PNG women ‘priced out’ of parliament

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10th August, 2017

Library photo: PNG Parliament chambers.

A scholar of Pacific politics says women have been priced out of the election “game” in Papua New Guinea. No women have been elected to the new parliament despite a record 167 women going forward for election.

All three women MPs in the previous 111-seat legislature lost their seat in last month’s polls. Kerryn Baker from the Australian National University has been studying the women candidates’ lack of success.

She spoke to Sally Round (Radio New Zealand).


KERRYN BAKER: There were some strong women candidates running this election and we did see women who did really well coming second or third in their constituencies, but ultimately, it’s a very hostile environment for women candidates so it’s not surprising, it’s not unprecedented, that there’s been no women elected.

SALLY ROUND: But women have been elected before in a similar ‘hostile’ environment or do you think it’s got even more hostile?

KB:  Yes and no. You have a very male-dominated political culture there but that’s not unique to Papua New Guinea by any means but what we have seen in recent elections is the increase in money politics, in vote-buying, in gifting, which just makes campaigning extremely expensive  even for candidates who don’t practice money politics and so a lot of women who would otherwise be competitive have just been priced out of the game.

SR: So where did women do best? You say there were someone women who did OK in the system they’ve got. Where exactly?

KB: All over the country really. Delilah Gore, who was the incumbent for Sohe Open, she came second ultimately but she was leading on first preferences and right up until the final preference count she was still in the race and Central Region for the provincial seat – Rufina Peter did very well coming third and then also in Rai Coast Open Kessy Sawang also came third so right across the country you’ve got women doing really well but just not quite getting there.

SR: So what does this mean for the Papua New Guinea parliament?

KB: Well I guess we can take two things from this result. The first is that a gradual increase, which some people kind of assume will happen when more women are contesting which was the case this time when more women are becoming active in politics, that that’ll inevitably lead to more women winning. That’s just not the case. It’s not backed up by evidence. Progressive is not linear in this space and following on from that it just shows the importance of considering special measures like reserved seats might be unpopular but would at least guarantee that women are represented in parliament.

SR: And is there any chance that this might be pushed through in this parliament given the obvious – no women there?

KB: Yes. There’s no women but there are 111 men, many of whom would be sympathetic to the under-representation of women and the need for change in this space. There is a chance for reserved seats. There was a campaign leading up to the 2012 election which wasn’t successful but did succeed in changing the constitution to allow for the possibility of reserved seats. So the final step in that process is just a change to the organic law. It would be an uphill battle but it’s not impossible that a male parliamentarian would take this on in this parliament.

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