PNG parliament partially opens the door for 22 women MPs

24/11/2011 08:20

Women gather outside the PNG parliament in October 2007 to bring the attention of PNG's leaders to the growing

"violence against women" epidemic. PNG has one of the world's highest rates of violence against women.


Papua New Guinea’s parliament has passed legislation to partially open the door for women to enter politics via 22 reserved seats.

The 109-seat parliament in the PNG capital Port Moresby, a hotbed of controversy in recent days with clashes between government and opposition MPs, voted in unison 72-2 to amend the constitution to cater for the change.

International media reported that the legislation has paved the way for women MPs to enter parliament in the 2012 general election but it appears that changes to PNG electoral laws remain the only hurdle to women entering politics. PNG’s sole woman MP Dame Carol Kidu, who played a key role in promoting the bill since its inception in 2009, confirmed this when she reportedly said there was a “second element” which she hoped would be resolved.

The proposed amendments are expected to be tabled in parliament in March, a month before the issue of writs for the 2012 general elections, and will need to be passed by an absolute majority.

While women activists celebrated with singing and dancing outside the corridors of parliament, Paul Barker of the Institute of National Affairs told Papua New Guinea Issues in Perspective that parliament still had a long way to go until the amendments are passed.

Businesswoman Sarah Todd, the recipient of the 2011 SP Brewery Entrepreneur award and Westpac Business Women of the Year awards, welcomed the vote and said women-MPs would represent PNG’s hopes for the future.

“Given the state of affairs in PNG, right or wrong, they (women MPs) carry the aspirations, dreams and hopes of every man, woman and child who want to wake up to a better tomorrow… there will be new leaders (men) with like-minds and hearts entering parliament who will stand for real change, may they (women MPs) connect with these men and work as a formidable team,” she said.

PNG social media networks were abuzz with posts by men congratulating women on parliament’s historic vote, though some argued that all men and women were free to run for public office and PNG did not need to legislate to create special seats for women, while others said it was time women were given a go after 36 years of male dominance.

It is hoped the entry of women into PNG’s legislature will enable parliament to put more focus on gender-related issues including violence against women. According to the UN PNG women are often subjected to some of the world’s highest levels of violence with 55 per cent forced to have sex against their will, 58 per cent experienced physical and emotional abuse in relationships and 97 per cent of patients treated for domestic violence injuries were women. PNG is currently ranked 137 out of 169 countries on the human development index and is unlikely to meet the MDGs 2015 deadline, a poor record for a country with a burgeoning economy that is expected to grow at over 8 per cent this year.