Papua New Guinea

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Papua New Guinea is the largest country in the Pacific, with a population of almost 7 million people. It is a geographically and ethnically diverse society, which famously boasts the largest number of languages in the world. PNG has a multi-tiered system of governance, with a national parliament, provincial assemblies and district councils, as well as a legislature for the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

National Parliament

Papua New Guinea has a national Parliament with 111 members. Since Independence in 1975, only seven women have ever been elected to PNG’s National Parliament. Interestingly, immediately after Independence, in the first elections in 1977, ten women candidates ran for office, and three – Hon Nahau Rooney, Hon Waliyato Clowes and Dame Josephine Abaijah – were elected. Only the Parliament elected in 2012 has ever elected as many women again – Hon Loujaya Toni, Hon Delilah Gore and Hon Julie Soso. The current Parliament, elected in 2017, has no women MPs at all.

The failure to make major progress in improving women’s representation in the National Parliament over the years has reinforced calls for the introduction of some form of temporary special measure (TSM). Dame Carol Kidu, the only women MP in the Parliament from 2000 to 2012, and the Minister for Community Development for almost all of that time, took on this challenge and drove the campaign to implement legal TSMs.  In August 2009, an attempt was made to use existing constitutional provisions to nominate 3 women to the Parliament, but this effort subsequently failed to attract enough support amongst MPs. Subsequently, Dame Carol pushed for reserved seats for women. In December 2011, the Equality and Participation Act was passed to introduce 22 reserved seats for women in the National Parliament – one seat per province, plus one for the National Capital District. In order for the Act to be implemented, an amendment to the Organic Law on National and Local Level Government Elections was also necessary, but the amending Bill failed to attract the necessary number of votes in early 2012. As such, reserved seats for women were not introduced at the 2012 elections.

Papua New Guinea held their next national elections on 23 June 2012. In advance of the elections, development partners undertook a number of initiatives to support women candidates. The Centre for Democratic Institutions, in partnership with the PNG Office for the Development of Women (ODW), with support from UNDP, ran Women’s Candidates Trainings for PNG womenUNDP and the PNG ODW also ran the first-ever Practice Parliament for PNG Women from 17-20 April 2012. Watch some of PNG’s Women Candidates engaged with important policy issues during Question Time in the April 26 Practice Parliament in Port Moresby. The PacWIP website was also used to showcase women candidates in the 2012 PNG National Elections, who are committed to human rights, promoting gender equality and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Three women were eventually elected to the 2012 Parliament – Hon Loujaya Toni (Lae Open), Hon Delilah Gore (Sohe Open) and Hon Julie Soso (Eastern Highlands Regional).

In advance of the June 2017 national elections, UNDP ran a second Practice Parliament for PNG Women from 7-13 March 2017, in collaboration with Office of Integrity of Political Parties, the National Parliament and Department of Community Development and Religion. The Practice Parliament brought together 45 women from around the country. For the first time it was held in the National Parliamentary Precinct in the State Room. PNG held its latest elections in June 2017 for two weeks, from 24th June till 8th July 2017. 165 women candidates stood in the 2017 elections out of a total of 3,324 national candidates. After the tallying of the votes, unfortunately no women candidates were voted into the National Parliament at all.

In the aftermath of those elections, in late 2017 PM Peter O’Neill indicated an interest in reviving the 22 reserved seats proposal and committed his Government to reviewing and promoting legal options. He also raised the idea of reserving 4 seats for women, one for each of the regions, if the large proposal was unable to attract sufficient support. This proposal had support from the National Council of Women. Upon directions from the NEC, in February 2018 the Governor General commissioned the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission (CLRC) to review PNG’s electoral laws within 18 months, including options for promoting women through temporary special measures. It is understood that the report has been produced, but the CLRC website is currently under construction and the report is not online.

