivity are equal to men’s.
Electoral gender quotas is one of the proposed tools that would increase women’s representation in top decision-making institutions such as parliaments and provincial governments.
Gender quotas are advocated because women are under-represented within political entities and governments.
Many countries have implemented electoral quotas by introducing legislation or amending their constitution. By 2005 most major political parties in 50 countries had voluntarily introduced quotas requiring 30% or higher of candidates nominated for elections to be women.
There was huge progress in women’s advancement in 2012. The global average of women in parliaments stood at 20.3%, up from 19.5% in 2011. In 22 countries women have made their presence felt with electoral quotas when elections were held.
Currently quota systems ensure that women constitute 30% or higher in a range of international conventions and treaties.
Quotas can be used as a temporary measure, until such time as people see the fruition of women’s leadership and the obstacles for women’s admission into politics are completely done away with.
Since 2009, Dame Carol Kidu has worked closely with the National Council of Women and development partners to have the PNG parliament enact legislation providing reserved seats for women. It is reasoned that PNG can better address Millennium Development Goal 3 (gender equality) with reserved seats.
In fact, just before the ninth PNG general election, politicians in the last parliament indicated support for the Reserved Seats Bill. The Bill was passed unopposed in the first two readings in Parliament but was defeated in the third and final reading.
The veto was a direct result of PNG parliamentarians having little understanding of the benefits of empowering women. Male parliamentarians have yet to be enlightened about how reserved seat measures implemented throughout the world can have benefits for everyone.
At the time, Sir Bart Philemon argued that the Bill did not address the current development priority needs, that the cost of reserved seats was some K50 million and that was a huge sum for a concept that had no guarantee for improved service delivery.
And that remark may have convinced the MPs in the 8th parliament to disappoint and shock the women with the eleventh hour veto.
Rural PNG women did not support the reserved seats concept either because they were cynical that political spoils would only push a few women up and the purported benefits were only sugar-coating. Rivalry among women was also evident in the National Council of Women (NCW) at the time.
It could be argued that the blame for the Reserved Seats Bill veto falls on the NCW and the UN Women group. These entities concentrated their lobbying entirely on women’s empowerment and advocacy among the main interest groups and unintentionally left out the 97.3% of male parliamentarians.
Because parliamentarians were not shown the benefits of women’s empowerment, they vetoed the Reserved Seats Bill. The male parliamentarians needed gender sensitisation and mainstreaming programs to realise the importance of reserved seats.
The huge factor that worked against women at the time too was that the last parliamentary sitting happened during the impasse between Michael Somare and Peter O’Neill.
Somare and his henchmen didn’t attend the session to vote on the Bill. When the ABC interviewed O’Neill after the veto, he said it required a two-thirds majority to pass the Bill and Somare’s team failed the women big-time by not attending the session.
When Somare was interviewed separately he called the MPs in O’Neill’s camp a bunch of pigs who had no respect for women.
However, the good news now is that the two heavies are in the same kitchen. Should any MP flag the Reserved Seats Bill in parliament again there must be a high chance of success.
Dame Carol Kidu resigned from parliament in 2012 dejected at the outcome. She left big shoes to fill. While three new women were elected to parliament in the same year, only a brief time into their term as MPs they made headlines for the wrong reasons.
Julie Soso came out as a disciple of the current Speaker in blaming totems and carvings for corruption. Loujaya Toni also joined that call and made news because of a fiasco with her spouse. And Delilah Gore’s ego managed to get in the way of any clear thinking in relation to the Institute of Technology.
But these were mostly trivial issues compared to the male politicians’ obsessive desire to steal.
So, after a five year debate, PNG still does not have any kind of gender quota in place. The new women MPs have announced that it is undemocratic to enable women to enter parliament through reserved seats.
The women MPs said reserved seats would belittle women and they could be seen as illegitimate power holders. This stance of the new women MPs angered the proponents of reserved seats.
In PNG where there is complete disregard for women and their rights, it is appropriate that a form of gender quota be adopted to set the foundation for women’s empowerment.
There are huge benefits to a society with gender quotas, which compensate women for the real barriers that prevent them from gaining their fair share of political seats.
And, despite arguments to the contrary, such arrangements do not discriminate against men. Equal representation is a right under the constitution and both men and women’s experiences are needed in political sphere. One gender cannot solely represent everyone. Women are needed to represent their own kind.
Dame Carol Kidu says women are equally qualified as men. However, women’s credentials are not considered important in the male-dominated political system.
Women have performed well as national leaders throughout the world. PNG’s own Dame Carol rose as far as the Leader of the Opposition. This encouraged voters to actually elect the current women MPs on the eve of her resignation.
It is evident that male egos have pushed PNG to the cliff-edge of becoming an unfair state. Reserved seats for women are needed for change.
Critics say giving women preferential quotas makes the principle of equal opportunity mere rhetoric. They argue that women should not be treated in any special way or given favours to enter the echelons of power.
They further argue that political representation should be about policies, ideas and party platforms and not about social constructs and gender roles. PNG’s current women MPs seem to have been seduced by these critics.
Revisiting the Reserved Seats Bill would be a wonderful Mother’s Day present for all the women of PNG in 2015, the fortieth anniversary of Independence.