Aus-PNG Network: Podcast series - Women in politics in PNG
In this special Women in Politics series for the Australia-PNG Network, the Lowy Institute's Jessica Collins sits down with prominent women from Papua New Guinea to discuss the deep-seated challenge of women’s political representation in Papua New Guinea in the lead-up to its national election in 2022.
In this first episode, Jessica speaks with Theresa Meki – an expert in Papua New Guinean women’s political representation – about the experience for women trying to enter politics in the country, where no women are currently serving in the national parliament. They discuss the realities and challenges of campaigning, including how vote-buying and clientelism, traditional obligations, reciprocity, patriarchalism and legacy candidates contribute to the uneven playing field for female candidates.
Theresa tells Jessica there have been years wasted in between elections to work on the problem. “We only talk about women when it's election time … And I think that's the issue. There was a whole five years that more things could have been done.”
In the second episode of the series, Jessica speaks with Vagi Hemetsberger, co-founder of the Seven Sisters Foundation, which aims to provide long-term support to women seeking office in Papua New Guinea. They discuss what help Papua New Guinean women need to get elected, and how issues such as money politics and security put them at a significant disadvantage.
Vagi argues that partnering is vital if women are to improve their political representation in Papua New Guinea. “We want our men and women to … be a part of the solution”, but, she adds, women’s civil groups and policymakers also need to work strategically and collaboratively, “because we’re stronger together”.
In this third episode, Jessica speaks with Damarise Bonga, a female candidate in the upcoming 2022 national election. Damarise shares her experience of running unsuccessfully in a prior election, and talks about the broader challenges for women trying to represent their communities in parliament. She says a fundamental issue lies in how people (both men and women) perceive leadership in PNG, and how this continues to be a significant barrier to balanced representation in the country.
“In politics, in PNG it’s quite different … They think that the Parliament is … hausman in Tok Pisin, meaning that it’s a house for man. And that’s kind of bias, you know.”
In this fourth episode of the series, Jessica speaks with Tania Bale, an urban candidate seeking election to PNG’s National Parliament. Tania shares her views on the challenges of standing for election, including the difficulties of campaigning in rural settings and how “obscene” amounts of money is spent in cash handouts to gain voters’ support.
Tania is one of the few women endorsed by a political party and says her endorsement for a national capital district (NCD) seat, along with three other female party colleagues endorsed for the remaining NCD seats, is unprecedented and historic.
Tania’s view is that the endorsements will resonate for years to come and that they send a powerful message to the citizenry of PNG. Yet regardless of endorsements, Tania believes her electorate is ready to elect women to the currently all-male parliament — a silver lining for women who are trying to represent their communities.
In this fifth and final episode of the series, Jessica speaks with Dame Carol Kidu, about the discrimination and disadvantage experienced by indigenous Papua New Guinean women as they seek to get elected.
Dame Carol is one of seven women who served in PNG’s National Parliament. She also managed to get re-elected twice, despite half of all politicians losing their seat at every election.
Dame Carol’s tenure as a politician is remarkable, but she said her husband’s legacy and her European background helped secure ongoing community support. She often heard from her community, “We don’t mind you being here, but we don’t want our own women here [in parliament].”
Dame Carol talks us through the issues that are increasingly disadvantaging women during campaigns, such as bloc voting and tribal intimidation, campaign or cell houses, violence, and financial barriers. But she offers a silver lining: “PNG is a nation based on relationships, and if you can nurture relationships, that will get you into politics.”
Join Jessica and Carol as they talk through why women getting elected is critical to PNG’s development, and as she shares her views on what women need to do to get over the line at the upcoming election.