Women have a place in politics

Editorial

WITH the majority of writs returned, the new parliament looks certain to be without the presence of women as elected members. The 2012 national elections returned three women in Delilah Gore (Sohe), Julie Soso (Eastern Highlands) and Loujaya Kouza (Lae).
From now until the next general election in 2022 – barring a women being elected during a by election – the ninth parliament will be an all-male show.
Is the country poorer for it? Will the government function less effectively because there are no women in parliament?
Based on the history of women in Papua New Guinean politics, which stretches back to the first elections in 1977, the impact from a numerical perspective will be slight.
Three women were elected to the first parliament, including Nahau Rooney (Manus regional), who served as Justice Minister in Michael Somare’s cabinet, and was subsequently re-elected for another term in 1982.
Parliament then had Dame Carol Kidu grace its floor for three terms. The Australian-born wife of Sir Buri Kidu, the country’s first chief justice, served three terms from 1997 to 2012 and held ministerial portfolios such as sports, community development and welfare.
Next to Rooney, Dame Carol is perhaps the most notable of the women who have had the opportunity to have served the country as leaders.
In terms of their impact on the floor of parliament, women have had little influence in that area.
Women who have become members since Rooney and have had the honour of holding ministries, have only held portfolios associated with social welfare, community and related areas.
Will Papua New Guinean’s voting preferences swing enough in the near future for women to become bigger players in the political sphere? One can only guess, but that does not mean they should not keep trying.
In September, 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted a new global agenda to end poverty by 2030 and pursue a sustainable future for all. PNG was one of those countries.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) includes a specific goal to achieve gender equality, which aims to end discrimination and violence against women and girls and ensure equal participation and opportunities in all spheres of life. Advancing women’s political participation was seen as a crucial part of delivering on the SDGs.
While that goal, which is to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life is a worthy one, this country is still some way off achieving that.
PNG can probably be described as a conservative Christian developing (or third world, depending who you ask) country with a male-dominated culture that has Melanesian ideals and traditions.
Slowly but surely, however, the women’s voice is being heard and their issues are being given the time and attention they deserve.
That is not to say that the country and its estimated eight million people need to be as progressive and on par with the western world.
With a country that has a low literacy rate among the general population, most of whom are based in the rural areas, and where formal employment accounts for a disproportionately small percentage of the adult population, women’s issues, while relevant, tend not to be the major focus of the agenda.
Women’s issues related to their fair and equal treatment in the education and opportunities in the workforce, their safety in terms of having protection from abuse and mistreatment are real and that is where the work needs to be done.
For a country to prosper every working man and woman  has a role to play. Politics in PNG is not just engendered towards the “big man” culture but is intrinsically geared towards developmental aims, as is natural for developing nations.
PNG certainly women have a place in politics. It is up to the people (half of whom are women) to put them there.

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