Papua New Guinea to have Enabling Law that will Ensure Gender Equality

Date: Friday, November 2, 2012

Papua New Guinea

After years of lobbying and negotiations, the women of Papua New Guinea had something to celebrate last year when their parliament passed the Equality bill.

The bill proposed to change the PNG constitution to allow for a fourth category to be created which would subsequently allow for the creation of 22 reserved seats for women was passed with only 3 MPs voting against the bill. The bill proposed for the creation of 22 reserved seats for women, which would secure a guaranteed seat for women per province.

Leading up to the tabling in parliament, a media campaign asking the public to “tell their MP to vote for the bill” was launched. PNG women organised themselves into lobby groups to garner support from their MPs to vote for the bill.

The media campaign which was championed by the deputy prime minister and other ministers saw hundreds of women from around the country gather at the parliament house during its voting to show their support.

Led by the then Minister for Community Development Dame Carol Kidu with financial and technical support from UN Women, the working group was initially set up in 2010 which included UNDP PNG, AusAID, Women in Politics, Papua Hahine and Women in Business to work on the drafting, lobby and campaign for the bill.

The media campaign, which was led by UN Women, brought the previously scattered PNG women's movement together and helped to overcome previous differences to ensure the PNG women showed a united approach. UN Women advised on how to engage in strategic lobby and support the Minister in rending support for the passing of the bill by various male politicians.

It took over a period of two years since the introduction of the idea in 2009 before the constitution was changed. This landmark achievement then kicked off the second phase of negotiation for the enabling law or organic law that would specify how the seats would be created including boundaries and electoral changes.

While the country failed to pass the second bill in time for the elections this year, work is still ongoing to ensure the organic law for the 22 reserved seats for women is put in place during the current government’s term.

One of the key results of this campaign was the declaration by many PNG women to contest this year’s elections. While the campaign for the bill was ongoing, the women from around the country took the opportunity to campaign for themselves. This year over 200 females contested the PNG elections a marked increase from the previous elections of 56 candidates. 

Meanwhile, the elections in Papua New Guinea saw an improvement from the normally violent elections not only in the free and fair polling but also in the creation of separate polling booths for men and women.

As part of a series of targeted capacity building for key political stakeholders, UN Women had initially trained a Simbu election official who first introduced the separate polling booth concept at bi-elections in 2011. The electoral official became a gender champion after attending a BRIDGE training and in an effort to increase women's security in elections and to increase opportunity for free and fair and secret vote casting of women, he trialed separate male and female voting booths. Following its success, he lobbied the national PNG Election commission to introduce separate Polling booths for all high-risk areas. This was introduced accordingly in Highlands and Bouganville at this year’s elections.

This year’s elections also saw the increase in women MPs from one to three, a first for the PNG parliament.