Promoting Women's Leadership
The 2007 PNG national elections saw only one woman elected into Parliament, alongside 107 men. This was well below the world average of 18 per cent female representation at a national level, and the Pacific average of 3.5 per cent. Thus the UN began supporting the Government to address the prevailing low representation of women evidenced globally and to demonstrate through interventions that the pervasive discrimination against women creates major hurdles to achieving rights and hinders progress on each of the MDGs.
In 2008,the UN, in partnership with the Government of Papua New Guinea, began its Women in Leadership (WIL) programme. This programme aimed to raise awareness of female representation with both the general public and politicians, build the capacity of the many women’s groups advocating for women’s political representation and help them to work together, and to provide technical and advisory support to the Government in the area of gender equality. The cornerstone of the programme was the advocacy and support tothe development of Equality and Participation Bill 2010 that would provide 22 reserved seats for women in the National Parliament.
The first activity that the UN supported was the engagement of a three person legal team to draft the Bill and prepare the various documents required to support the passing of the Bill in Parliament.Substantial resources were mobilized to provide technical assistance and funding to support the National Women’s Machinery to undertake an intensive eight-month media and advocacy campaign. The aim of the campaign was to sensitize the 107 male Parliamentarians and political parties to support and vote for theBill. The campaign also raised awareness with the general public and institutions such as the media and academia. A number of strategic capacity building initiatives for the Government and civil society were successfully conducted in 2011 to continue support on women’s participation. Sixty-five potential women candidates preparing to contest the 2012 general elections were trained on campaign strategies which included public speaking skills, communication skills, strategic debating and analysis of developmental issues. This support targeted women candidates intending to run for both open seats and reserved seats. Targeting these women assisted the groundswell amongst women’s groups to support and advocate for the Equality and Participation Bill.
In November 2011 a historic milestone was achieved when the Government of PNG passed an amendment to the PNG Constitution to create the 22 reserved seats for women. However, the Bill failed to receive the required two-thirds majority vote across three readings in Parliament to pass it into law in time for the 2012 elections. “The UN has been instrumental in assisting the PNG women’s movement to get this Bill passed and women and men have already benefitted by a new confidence of knowing what is possible. We face setbacks and challenges but our partners are here to assist us, we know that,” said Ms Scholar Kakas, President of the PNG National Council of Women.
With the 2012 elections only a few months away, the UN focused on helping and preparing the women who planned to contest the elections. In May 2012 sixty women participated in the first ever PNG Practice Parliament for Women – a week-long training that culminated in a ‘mock parliament’ that was broadcast live on national radio. The Practice Parliament increased awareness of the capacity of women candidates to represent their electorates at national and local level. Feedback received from communities that were listening to the live broadcast showed how these communities were thrilled by the level of knowledge and capability of women in debating national development priorities.
Further, the UN provided pre- elections support to women by working with the media to increase visibility, including support to the media to run success stories on potential women candidates, and profiling them using the Pacific Women in Politics (PACWIP) programme, which raised more awareness on women representation within the region. The UN also developed campaign material to support women with limited access to financial resources. These included leaflets, brochures, and posters. In addition, the UN strengthened partnerships between women machineries and political parties for increased support to women candidates within parties. Following these initiatives political parties were ‘awakened’to the increased value women could add to their parties, and a number of parties nominated women candidates to run for elections. Three women were elected to the PNG National Parliament in July 2012 – the largest number of females elected since PNG Independence in 1975. One of the women, Ms Loujaya Toni, who participated in the Practice Parliament, has been appointed Minister for Community Development, Youth, and Religion. Women contesting seats also increased, with 135 in 2012, compared to 100 in 2007, and there was a stronger showing with more women ranking second and third than in previous elections.