Call for reserved seats for women in PNG still alive

5:22 pm on 22 August 2018

There is still a need to reserve parliamentary seats for women in Papua New Guinea, a candidate in last year's general election says.

Esther Igo of Papua new Guinea NGO Women Arise.

Esther Igo of Papua new Guinea NGO Women Arise. Photo: RNZ / Koroi Hawkins

Legislation to create 22 reserved seats for women in addition to parliament's current 111 seats failed to be passed six years ago.

Since then, the number of women MPs in PNG has gone from three to zero.

Esther Igo was one of 167 females, or five percent of total candidates, who stood unsuccessfully for parliament last year.

The former candidate for the Wewak Open electorate said the existing process disadvantaged women's representation in leadership.

"Because of the disparity in how wealth is being used, how corruption is used, how all the other elements that are being used by men to actually dominate and to gain their votes into parliament, I support the reserved seats because it opens up that opportunity for women to be heard," Ms Igo said.

Soon after returning to power as a result of last year's election, Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said he wanted to bring the proposal to reserve 22 seats in parliament for women back for debate.

But the appetite for such a move appears limited among the current batch of MPs. Parliamentarians' focus this year has been on other legislation as well as preparation for hosting APEC.

Voters at polling in Timini, Morobe Province.

Voters at polling in Timini, Morobe Province. Photo: RNZI/ Johnny Blades

PNG's international partners had been pushing the matter in recent years, but the need for re-evaluation of the problem remains pressing after last year's return to ground zero in terms of female representation in parliament.

"There's a lot of talk. We have the UN, we have AusAID, we have a lot of (people) coming and talking about helping women to actually stand for elections.

"But really at the end of the day, I see our male counterparts - when we actually go as the candidates - they have so much money to play around with. In comparison, women would have one-tenth of what they have, what they're playing around with."

Ms Igo, who is a representative of the NGO Women Arise, pointed to the voting system, the way people campaign, and the prevalent mindset around elections, as being part of the problem.

"There is no voice for 52 percent of this population (women). The 52 percent of this population, when we women stand for elections, unfortunately because of the fear they have, men drag them to actually vote for men."

But for Ms Igo reserved seats still loomed as a sensible way to ensure women had a voice in parliament.

"Men and women have different psyches and mentality, and they look at community development very differently," she explained.

"Men would probably look at development in a very physical way, whereas women would look at it more in the (sense of) social, emotional and bringing up family.

"That's the balance that is required in parliament that we don't have today. It's very one-sided. And like every other thing, when you have a boat that is one sided, it's bound to capsize."

Papua New Guinea 's national parliament in Waigani.

Papua New Guinea 's national parliament in Waigani. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Standing for parliament was a very costly and draining exercise and she would have to think carefully before contesting again, Ms Igo said.

"It was a very emotional time for me. Actually I'm just recovering from that because it took so much out of me, trying to make the women see the issues."

Men also saw the issues affecting women and holding PNG back - inequality, domestic violence and sorcery-related attacks among them - and could "feel the pain" in relation to them, she said.

Despite men knowing about the need for change, when it came to general elections which are only every five years, they tended to vote for the candidates offering "certain monetary benefits", who were almost always males, Ms Igo said.

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