PNG Practice Parliament for Women - Remarks by David McLachlan-Karr, UNDP Resident Representative

23 Apr 2013

  • The Secretary, Department for Community Development,
  • Representatives of Government Departments,
  • UNcolleagues,
  • Members of the media,
  • Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

It is a real honour and a privilege to be here this morning to be part of this opening of the first ever Practice Parliament for Women in Papua New Guinea.

As you all know, Pacific women representation in political decision making processes is of the lowest percentage in the world (just under 3 per cent of all elected leaders in the Pacific are women). The region is now far worse on women's parliamentary equality than the Gulf States. In fact, five of the nine countries that have no female parliamentarians are in the Pacific.

Representation at sub-national decision-making is at similarly low levels. In three countries in the region, there are no women members in the national legislature, and one country has never had a woman member of parliament. In comparison, the Inter-Parliamentary Union reports that the world average of all elected members is 18.4% women and 81.6% men. In Pacific Islands Forum countries, not including Australia and New Zealand, there are only 16 women MPs out of 485 MPs altogether who currently sitting in their national legislatures (including Papua New Guinea, with only one female MP out of 109 MPs).

In PNG, under the leadership of Department for Community Development, significant work has been through Civil Society, National Council of Women, and Office of Development for Women, with support from UN and other development partners particularly on the Equality and Participation Bill. In this regard, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have been involved, and supported initiatives on the Equality and Participation Bill. The advocacy agenda for this Bill did not only raise more awareness on Reserve Seats for women, but also it created greater momentum and discussions around issues on women representation in political and leadership decision making processes. We all know that this work has not yet been finalised until this bill becomes operational. UN will continue to support you in this.

Being aware of the current status of the 22 Reserve Seats for women, the Office for the Development of Women (ODW) of the Department of Community Development, in partnership with the UN, NCW and related Civil Society Organizations, identified the need for a national workshop to provide further training and capacity-building opportunities for intending women candidates to run for June/July 2012 General Elections.  Given experiences from Pacific Countries where UNDP has facilitated the “Mock”/Practice Parliament trainings, similar support was requested by the DFCD as more appropriate at this point of time, to complement other ongoing initiatives.

There are a number of initiatives/programmes that have been conducted, and in that regard I would like to particularly recognise the work of the Centre for Democratic Institutions with the Office for the Development of Women over the last year to work with many of you here in the room to develop your campaigning skills, and some of you have justcompleted a “progress checks” workshop facilitated by Centre for Democratic Institution (CDI), for intending women candidates; Also, last week, UN Women completed a training for media on reporting capturing positive stories for intending women candidates, which will increase more visibility for women during elections.

Nonetheless, this Practice Parliament will be the first time that PNG women have ever been brought together and given an opportunity to showcase to the voters and the community what a group of Papau New Guinean women can do if actually elected to Parliament. With that in mind I want to warmly welcome and applaud the efforts of all you to be here today to participate in this eventfor the next five days.

The idea of having Practice Parliament for Women was launched by UNDP and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in 2011. The Practice Parliament idea was first proposed at a meeting of Small Islands States on Women in Decision-Making, which was held in Nadi in November 2010. Following that meeting, UNDP and PIFS piloted the idea last year by organizing Practice Parliaments for Women in Kiribati in August 2011, in Marshall Islands in August 2011 and in Palau in September 2011. Notably, Ms Maere Tekanene, who participated in Kiribati was selected to her Parliament in November 2011 and Dr Hilda Heinie, who participated in the Marshall Islands Practice Parliament was the only women elected to the legislature in Marshalls.

Lessons learned from the three trainings UNDP organised last year have been taken onboard in the preparation of the Practice Parliament in PNG.While a range of training opportunities have been provided to Pacific women, it has been a criticism that they have not often resulted in concrete impacts in terms of leading to women actually engaging in parliament processes. In fact, I have heard that many of you have expressed a similar frustration about trainings which don’t necessarily lead to impact.

