Women’s bill fails again

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday 21st December 2011

THERE is obvious disappointment, bordering on anger all-round, more so among women leaders, at parliament’s failure yesterday to secure the required numbers to pass the wo­men’s bill.
Most disappointment would be only female MP Dame Carol Kidu who had been the driving force behind this landmark proposed law aimed at gua­ranteeing women 22 seats in parliament next year.
Understandably, there was widespread disappointment when the bill first failed to get the required number and emotions ran higher yesterday – anger when the second attempt also failed.
After all, Prime Minister O’Neill and Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah had assured women leaders that they would round up the required numbers.
Dame Carol said it would have passed if it was introduced with the budget two weeks ago.
We support the contention – it was a Sir Michael Somare regime legislation which, together with Hela and Jiwaka provinces legislation, it was keen to see in place before the next general election in June.
So, the second defeat has forced O’Neill to virtually apologise for a missed opportunity. There were numbers on the floor and the prime minister admitted to Dame Carol that he had made a mistake in not tabling it then.
While this week’s attempts were disappointing, there is still an opportunity in January and March sessions of parliament when the whole political leadership question has simmered down a bit.
In the meantime, the bill was rescinded and scheduled for debate at a later date.
A total of 73 votes are required for the bill to become law, but less than 70 of the 109 MPs attended Monday and yesterday’s sitting.
Dame Carol was the only member of the Sir Michael faction to turn up to parliament.
Pro-Somare MPs did not turn up, she explained, even though she did discuss it with them. There are still some basic fundamental legal issues, on the whole political impasse, which they refuse to budge on.
For O’Neill and Namah, who enjoyed total and undivided support from their loyal supporters on the floor throughout the first week of the constitutional and leadership crisis, it was a totally different story on the wo­men’s bill.
Three – Lae MP Bart Philemon, Western Governor Dr Bob Danaya and Madang Governor James Gau – were steadfast in their belief that no one, including women, should get a free ride to parliament. And their support swelled yesterday as three more MPs joined them.
O’Neill and Namah must now keep the pro-women lobby intact within its faction.
It must also keep the women leaders happy by assuring them that there are still hopes parliament will pass the organic bill to gua­rantee 22 seats to be set aside next year for women.
But the days are counting down for Dame Carol, the country’s sole female MP, who is retiring at the next election.
The passage of the bill will be a milestone for Pa­pua New Guinea; it will lead the way in addressing the serious problem of gender imbalance in the national legislature which credibility and legitimacy are still being questioned.
Much work has already been achieved in the amendment to the Constitution and a lot of pressure will be on whoever gets into power next year; pressure can be put to bear to get the enabling law in place. Even have a by-election to bring women in, Dame Carol says.
It was always going to be a very hard road, and a lot had been achieved.
For the past several days, O’Neill, with the help of the speaker and a clear majority, has survived the leadership challenge by amending laws to ensure all opposition are quashed and laws to preserve his regime are passed.
Perhaps, he should use his majority to bulldoze some more legislation to please the women lobby.