Recalling gentleman Jim Humphreys & his applied mathematics
Amea’s story: Building a village school out of nothing

With 0% of women in parliament, why not try something new


TUMBY BAY - The Papua New Guinea government seems to have been long in thrall to large resource extraction projects but consistently fails to translate the profits it receives from them into tangible social benefits, such as improved education and health systems.

It also diverts considerable sums of taxpayers’ money into these sorts of projects, including buying shares and in the development of targeted infrastructure designed to attract even more projects and developers.

On top of this, it forgoes considerable revenue by offering the developers tax holidays and concessions that could otherwise be used for social improvements.

Although the government argues otherwise, citing among other things tourism as a driver, Port Moresby now abounds with high class accommodation designed specifically for the convenience of these developers.

This obsession with resource exploitation has resulted in massive environmental damage and the criminal neglect of the nation’s most vulnerable people.

The reasons why this happens is blatantly obvious to even the most casual observer. Such projects provide maximum opportunities for kickbacks and bribes.

These two things, the pillaging of resources and the attendant corruption, are the major stumbling blocks to Papua New Guinea ever becoming a just and equitable society.

Over the years many attempts have been made by caring people to halt this piracy. To date nothing has succeeded and the nation’s social indicators continue to roll rapidly downhill.

Although they have talked about it, there is still one thing that hasn’t been tried by these good hearted people – getting women into parliament in sufficient numbers to effect a change.

Whenever female quotas are suggested there is always an outcry calling for people to be elected to parliament on the basis of merit only.

Those supporting this view also go to great pains to suggest that there is absolutely no proof that having more women in parliament will change anything.

This last claim is hard to refute because the basis of any such study would necessarily have to be highly subjective using unreliable and anecdotal data. What is really needed are case studies conducted over time.

Thanks to Annabel Crabb, writing for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, it is now possible to identify one such study.

Crabb directs us to a book written by the Harvard behavioural economist, Iris Bohnet, about India’s Panchayati Raj Act of 1993 that “decreed that one third of local council seats would henceforth be reserved for women” and “a third of village leaders in any given district had to be female”.

In the book, ‘What Works’, Bohnet describes all the usual complaints about such perceived tokenism but she also notes the fact that by 2005 the proportion of local government seats occupied by women had risen from 5% to 40% - well beyond the target set out in the Act.

This attracted several social scientists from overseas to study the outcome.

Among other things they discovered that female chiefs invested more in public services than their male counterparts.

They also discovered an increased frequency of women speaking up and reporting crimes of a sexual nature, such as violence against women and rape.

Also, and significantly, they discovered that women were less likely to accept or solicit bribes and kickbacks.

On top of these improvements were the finding that women and girls were actually inspired to take part in politics beyond the numbers specified in the quotas and in areas beyond where the quotas applied.

“The visibility of female leaders, in other words, changed the lives of individuals outside the system to which the quota applied”.

We know that the political systems in India are different to those in Papua New Guinea but the overarching lesson is nevertheless pertinent.

Papua New Guinea currently has 0% of women in its parliament and precious few in its provincial and local level government systems.

The Indian experience suggests that introducing a quota system for women works. Moreover it creates an impetus that grows upon itself and eventually makes the use of quotas redundant.

Given Papua New Guinea’s parlous state it is surely time that such experiments are tried.

There is nothing to lose and a lot to gain, perhaps even the end of corruption and social degeneration.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

In the Indian experience several powerful men simply had their wives elected and used them as puppets. This worked for a while but as they came into contact with the other women they started to stand up to their husbands. Eventually the tactic failed to work.

This group strength is what has been missing in PNG politics. All of the elected women so far have had to stand alone and it was inevitable that they would succumb to male pressure.

Under a quota system where there would be, say 22 women, elected they would have a natural strength in their numbers. I think that would make a crucial difference and is another reason why quotas are preferable to electing women on merit alone.

If you watch Australian federal politics you can see a lot of the women gathering together despite their political leanings and gaining strength from that unity.

Philip Kai Morre

In a patriarchal society, male macho type culture is dominant and women's rights and values have been suppressed. The right to political movement and election of women looks grim.

We have complex structural and underlining issues and cultural norms that do not respect the aspirations of women to stand for politics.

However, women are gaining increasing awareness of who they are and they are better in business and education. Maybe leave politics alone for some time to allow men to change their attitudes first.

Even womenfolk are not supporting women to stand for election. Women need to educate the majority of women to elect them for women's rights and the common good.

The biggest problem is women themselves not supporting each other. Dame Carol Kidu was the advocate of women issues and she was the only role model men respected.

She upheld family values and was a fighter for social justice. We had a few other women in parliament but they didn't stand as role models.

The moment they were in parliament they deserted their husbands who had supported them for new men. How can we respect women who have such attitude problems. That may affect other women who might stand for election.

Barbara Short

Recently a group of women at UPNG have stood up for justice during the recent chaos.

If the quota system could be introduced, and intelligent hard-working women could be chosen I'm sure it would start to turn the country around.

Women, in so many parts of PNG, have the job of "feeding the family".They work hard and have a sense of responsibility.

Back in the olden days I'm sure there were many more jobs for the men but today so many have forgotten what it is like to "work hard".

We would have to make certain that the present politicians didn't just contrive some way to get their "concubines" elected! Ha!

Philip Fitzpatrick

If you look after my kids next Friday night I might be able to consider your development proposal.

I've had female bosses and quite a few of them were worse than their male counterparts when it came to toeing the company line.

Some of those female footy and cricket players are not the sort of people I'd like to meet in a dark alley on a Saturday night.

Gutsy females prepared to take and dish out a bit of biffo but with different agendas that are more socially friendly could be a good thing.

Paul Oates

Perhaps what you are actually raising Phil, is the implied difference between the hard wired DNA of the male and the female of our species.

It's long been recognised that females are generally more caring for others than are males generally. This is supposed to originate from our development as a species where males went out to attack animals and defend the home while women searched for food and looked after children.

Whether this translates to a better outlook in today's society where we seem to be on a one way train to prove that women can do everything men can do, like football and high contact sports, is in my view questionable at best. Physiology aside, I suggest the injuries sustained by male boxers should be enough to put anyone off that so called sport. Just look at what happened to Cassius Clay aka Mahamet Ali.

The age old problem that will still confront any politician, male or female, are those who seek personal gain for themselves and seek to influence those in power, in order to get what objectives they want.

Politicians in any nation seem to be unable to resist either the temptations offered or the influence exerted on them by their supporters who want something for their support. Often this extends to other nations who want what to extract the available resources they don't have at home.

Whether female politicians have a better defence against that form of influence is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe they just respond to different attractions instead of male power and prestige?

That's a male view. What do women think?

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