PNG elections: Papua New Guinea’s parliament has no women MPs

This article contains references to domestic violence.
As Papua New Guinea heads to the polls, a small number of female candidates hope to break the power of men in the country’s parliament.
Australia’s closest neighbor is one of the few countries in the world where there are no women MPs. As a result of the last general election in 2017, no woman was elected and Papua New Guinea joined several countries (currently Tonga, Vanuatu and Yemen) with a men-only club.
Luciel Parou wants a better future for her country, for people facing poverty and for the next generation of women.

“We’re in the top three where there are no women in parliament and yes, that’s really humiliating,” she told SBS News during her campaign in the capital, Port Moresby.

Luciel Paru is standing among a group of people.  Some children sit in front.

Luciel Paru is campaigning for a seat in the Parliament of Papua New Guinea. Source: SBS News / Stephen Armbruster

Sylvia Pascoe, another National Capital District candidate, is a successful young entrepreneur who founded the city’s popular weekend markets.

“It [having women in parliament] we will be perceived as a modern, progressive-minded country. It’s embarrassing, international perception,” she said.

It’s embarrassing, international perception.

Sylvia Pasco, candidate for election

Built in the early 1980s, PNG’s stunning Parliament Building incorporates many traditional designs on its façade promoting equality for all, men and women. But since PNG gained independence from Australia in 1975, only seven women MPs have been elected.

A large group of men in suits and one woman in the Papua New Guinean Parliament building.

Papua New Guinean parliamentarians at the farewell of former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare to parliament in 2017. Source: SBS News / Stephen Armbruster

“What we need here is a change in terms of women stepping into parliament and making these changes, we need gender balance,” Ms Parou said.

After examining the culture of “big people and big money” in the country, political scientist Gijjay Milli of PNG University agrees.

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“The way they run their home, their families, we can go back in history to see how we had men in front and women in the background,” she said.

“They took care of gardens, pigs, children, but we need these skills to be applied at the national level if we want our country to move forward.”

At least two-thirds of women in Papua New Guinea have experienced domestic violence, and many of them report extreme levels of gender-based violence. Those familiar with the country say it has left women there unrepresented in politics because women candidates face intimidation and lack access to campaign finance, leaving them often marginalized.

In this election, which began on 4 July, one of the few electoral reforms was the introduction of gender-segregated queues, which allowed women to vote calmly and with their own voice.

Exterior of the Papua New Guinea Parliament Building

The characteristic parliament building of Papua New Guinea in the capital Port Moresby. Credit: John Seaton Callahan/Getty Images

“If the men were here, we would be scared, but the women are here, so we feel comfortable,” said one woman, Elisabeth, as she queued to vote in the provincial capital of Hela, Tari, a city notorious for its troubled reputation. and violence during elections.

Her family lives in Brisbane.
“Women are respected in Australia; it’s quite different here. Women must be represented in parliament, the female voice must be heard.”

Some 3,500 candidates are running in the election, with the phased ballot lasting about three weeks.

Sylvia Pasco stands in front of the Papua New Guinean Parliament building.

Candidate Sylvia Pasco wants to see a generational change in Papua New Guinea politics. Source: SBS news / Stephen Armbruster

Ms. Pasco is supported by the People’s Party and is another of 164 women running for office.

Party leader Sir Peter Hypatas, governor of the province of Enga, took the bold step of preselecting four women for four seats in Port Moresby.

“We have an obligation to make this happen in my lifetime, I’m not going to wait and talk about it in 20 years. Now I will be a part of it,” Ms. Pascoe said.

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She stands for generational change.
“In the context of PNG, when there is food to be distributed, if the father is in charge, he will feed himself first, and then everyone else finishes what is left. But a mother, when she goes out to get food, she feeds everyone else first,” she says.

Gidjay Milli of PNG University is among those calling for a legislative quota of women in parliament, known as reserved seats, as a starting point.

“Some women are good, some are not, just like men. Some men are good leaders and some are not,” she said.
“We must identify those who have a heart and who sincerely strive for development and change.”
The previous ruling Pangu Party rejected the introduction of reserved seats.
“Unfortunately we have a parliament filled with men, which makes it difficult to get something like this across the line,” Ms Milli said.

But on the quotas, opinions were divided.

Line of women

Women line up to vote Tuesday in Papua New Guinea’s elections. