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Development goals, peace & the PNG women in parliament


An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony

IN September, the international aid community met in New York to acknowledge and adopt a follow up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) under the new badge of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There has been much talk about ambiguous terminology and the ambitiousness imposed on developing nations to achieve the 17 goals within 15 years.

But perhaps a clearer guide for Papua New Guinea view of the new SDGs is its dismal attempt at the MDGs – of which it achieved none.

What’s striking about the SDGs is, firstly, their explanation of the goals through colourful, simply-worded and illustrated messaging on the internet (particularly social media) and secondly, the emphasis that ‘peace’ within a nation (Goal 16) is the binding factor for any of the SDGs to be achieved.

So, between now and 2030, every Papua New Guinean who has access to the internet  is in a position to be informed as to how to become an agent of peace and harmony.

This can be done through self-implementation or by lobbying civil groups, national government and aid donors.

If you had asked me 10 years ago to list what I thought would  make PNG a peaceful and harmonious society, I’d have prattled off something like this.

Affordable housing, quality education, equal pay for men an women, affordable health care, equal access to legal and justice services and so on.

Today, my response is more succinct.

A peaceful and harmonious Papua New Guinea requires a marked increase in the number of women in Parliament.

Those women who, with much resilience, have been at the forefront of trying to address, negotiate and resolve the issues clouding our inability to live in a cohesive society.

There is no shortage of PNG women of this calibre. Whether students, professionals, mothers, parliamentarians or labourers, the numbers are there. However, it is evident that, despite past efforts to increase political participation, outcomes have been stagnant.

There is little clarity about the most effective means of moving PNG women from being inconsequential decision makers and towards being influential voices and active contributors to the policies and legislation that shape our society.

What I do know is that the pathway to the floor of Parliament requires that women either compete on a very uneven playing field against male opponents or, through enacting the Bill to create 22 reserved seats for Papua New Guinean women.

To be clear, I’m suggesting is that, whatever way we choose, by 2030, an increase from three women parliamentarians to a modest double-digit figure is imperative.

This would signal that PNG has made headway has in achieving elements of gender equality cited throughout the SDGs.

Alex Botu’s PNG-based study, ‘Conflict analysis of the contorversial bill on the 22 reserved seats for Papua New Guinean women’ (2013) is a solid synopsis of the history of the introduction of the Bill and, most importantly, the arguments for and against the Bill’s enactment.

Despite agreeing with the general notion of the desirability of gender equity in parliament, arguments in opposition to the Bill are aplenty. Some say it is undemocratic and others claim that a mandatory quota undermines the capabilities of women to compete against their male counterparts.

The debate surrounding the 22 reserved seats made it clear to me that establishing them by 2030 was ambitious and at likely improbable. So what now?

Much of the ongoing public criticism highlighted in Botu’s study was that, in campaigning for gender equality in politics, PNG women activists continue to work in isolation, in a disjointed way and without concerted effort.

Perhaps, then, there is need for the onus to be shifted from community activism to elected female officials.  

Demands ought to be made of the women sitting as representatives in local, provincial and national government, to initiate opportunities for women of all ages to network, discuss, debate and strategise with sitting male counterparts.

Partnerships with government departments and the international aid donor community would be imperative in facilitating such processes.

An encouraging strategy employed by a female MP of a neighbouring Pacific island nation was facilitating a ‘Day in the Life of a MP’ internship program for female applicants.

And we need to start young. As early as primary school, females need to be informed and given opportunities to be equipped with relevant knowledge and skills.

Meanwhile, unrelenting support from all branches of the media is vital.

Facilitating a constant presence in mainstream television, radio, newspapers of PNG women presenting viewpoints, articulating arguments and debating issues is crucial to demonstrating to the public and male parliamentarians  that PNG women are able to advocate effectively for the people on the floor of Parliament.

Formal acknowledgement by way of male parliamentarians endorsing  respected female community leaders may also prove beneficial in elevating women as experts who are deserving of being elected to positions of high-level decision making.

Irrespective of strategies employed in the next 15 years, PNG women deserve a solid foundation to be understood and promoted as individuals who are deserving of holding high-level political office if we are to develop and sustain a peaceful and harmonious Papua New Guinea.


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Phil Fitzpatrick

One of the problems I can see about empowering men and/or teaching them empathy in PNG is the fact that the general society is in flux.

Some men still live a traditional lifestyle while others live a highly sophisticated western existence. Many men sit at some point between these two poles.

A similar thing occurs in Australia and, I imagine, other developed countries. The poles here are not so much between traditional and westernised but between the old 'job-for-life' expectations of the past and the new reality of structured unemployment and a changing technologically powered workplace.

The problem is you can't just sit by and wait for the traditionalists and the old 'job-for-lifers' to catch up because if you do a lot of women and kids are going to suffer before that happens.

It is for the latter reason that I think getting more women into positions of power, including parliament, has to be forced along.

And, at the same time, you have to work on empowering the men.

Rashmii Amoah

Phil - I (strongly) share your views ; that in empowering women - our men must not be left behind but given equal support.

Most of my working life has been spent in Corrections, most part in Secure-Care (prisons) and in that setting, the transformation of attitudes of female entering a male-dominated industry seems (unfortunately) the given.However, for a few years I had a rather exceptional boss - a female, who in my eyes outshone any of the other managers (male and female) on site.

What I felt she had that the others lacked was her incredible ability to be empathic despite of who she was dealing, the issue etc.

I came to realise that she always had her core business at the heart of any professional undertaking; ie. the best interests of the clients (inmates) always came first.

In my view, the core business of politics in PNG should be what is in the best interest of the people of the nation through evidence-based practice.

Is it in the best interest of PNG that the individuals who are presenting, discussing and debating the issues are the ones with the most experience having actually dealt with those issues? And if yes, then if these individuals are women - then it is in the best interests of PNG that PNGn women are advocated to occupy these seats.

I have some thoughts about how our men, PNG men ought to be advocated for more/empowered and the notion of empathy has a lot to do with it. I hope to get that done on paper soon.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Until just recently we had a very hairy-chested, anti-intellectual, predominantly male government in Queensland. Almost all of their policies had a punitive element to them.

By a serendipitous collusion of events, not the least being an equally regressive prime minister in Canberra, we ended up with a new government dominated by female members.

It is early days yet but this gentler and more measured government seems to be instilling a civilising element into our state politics. The tensions have gone and Queenslanders are quietly getting on with life.

I've had a few female bosses in the past and while some of them were a pleasure to work with quite a significant number adopted the attitudes of their male predecessors and were indistinguishable from them.

So, while there are problems associated with a gender balance I think the experiment is worth having.

The only fly in the ointment at the moment is the progressive breakdown of the old ways whereby men are finding themselves losing their traditional power bases and reacting negatively, the most obvious symptom of which seems to be increased violence towards women and children, not to mention increased crime rates, tribal fighting etc.

To empower women for a more just society it is imperative, therefore, to also empower men. If they are left behind they will react against any new female parliamentarians and cause all sorts of problems.

How you empower men in the present social flux is a demanding problem. I can't think how it can be done.

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