In August 2020, upon the swearing in of the new Chair of the CLRC (with the old Chair becoming the DG of the Department of Justice and the Attorney General), the PM Marape specifically committed the Government to exploring options to reserve 4-5 regional seats for women in advance of the 2022 National Elections. He tasked the CLRC with looking into this issue again. It is understood that the Marape Government is currently developing two legislative proposal to promote more women in the National Parliament, which will soon be tabled for consideration:

  • Reserving 5 regional seats for women, one per region, plus an additional seat for the Highlands in recognition of the size of the population. It is understood both men and women will vote for these new seats, though the details of how they will campaign across and represent such large constituencies still need to be worked through.
  • Implementing reforms to the Organic Law on Political Parties and Candidates to (ii) mandate all political parties to ensure that 20% of candidates endorsed must be women or risk their access to public funding and (ii) reimburse political parties 20% of the costs of supporting women’s candidates campaigns, even if the women lose (this increases the reimbursement from the current 10% now)

Autonomous Region of Bougainville

In the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARB), following the end of the twenty year conflict, a new constitution and electoral system were devised for the newly autonomous region in 2002. The Constitution will guide the region for ten years, after which a referendum will be held for the region to decide on its own long-term future. After much consideration, it was decided that three seats in the new legislature would be reserved for women (and three seats would also be reserved for ex-combatants). It was further decided that the seats would be elected directly by the people. Both women and men are allowed to vote for all seats.

Bougainville has 33 constituencies to elect ordinary members. The province is also divided into 3 bigger constituencies – North, Central and South – and these are used for the 3 seats reserved for women and ex-combatants. Each voter casts 3 votes for representatives in the Legislative Assembly – one for their local MP, one for the reserved woman’s seat and one for the reserved ex-combatant’s seat.

Due to constraints on our website design, please refer to the specific page with information on PNG – Autonomous Region of Bougainville for details about their women MPs. 

Provincial Assemblies

PNG has 21 provinces, plus the National Capital District. Under the Organic Law on National and Local-level Government Elections 1997, every province is to have a Provincial Government and a provincial legislature, known as the Provincial Assembly. The membership of each Provincial Assembly comprises all Members of the National Parliament from electorates in the province. Under s.10(d), where the chieftaincy system is in existence and is accepted in a province, the Minister responsible for provincial government can appoint bewteen 3-4 paramout chiefs to sit in the Provincial Assembly.

Under s.10(e) of the Organic Law on National and Local-level Government Elections 1997, the Provincial Assembly shall also include “one woman representative nominated in accordance with an Act of the Parliament and appointed by the Provincial Executive Council”.

Dame Carol Kidu

Party: National Alliance

Term: 2002-2007, 2007-2012

Electorate: Port Morseby - West

Province: Central

Political Status: National Parliament - Leader of Opposition

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Dame Josephine Abaijah

Party: N/A

Term: 1977-1982, 1997-2000

Electorate: NCD (1977-82); Milne Bay Regional (1997-2000)

Province: NCD (1977-82) Milne Bay (1997-2000)

Political Status: N/A

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Hon Delilah Gore

Party: Triumph Heritage Empowerment (THE) Party

Term: 2012-2017

Electorate: Sohe Open

Province: Oro

Political Status: N/A

Hon Julie Soso Akeke

Party: Triumph Heritage Empowerment (THE) Party

Term: 2012-2017

Electorate: Eastern Highlands Provincial

Province: Eastern Highlands

Political Status: First ever elected Governor of Eastern Highlands

Hon Loujaya Toni

Party: Indigenous People's Party

Term: 2012-

Electorate: Lae Open

Province: Morobe

Political Status: Minister for Community Development

Hon Nahau Rooney

Party: N/A

Term: 1977-1982, 1982-1987

Electorate: Manus Regional constituency

Province: Manus

Political Status: Former Member of Parliament

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Hon Waliyato Clowes

Party: Papuan Alliance

Term: 1977-1982

Electorate: Midde Fly Open

Province: Western Province

Political Status: N/A

No Women MPs