Bring out the reserved seats bill

Editorial, Normal

The National – Tuesday, July 5, 2011

SINCE Independence in 1975, only four women have made it to National Parliament – Dame Josephine Abaijah, Waliato Clowes, Nahau Rooney and Dame Carol Kidu.
Dame Carol has been the only women in parliament since her election in 1997.
Today, women remain among the country’s most valuable resource. With new, more complex social problems today, capitalising on this resource, from their experience and wisdom and intuition, is critical.
The Pacific Plan defines good governance as “the transparent and accountable use of all resources in an equitable manner”.
It recognises that good governance is also the cornerstone of sustainable development and economic growth and acknowledges that Pacific women are an important resource whose wisdom, expertise, knowledge and leadership qualities need to be harnessed to combat the increasingly complex social and environmental problems facing our nations.
Women have, for centuries, continued to play a crucial and critical role in the lives of families and communities. Studies have found that when women are full and equal participants in the democratic and political decision making process, there is greater likelihood that the government’s policies would reflect the needs of all its citizens.
Women’s priorities are usually different from those of men and they are more likely to press for laws that benefit families, women, children and marginalised groups.
Political representation by women is a strategic priority to achieving sustainable development, economic growth and prosperity.
In a 2005 report, the United Nations-commissioned millennium project noted that when women are well represented on governing bodies, the overall quality of governance tends to improve and levels of corruption significantly reduced.
Getting into the circle of decision making through the normal electoral process poses huge challenges for PNG women and is quite impossible, given the current nature of the country’s elections where guns, money and brute force talk and get the numbers.
Some of the barriers to women’s success at the elections include :
*Prevailing cultural attitudes that women’s place is in the house – house at home – not house of parliament;
*Lack of resources;
*Lack of support by political parties; and
*Harassment and intimidation of voters.
That is why special measures are needed, as a start, to enable and ensure women’s participation until such time women are able to compete on a level playing field and stand a fair chance in a free and democratic election.
Recognising this, Pacific governments , including PNG, have called for special temporary measures such as quotas, nominated seats and reserved seats. 
In October 2008, Dame Ca­rol, as minister for community development, put to cabinet a submission for three nominated seats in the country’s first move to fast track women’s representation. However, the government failed to muster support for the bill.
In August 2009, provincial governors recommended 22 reserved seats for women at the Lae summit.
The National Executive Council subsequently approved work to undertake legal adjustments to existing legislation to give effect to 22 reserved seats procedures. A legal team was set up to draft the necessary bills to amend the constitution to create 22 reserved seats for women.
Cabinet approved the submission for the 22 reserved seats in February 2009. However, the bill has failed to be tabled in parliament in March and November 2009 and was postponed to last May.
The fact that PNG has come this far is a significant step forward. However, given that three sittings have passed without the bill being read should prompt citizens not to put all their eggs in the reserved seats basket. Not when the general election is less than a year away.
The reserved seats and a United Nations-sponsored roadshow has raised the awareness and ignited interest among citizens around the country.
People are now talking about women participation in elections and choosing candidates. That is an excellent start but it is over to the all-male – excepting Dame Carol – parliament to ensure the 22 reserved seats bill is on the agenda for the next session.
With the focus on the PM’s seat, this is going to be a hard ask.