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Women MPs? Marape has the power

Dame Carol Kidu - "Any prime minister could use the PNG constitution to bring women on to the floor of parliament if there was real commitment to have women there"

| Academia Nomad

Edited extracts of a recent talk by Dame Carol Kidu to students of the University of Papua New Guinea. Dame Carol was MP for Moresby South in the PNG parliament from 1997 to 2012. There are presently no women in PNG's 111 member parliament

PORT MORESBY – The Papua New Guinea constitution is very clear that women need to participate in all forms of political life.

If you go to section 50 of our constitution it declares firmly that there must be equal opportunity for women.

Our constitution allows for nominated seats for women, but we have never been able to get enough women on the floor of the parliament to get a critical mass for this to happen.

I always would say to my colleagues in parliament, “It’s OK to say that women have an equal opportunity to stand, but do women have equal opportunity to win?” And we all know the answer to that.

Women do not have equal opportunity to win in politics in PNG. That’s not because men are better than women or women better than men. It’s because there are so many factors going against women who try to enter politics.

We call ourselves a representative democracy in PNG, but our country is not a representative democracy.

It cannot be representative if half our population has no place in the parliament.

So there is a big task ahead of us, and students are extremely important. As young people, it is extremely important for you to understand the necessity to have women in decision-making.

We have many Papua New Guinean women who can be real leaders, the same as brilliant male leaders, and it’s just ridiculous to waste all that capability.

For my first five years in parliament (1997–2002), Josephine Abaijah and I were together as the only two women.

For my last 10 years (2002–12) I was there by myself. One woman on the floor of parliament is not enough.

In our constitution, section 102 allows for nominated people as well as elected people to sit in parliament.

There is a provision for three nominated people. It has never been used. Before I was elected, on two occasions male MPs tried to use that provision to nominate women to parliament. They did not succeed.

For five years in the early 2000s a Coalition of Women tried to put three women in parliament under section 102. They got 78 applications from women who wanted to nominate.

A human resources company sorted the applications and then a panel of women from all sorts of PNG organisations shortlisted 12 women. I was not on the panel as I did not want to intervene.

One of the women was overseas so the panel ended up interviewing 11 women. The panel took 12 down to six.

Of the last six, the prime minister and opposition leader were meant to choose the three they were both comfortable with.

Then they would present these three on the floor of parliament to be elected under section 102 of the constitution.

Politics is a funny game. I had heard from the opposition leader that they would support this arrangement.

But the night before the vote, they pulled the plug. The move to elect the women then didn’t have enough numbers because it needed absolute majority to get it through. So that attempt failed.

Section 102 is still there. Any prime minister could use that provision to bring women on to the floor of the parliament if there was real commitment to have women there.

A committed prime minister could also use section 101 (d), the provision which allows for special seats for women as defined by organic law.

So how did I end up in politics?

I had never voted until I voted for myself. As chief justice of Papua New Guinea my late husband made a decision not to vote in elections because he didn’t want to be political so we never voted.

I knew nothing about politics. Before my husband died in early 1994, after he had not being reappointed chief justice, a lot of people were saying they wanted him to stand for politics. And he used to say to them, “Wait six months, come back to me and I’ll give you the answer.”

After he died of a sudden heart attack, I was extremely angry because I felt he would have been an exceptional politician. I stood because of that. I knew nothing about politics: I was a teacher by profession.

If you think about it, I had a big advantage. I was a widow, a fairly recent widow, of the late chief justice who had been highly respected for his work.

It was a sympathy vote that helped me win the first election in 1997. I worked very hard, I campaigned very hard, I had a superb campaign team, but the sympathy vote was a big push for me.

But then it was up to me to prove myself and I tried to do as much as I could for the electorate in terms of social development. I focused on programs like early childhood, skills training for youths and women, HIV work and things on that.

I wasn’t a project type lady. When vehicles were given to the police, they wanted to put my name on them, ‘Donated by Dame Carol Kidu, Member for Moresby South’.

I would say, “No, if you do that I will not release the funds. It is not my money, if you put something on put ‘Donated by the People of Moresby South’”.

It is a very important thing that MPs separate themselves from the money because it is not their money. And it was my work at grassroots level that helped me to win again and to win again.

Perhaps urban people were aware that the real job of a politician is policy and legislation. And I did a lot of legislative reform to do with violence against women, rape, the Lukautim Pikinini Act, disabilities policy, early childhood policy….

Some of them were never implemented but at least they are there and someday they’ll get implemented.

There’s nothing important about me going into parliament. I went in through sympathetic votes and I worked really hard to stay in.

And I want all of you to be champions for women in politics. We need women in parliament.

Next: Dame Carol answers students’ questions on PNG politics


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John Greenshields

Given the gender issues in politics in both Australia and PNG, it's time to consider equal gender representation in the parliaments of both countries.

Yes that will meet resistance [from men and political parties]. Yes it will need the constitutions of both countries changed by referendum, but we have to start.

Quotas are not the answer. Equality is needed in parliament, to send a clear message to our societies.
It may take 100 years, but there is no alternative I can foresee.

Michael Dom

"It is a very important thing that MPs separate themselves from the money because it is not their money".

When I was younger I only suspected but after years of experience it is apparent to me that Papua New Guinean male politicians are truly pathetic human beings.

The respect and reverence I have for Dame Carol is the complete opposite of the disgust and contempt I hold for our Honorable Sirs.

If, like Scott Waide, you wonder why crime is rife and citizens have no respect for law and order then here's a clue; Who are your political leaders?

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