Friday, July 6, 2012

Women in Parliament

This national election is important for women of Papua New Guinea. Before the election the parliament rejected the proposal to appoint women into Parliament. The proposal failed to get the vote it needed to become a statutoreeey law enabling women a place in the decision making chambers of parliament. 

That leaves women in Papua New Guinea to challenge their male counterparts in this election. In this year’s election a number of women have taken the call to prove their worth just as the male folks.  

A good number of women are contesting this election against men. Some of these women are contesting as Independent candidates. Others are supported by the political parties. Two woman lead political parties as party leaders. Some of these women have contested in previous elections. Others have just raised their hands to be noticed.

I hope that the results for women in this year’s National Elections will change the political history of this country.  Having more women in Parliament will shift the political culture to another level. It is difficult to see any shift without including our women folks in the Parliament.  Women should be given the opportunity to lead through our votes.

Consider the information on women in parliament presented in Eric Johns’ History Through Stories: Book Two (2006):  “Only one Papua New Guinean woman,  Ana Frank Gaudi, with two Australian woman, stood for the first House of Assembly elections in 1964, and only an Australian woman stood for the second House of Assembly elections in 1968. No women were successful in either elections. Josephine Abaijah was the first women elected to the national parliament, in 1972. When Abaijah, Nahau Rooney, and Waliyato Clowes were successful in 1977, it seemed that a breakthrough had been made for women.  However, in 1982, only Rooney was re-elected and no women were successful in the elections of 1987 and 1992. In 1997, Abaijah was returned, along with Carol Kidu, but in 2002 Kidu was the only woman elected.”

Dame Lady Carol Kidu was re-elected in 2007 until the end of this Parliamentary term. Dame Lady Carol Kidu has retired from active politics to pursue other interests. If no women are elected to parliament in 2012 then parliament will have no women representation, leaning towards a male only parliament.

Over the years the number of women contesting the elections had increased, but the results were against the women folks. In 1972 four women contested, but only one woman (Josephine Abaijah) was elected.  Of the ten women who contested in 1977 only three women (Josephine Abaijah, Nahau Rooney, Waliyato Clowes) were elected. For the 1982 election, only one (Nahau Rooney) of the 17 women who contested was elected.  It seems to have gained more interests around 1987 when 18 women contested, but no one was elected. The same result was produced in 1992 when 17 women contested the national elections. 

With this statistical analysis I am ambivalent about the results in this election. The change in mindset and will to change political culture is needed before any women can be elected into parliament. I also think that women candidates contesting this election needed more than popularity to win. It seems some candidates are contesting in big ponds while others in small ponds where chances are good. Nonetheless their fates lie in the voter psychology and desire for change. 

It can never be argued that candiates who stood before can never win. The cases of Abaijah, Rooney, and Kidu have proven that voters are intelligent enough to want the best person for a leader.

Or it can never be argued that Papua New Guineans are unwilling to change their often too male concentric perspective of women leaders. There is a change, but at a snail’s pace, we observe. 

Eric Johns asked the question that begs to be answered: “Why have so few women been elected? Although conditions are not the same throughout the country, the majority of Papua New Guineans still believe that women should not be leaders or make important decisions because that is the work of men. Many women who have achieved success in the public service, private enterprise, universities and other fields, have come into contact with family or community members who believe that women’s work is the home. There is even more criticism of women who wish to enter the national parliament. Unless these attitudes change, women will continue to find it almost impossible to be elected, thus excluding half of the country’s population from having any say in important decisions that affect everyone.”

Many of us will agree that the women who were elected or nominated to parliament were examplary leaders. Some of them have written their autobiographies that Papua New Guineans have benefited from reading about what makes a great leader.  In her autobiography Listen My Country (1981) we learned Dame Alice Wadega was the first PNG woman knight (1982) to be appointed to the Legislative Council (1961). In Dame Josephine Abaijah’s autobiography A Thousand Coloured Dreams (1981) we learnt that she founded the political party Papua Besena (Hands off Papua), and from Dame Lady Carol Kidu’s we learnt of her courage to marry a young Papua New Guinea lawyer, and making the incredible journey to the land of the unexpected, where she became a political leader and examplary Pacific leader in her own right.

Someone who had formed her own political party was Waliyo Clowes known as Panal (Papuan Alliances) when she was elected to Parliament in 1977. Clowes was quoted as saying: “A lot of men think we are rubbish and take no notice of us.” 

Let’s vote for women for a change.

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