Bougainville MPs meet

National, Normal

The National – Thursday, June 16, 2011

AUTONOMOUS Bougainville elected representatives arrived for the scheduled sitting that starts on June 21 in Buka.
All 41 leaders are attending a week-long workshop on gender and elections conducted by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). 
The leaders will be trained under a method which puts elections in context of governance and democracy. 
The course  will focus on gender issues affecting women’s active political participation and representation in Bougainville. 
As Papua New Guinea heads towards general election again next year and the regional assembly in 2015, this workshop could not have come at a better time. 
The assembly members will be introduced to principles of gender equality, democracy, electoral procedures, barriers that women face in accessing electoral processes, voting and registration.
UN Women’s Gender Equality in Political Governance programme (GEPG) deputy regional manager Jeanette Bolenga said the workshop aimed at helping leaders “understand why women’s participation in leadership is important and also how to improve it”.
“The members are elected leaders and decision-makers of the day of the highest law-making institution of any country and it is important to engage them towards increasing political leadership responsibilities for both genders,” she said.
Bolenga said human rights were for everybody, “so women and men are entitled to equal rights and to equal access to the electoral system”.
However, “even if women and men have equal legal rights in regard to elections, specific practices in a country may discriminate against or work to the disadvantage of women”.
“As a result of historical, cultural and other factors, women have not yet achieved equality in most societies, including equality in the electoral process.
“The training provides tools for all participants to look at elections from a gender perspective and what they learn will go a long way in helping women’s leadership and participation in governments.”
She said even a country’s choice of election system may have a dramatic effect on how many women were elected to office.
Bougainville is leading the Pacific when it comes to temporary special measures with its inclusion of three reserved seats for women.
Under that arrangement the north, central and south have a women’s representative in the assembly.
However, there is still room for improvement as Bougainville was still below the so-called “critical mass” of 30% representation.
Pacific Island countries have fallen behind the rest of the world with the lowest levels of representation of women in parliaments and local governments.
The workshop will be reflecting on how temporary special measures, such as elected reserved seats in parliament, voluntary party quotas and other forms of affirmative action may help Bougainville in achieving an improved gender balance in the assembly.
Leaders are introduced to the principles of different electoral systems and how they affect women’s representation, as well as to the needs for respective voter education.
The workshop is led by facilitator Bolenga (Vanuatu) and Leotina Harihiru (accrediting facilitator) of the Solomon Islands while the workshop facilitator is Hamidan Bibi from Fiji. 
The local co-facilitators include Agnes Titus, Steven Simiha, Lawrence Chicka, Patricia Kapapal and Ezekiel Lames.
They were recently accredited after a train-the-facilitators workshop two weeks ago.
The workshop which started on Monday at Kuri Resort, Buka, ends tomorrow.