We hope that this Practice Parliament for Women will address your concerns by specifically training you on how you can use parliamentary processes to take forward key national development issues and then immediately providing you with a forum to apply the knowledge and skills you will have gained. Ordinarily, we would actually try to hold the Practice Parliament in the parliamentary chamber, but as we are all aware, Parliament may actually be sitting this week. As such, the actual Practice Parliament will be held on Thursday at Holiday Inn.

With elections almost upon us, I think it’s important to reflect on the fact that research has shown that when we invest in women as leaders, that investment flows onto benefit the entire family unit as well as the broader community. With that in mind, we have specifically included sessions in this week’s training which we hope will give you a chance to discuss current and emerging issues of governance in your country. The agenda will include presentations from various Government departments on current issues around climate change, violence against women programmes, human rights, corruption and reproductive health issues, such as HIV. We hope this this will help you as you develop your own campaign policy platforms. We also hope that it will inspire you to think about how you can work towards addressing some of these very critical issues if and when you become a member of parliament.

The policy issues you will be briefed on during the course of this training have been identified as some of the most critical areas where communities in PNG look to the wisdom and foresight of their leaders in Parliament for guidance on how PNG should respond, so that the country and its people can fully reach their potential. By highlighting these issues with you, we hope to give you a greater insight into their importance, and perhaps even seed ideas which you might want to take up in your own campaigns. This is not a “business as usual” election. People are looking for leadership – and today I look to you and I feel sincerely hopeful that the people will have a real chance to hear some new and innovative ideas from this group of leaders.

On Thursday, the actual Practice Parliament will take place withe sessions being broadcasted by radio to your own communities. I have to say – I’m very excited about it. I’m really looking forward to hearing what you all have to say about issues facing your country. You will be participating in a Practice Question Time session, followed by what I hope will be a well-rounded debate on a Mock Bill on reproductive health rights for our young people. Question Time, in particular, will give you a chance to discuss a range of issues that you will all choose to reflect upon. The final day of the training on Friday will then focus on your preparations for the election and campaigning.

Through this Practice Parliament, we also hope to raise awareness amongst the general public, as well as with government, about the value of having equal representation of men and women in important decision making roles. You will have heard many many people talk about “merit” and the need for “good women” to be elected, during the recent debate about reserved seats for women in Parliament. This Practice Parliament is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that PNG has many many capable and articulate women who should be given a chance to engage in the nation’s political life. We really hope that when people hear you speak, they will realize that the country would benefit from having women such as you included in their Parliament.

I am about to conclude, but before I finish, I wanted to specifically highlight that one of the very important features of this weeks’ training event – which UNDP is really pleased about – is that we have resource persons not only from various arms of government in PNG, but also from our Melanesian colleagues from the Solomon Islands National Parliament. I take this opportunity to formally welcome Mrs Taeasi Sanga, the Clerk of Solomon Islands Parliament, and Mr. Albert Kabui, the Solomon Islands Parliament’s Legal and Procedural Clerk. Our two resource persons from Solomon Islands will no doubt be able to share with you their vast experience working in the Parliament in Solomon Islands. I would like to highlight that Mrs Sanga herself was a candidate in a national bye-election in Solomons only a few years back and therefore has very specific experience of what you are all going through. We’re very pleased to facilitate sharing of experiences between members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. I encourage you to welcome them and share your stories with them.

In conclusion, UNDP and other development partners are keenly interested in your plans to engage in the upcoming national elections. My office is very excited about the potential that the upcoming elections holds for strengthening national parliamentary leadership, including through the possibility of having more women being elected into Parliament. Women represent 50% of the national population and deserve to have a chance to play a bigger role in the leadership of this country.

This Practice Parliament for Women is our humble contribution to your ongoing efforts to become elected Members of Parliament. I urge you to make the most of the resource people that will be made available to you throughout the week. Please do ask questions, do your research, and actively engage with this trainingso that on Thursday you can really show the public what you are all capable of.

I wish you all a productive and successful week and I look forward to seeing you on Thursday at this first ever Practice Parliament for Women.

Best of luck.