BRISBANE - In September 2015, the international aid community met in New York to acknowledge and adopt a follow up to the United Nations millennium development goals (MDGs) under the new badge of sustainable development goals (SDGs).
There was much talk about the over-ambitious imposition on developing nations to achieve the 17 millennium goals over the previous 15 years.
Certainly this might have been Papua New Guinea’s view after its dismal attempt to achieve these goals – none out of 17.
One thing that struck me about the new SDGs was the emphasis that ‘peace’ within a nation is the binding factor if any of them is to be achieved.
So, between 2015 and 2030, that’s a major challenge.
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 and 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 same women who, with much resilience, have been at the forefront of trying to address, negotiate and resolve issues clouding and detracting from our ability to live in a cohesive society.
There is no shortage of PNG women of 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 and even gone backwards.
This was no more reinforced than in the recent Papua New Guinean national election where the three sitting female members of parliament were defeated and not one woman was elected to any of the 111 seats.
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 zero women parliamentarians to a double-digit figure is imperative.
This would signal that PNG has made headway has in achieving elements of gender equity cited throughout the sustainable development goals.
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 its 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 most likely improbable. So what now?
Much of the ongoing public criticism highlighted in Botu’s study was that, in campaigning for gender equity 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 the mainstream and social media of PNG women presenting viewpoints, articulating arguments and debating issues is crucial to demonstrating to 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 years to 20130, 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.