A Worthy Fight: Helping Increase Gender Equality in Papua New Guinea

Publication Date: 
22 Mar 2012

Women advocates in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have worked tirelessly over the years to increase gender equality in the island nation. This year, they reached a high point as parliament voted to amend the constitution and create an additional 22 reserved seats for women, although the effort has yet to be passed into law.

Lauren Sauer, IFES program officer for Europe and Asia, spent International Women’s Day in PNG, where IFES is implementing the Women Advocating for Voices in Government (WAVIG) program to increase the participation and representation of women in politics by building their capacity to influence decision makers and advocate for equality. She gives us the latest on the equality movement in PNG.

How long were you in PNG?

This time around, I was in PNG for three weeks. I spent two weeks in the country last time I visited.

What is the latest with the Equality and Participation Bill?

As you know, after many years of advocacy, women’s groups and activists watched as the parliament voted to amend the constitution on November 23 in order to create an additional 22 reserved seats for women. The 22 seats would be added to the current seats in parliament, held by 108 men and one woman, who will be retiring.

However, the November 23 constitutional vote was just the first step. Parliament also needed to pass an organic law on the reserved seats by a super majority of 73 votes.

Unfortunately, during the November seating, the Equality and Participation Bill did not pass, as 21 members walked out during the reading of the organic law in protest.

What are the advocates doing at the moment to ensure the bill goes into effect?

Some people are trying to see if they can still get the law passed on a technicality, as the majority who stayed in the chamber voted in favor of the bill. Others are focused on capitalizing all that has been invested in training female candidates, arguing that these women should contest the open seats.

If and when several of these female candidates are successful in securing seats, they can introduce the organic law again and have a special election in November for the quota.

The advocates we work with in the PNG are quite inspiring. What was your experience working with them?

During both of my visits to this country I have been impressed by their tremendous energy and passion. It is clear they will let nothing stand in their way, even setbacks like we have seen with the effort to pass the organic law.

However, focusing and harnessing this energy in a strategic way is key. The lobby training that we conducted helped provide professional lobbying skills and strategy for situations like this one.

The gender equality movement in PNG is quite strong. Were there any special celebrations for International Women’s Day?

The business and professional women’s association hosted a breakfast attended by roughly 300 professional men and women and a large number of representatives from the Australian Agency for International Development. This event highlighted female leaders, such as Dame Carol Kidu, the only female parliamentarian in PNG, and Sister Lorraine Garasu, who helped end violence in Bougainville.

It also highlighted several women who benefited from programs that promoted women’s education and economic opportunities. Additionally, it served as an opportunity to point out the work that remains in PNG for gender equality to truly take root in areas of health and domestic violence.