PNG's women vow to fight for elections

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23 February 2012
Papua New Guinea Women in their traditional costume
Papua New Guinea Women in their traditional costume

Women's groups in Papua New Guinea have pledged to fight on and contest the June 2012 elections, after the government of Peter O'Neill failed for the third time to pass a law giving women 22 seats in the nation's male-dominated parliament. The bill failed to pass parliament 58-1 on Wednesday after 21 MPs opposed to the historic laws solidifying last year's constitutional amendment guaranteeing the seats quit the chamber. 

A failed third attempt to pass the bill means it has to be reintroduced to parliament, and with campaigning for the June 2012 soon to begin, women may not have a strong voice in parliament until the 2017 election. But advocates of the women's bill say they will contest electorates despite the absence of the enabling laws.

"We have waited 36 years. Are we going to wait another five? We need to mobilise and we need to take the coming election on as our challenge," said Dorothy Tekwie, founder of the PNG Women in Politics.

"Absence of women has been part of the problem of why this country has been going down the drain and sold to the dogs, where no-one cares about our children, about the social services, about human rights issues, environmental destructions.

"These issues are pertinent to women and we are asking the people of Papua New guinea to make that come through in whatever seats women stand for."

There is currently no law against women running for parliament in PNG - evidenced by the nation's current sole female member, Australian-born opposition leader Dame Carol Kidu. However since colonisation and nationhood, PNG has become a fiercely patriarchal society and women face enormous social barriers to getting elected. The nation's health sector is dysfunctional, with aid from Australia keeping much of the health sector afloat. There are currently only 152 trained midwives in PNG, according to Ausaid, and nearly seven per cent of children do not live past their fifth birthday.

"We're not asking to take away space from anybody. We are asking to provide extra space in a playing field that is completely uneven, completely uneven," said Dame Carol, a 15-year veteran of parliament. "It is not a western, foreign agenda being brought here. "I can tell you the most influential person of the Kidu household of the Vahoi clan of the Tari village was my late mother-in-law. Let us not pretend women do not have a voice in Papua New Guinea. Women do have a voice here."

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill declined to comment when questioned by AAP, but told journalists on Wednesday he was disappointed with the members who left the chamber. "If they didn't like the bill, they should have just remained in the chamber and voted against it," the Port Moresby based Post Courier quoted him as saying. "They should have made it clear where they stand, instead of walking out. We cannot continue to deceive our womenfolk if the numbers are just not going to be there to support it."

The 80 MPs present in the chamber on Wednesday passed three laws, including one to allow the setting up of a sovereign wealth fund and another to set up a 10-person committee to oversee preparations for the 2015 Pacific Games to be held in PNG.

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