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‘Why you doing a man’s job?’ I was asked

As women make their mark across Papua New Guinea’s public service, the country is still shamed by its total lack of female national MPs

Emily kelton
Emily Kelton has just retired from one of the most senior electoral positions in Papua New Guinea, but she sees not one woman holding a seat in the 111-member national parliament. Perhaps this will change with the election of a new 117-member parliament in July


LAE – According to many candidates who stand for election in Papua New Guinea, politics and parliament is a “man’s place”.

So where do the half of the PNG population who are women fit in?

It is an uncomfortable question, an irritating rhetorical question - one to which we already know the answer. Too often it’s the wrong answer.

A colleague talked about a group of secondary school students he recently took on a tour of parliament.

One of the students, a note of surprise in her voice, remarked: “There are no women in parliament!”

“The work we do as administrators, financiers, technicians and most of all as mothers, farmers, fisherwomen, sisters, teachers and nurses is what makes this country hold together,” Dame Meg Taylor, former secretary-general of the Pacific Island Forum, said recently.

“We need capable people who can depoliticise the public service and invest in top quality education to get our country moving.”

It is not happening without challenge.

One election manager said women have to work harder to be recognised and accepted.

“The mental obstacles that hinder our daughters should be removed from childhood by their first male allies – their fathers, uncles and brothers,” she said.

But now a greater number of women are being celebrated as they venture into professions previously occupied by men.

Even the military has taken on board the challenge of gender inclusion.

Recently Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Wii was promoted to be commanding officer of the PNG Defence Force Air Transport Wing.

And over the last 10 years, without much ceremony, the PNG Electoral Commission has made drastic changes to its administration to appoint women to leadership positions.

Today, the Commission has three women of six as branch directors, two women of four regional managers and more than 20 assistant election managers.

After 23 years in the Commission, Emily Kelton says younger women are taking their place as leaders as she prepares to make her exit.

“This is my pride, to see a lot more young women take up leadership roles,” she said.

Emily was the first woman to be appointed an election manager after she joined the Commission in 1999.

In her first posting to New Ireland, Emily was confronted with a typical cultural challenge to a woman venturing into ‘male territory’.

“There was a particular question that made me strong,” she said.

“It was: ‘This is a man’s job. You’re a woman. Why are you doing a man’s job?’

“When I heard that question, I said, OK, I’ll prove you wrong. I will do this job better than what you expect.”

Emily said she received a lot of support from her male colleagues and the Electoral Commissioner, Simon Sinai

“They encouraged me and I drew strength from them.

“The former Electoral Commissioner, Reuben Kaiulo, was the one who asked me if I wanted to work in the field.

“I thought I just wanted a job. I didn’t expect to work in this senior capacity.”

For more than 10 years, Emily was the only woman in senior management until reforms were implemented.

Now there is an army of women in key positions around the country.


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