We need Temporary Special Measure to address women representation in PNG Parliament

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26th April, 2019

By Mary Fairio, Gender in PNG Program Research Fellow, PNG National Research Institute

The Prime Minister’s recent announcement regarding reserved seats in Parliament has brought about much public debate on the merits of temporary special measures (TSM). This blog explains why we need temporary special measures.

PNG’s political history demonstrates the lack of women’s representation in Parliament overtime. So, we raise the questions of why is there lack of women’s representation in Parliament? and, what can be done to improve this negative trend? Evidence from PNG NRI Gender Program’s recent studies on ‘Women in the 2017 National Elections’, and ‘Women in the Local Level Government Elections’, revealed that the key reasons for the lack of Women’s representation are:
(a) unequal playing field, and
(b) traditional society.

Why is there lack of women representation in PNG Parliament?

Women struggle to win elections because of an ‘unequal playing field’. Despite increased number of women candidates every election year with a record of 167 women candidates in the 2017 election, women are not getting elected into Parliament. Figure 1 shows the candidates’ trend where women make up less than five percent of the candidates and rarely get elected.

Figure 1: Candidates and elected members trend by gender every election year (1975 -2017)
Graph for blog on TSM 250419

Our study in Lae and Huon Gulf electorates show that people vote for the candidate more than the policies. While hanmak (tangible impact in the community) is the most important factor that people use to vote a candidate, there are also other factors that people vote for: leadership qualities, voting along bloodlines, affiliation to a political party, policies and being a local MP.

Women candidates in these electorates lack many of these factors because of common challenges which disadvantage them at the outset such as gender stereotype sentiments that women are not capable leaders. Further issues include lack of logistical support to carry out an extensive and effective campaign; lack of cooperation between women voters and women candidates and parties not endorsing women. Moreover, electoral irregularities also affect the women candidates.

There are embedded traditional norms that overtime impact on women’s chances to win elections. These embedded traditions include big men mentality, perceptions of ‘politics as a man’s game’ or ‘women’s place is in the kitchen’. Consequently, these perceptions influence who people vote. Various 2017 election reports highlighted that voters are not able to exercise their right to vote freely because of factors such as bribery, block vote, and women intimidated and influenced before and during polling period.

Consequently, there is lack of women representation at all levels of government. Currently, there are no women in the national parliament. Only 1.4 percent of women are elected out of 319 local level governments and 6,190 wards in the country. Compared to the last national election, three women were elected to Parliament (2012 -2017), and women represented 10 percent of elected officials at the LLGs and wards (2008 – 2013) (Department of Provincial and Local Level Government Affairs, 2018). This data clearly shows that we are not improving the number of women in leadership at all levels of government. What is the likely outcome for women candidates in the next national elections? It is a worrying trend of underrepresentation of women in PNG Parliament so far and this is most likely to continue for the next 40 years if we do not consider practical means to address it.

What could be done to improve this negative trend?

It is timely that, we revisit the discussions on special measures. It must be highlighted that TSM for women:
• does not necessarily promote tokenism because women can be voted by both men and women through the normal election process. Thus, they are ‘mandated’.
• Reserved seats can be ‘temporary’. The seats are removed after the set timeframe.
• Quotas for women are practiced in many other countries, and they do ‘work’. Research shows that the number of women in parliament has improved in countries where quotas have been introduced.

What are some success stories to learn from? Some examples of success of TSM in societies that have implemented some form of quota system for women include.
a) Bougainville’s Constitution allows for three reserved seats for women (South, North and Central Bougainville) to be voted by both men and women. As a result, women who have occupied reserved seats, later contested and won open seats through election.
b) Motu Koita Assembly (MKA) in the National Capital District (NCD) has two reserved seats for women (MKA East and MKA West), voted by women only and that is promoting women’s leadership.
c) Within the Pacific Region, Samoa practices the ‘safety net’ model where they have 10 percent women in parliament (five out of 50 members are women).
d) In 2003, Rwanda reserved 24 out of 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies for women. Today, Rwanda has set another world record of 68 percent of its parliament made up of women.

With lessons from success stories, PNG must be strategic given previous failed attempts at introducing TSM in PNG. By being strategic, means not only proposing a TSM model that is practical and contextual, but also one that will get the necessary support on the floor of parliament. It is important to make it clear that reserved seats for women does not mean that women want a free ride, but given a chance to ‘voice’ their concerns in the political sphere, to complement men, and in future to have equal chances as men to contest in open seats because they do not have equal chances given the reasons discussed.


If other countries are able to implement TSM, why can’t PNG? If it is not now, it might take another 40 years to introduce a TSM, as women continue to struggle in this unequal playing field of politics with undemocratic processes and embedded traditional norms that hinder women from representation in parliament.

Source: National Research Institute Blog

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