Dame Carol was speaking at a Commonwealth Women Parliamentarian’s Youth Forum at New South Wales Parliament House this morning.
[ABC Radio Interview Transcript]
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speakers: Dame Carol Kidu, former Community Services Minister, PNG; Elisabeth Burain, member of the Bougainville assebly and Chair, Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Pacific Steering committee; Rita Norman, Youth Co-ordinator with the Wan Smolbag theatre group; Tegan Moore, Youth Development Officer, Ministry of Women, Youth and Social Development, Samoa
GARRETT: Young women from across the Pacific and all the Australian states came together with serving members of Pacific and Australian Parliaments to discuss the state-of-play with female representation.
The much-loved former Papua New Guinea politician Dame Carol Kidu served in her national Parliament for 15 years; first as one of only 2 female politicians in a 109 seat house and later as the only woman.
It convinced her affirmative action is needed.
KIDU: How you could legitimately call that a representative democracy is beyond my comprehension. We talk about parliaments being representative democracies when there is only less than 1% of half the population in Parliament, it is not a representative democracy. So for that reason I did support affirmative action.
GARRETT: Many Pacific Parliaments have either introduced, or are considering the option of, reserved seats for women.
Elizabeth Burain is the Chair of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Pacific Steering Committee.
After 17 PNG soldiers were killed near her village during the Bougainville crisis at the end of last century, she became one of the female leaders who began the moves for peace.
She now sits in the Bougainville parliament in one of its reserved seats.
BURAIN: I must say that the 3 reserved seats have a big impact in Bougainville. But not only Bougainville. I believe it has also impacted in Papua New Guinea as a government because this is the first time we have had the three women being elected to the parliament, being a parliamentarian. we have proven that, yes we can become good leaders as well. And, also I must say with no prejudice, that women tend to become better leaders in the parliament, in how they deal with very, very issues that concern the community, the region and even the nation.
GARRETT: Tegan Moore from Samoa, like many talented young people, had no political ambitions when she was chosen to attend Commonwealth Parliamentarians Parliamentarians Youth Forum in Sydney.
But she has had a change of heart.
MOORE: We don’t want to be politicians, that is the first thought because we know how hard it is, in general, but especially for women. and coming here has opened my eyes to see that these living legends that are walking around have fought the fight in paving the way for us so we have a great privilege and there are so many women around the world who don’t have this opportunity and so we should step up while we can.
GARRETT: Despite Forum’s like this one it is still not easy for women to get into parliament.
In Papua New Guinea legislation to establish 22 reserved seats for women – one for each province – failed to win the support of male politicians.
Dame Carol again.
KIDU: The men said ‘No, they must come there the same way as we do. It must be on merit. No golden platters for any women in this country’. The question of merit. The question of merit. Nobody can convince me that men have a greater share of merit than women.
GARRETT: It is not just the obstacles to getting into parliament that put young women off.
Many, look at the way politicians behave and decide they would rather work for change from the outside.
Rita Norman from Vanuatu, is a Youth Co-ordinator with the Wan Smolbag Theatre Group – where 5 youth workers run 10 programs catering for 2,000 young people.
The work has inspired Rita to consider taking on a wider leadership role.
NORMAN: Working with young people, it is very challenging, eh.
GARRETT: At the moment, Vanuatu has no women in Parliament. Is that disappointing for you?
NORMAN: Yes, it is very disappointing for me. And also the age I am in now it is a long distance to reach that place but I am so happy to be part of this Young Women’s Forum. I have learnt a lot from the women leaders, especially in Australia and also from other countries, Pacific Islands, especially.
GARRETT: A lot of women are very disappointed about what comes out of parliaments, both in Australia and across the Pacific. Would you eventually try for a seat in parliament, or would you prefer to work outside parliament?
NORMAN: I prefer to work into the parliament. Also, I want to make a change in my society, no matter. As a young woman, I see that with women and men working together as a gender balance, everything will work smoothly. Because if only men work together they have only one thought and it is not balanced, so if women work together then the ideas will be balanced and steady to drive the country and also the community or in the society will work smoothly.