Take five: Without women, PNG’s parliament is “a bird flying with one wing”
Author: Aidah Nanyonjo
Dame Carol Kidu is a former legislator, minister, and leader of the opposition in Papua New Guinea (PNG). In July she shared her experience with women intending to contest in the 2022 national elections, during a workshop in Kokopo, East New Britain, organized by UN Women in partnership with the Department for Community Development and Religion. The following is taken from plenary discussions.
Papua New Guinea is one of just three countries without any women in parliament. Why, and what can be done?
The playing ground is not level. Although the constitution is clear about equal participation and opportunity to join political offices, women never get equal opportunity to win elections. This is attributed to social, cultural, and economic barriers that limit women’s participation, both as voters and as candidates. The bird is flying with one wing; the other wing is broken.
There are several possible measures to increase women’s representation. Some countries have parliament seats reserved for women, for example.
What advice do you have for women ahead of the 2022 national elections?
I would like to see many women contesting for parliamentary seats. Don’t be afraid, even if you don’t have money for the campaign. Get nominated and share your manifesto with the people you want to represent. I believe people will get tired of ‘money politics’ and vote for issues. Even if you don’t go through, you will have made a statement. Some women contested and failed twice, but on the third attempt they went through.Being known in your community is very important. Work hard and prove yourself to the electorates. Stay away from ‘politics of politics’. Don’t create enemies in politics. Work with others to support you to achieve your goals for the community.
Would a women-only political party be a good idea?
I don’t encourage a women-only party. Women can register a new party if they want to, but it should not be for women only. You would kind of marginalize yourselves. You need to interact with male colleagues. How would male colleagues see it? But we can have a party led by a woman. It could be great to have it. As women in PNG, I am sure we can do it.
Also, there should be women in every party. And if we can get 25 percent or more in parliament, women will make their own caucus to discuss issues affecting women and girls. There are issues women must show solidarity on, which men don’t.
Elaborate more on the importance of women in Papua New Guinea joining political parties.
At first, I contested as an independent. By nature, I have an independent mind. Later, together with others, we had to join political parties. We have seen political parties supporting women to take up leadership roles. I was supported on several occasions. Political parties have to be seen supporting more women to contest parliamentary seats come the 2022 national elections.
The government is proposing to set aside five reserved seats for women representing different regions. Does this mean women leaders and civil society should abandon the push for 22 reserved seats that they have been advocating for since 2005?
Five is not good enough, but it is better than nothing. Politics is all about compromise. If we can’t get the 22 reserved seats out of a total of 111, let us go with what is available and keep advocating for more. Let us push for legislative change to guarantee women’s representation in parliament. Let us first make the five reserved seats happen. If women can contest and win some parliamentary seats, the number will increase. Let us re-activate our advocacy to make sure we stay on people’s minds and have their support.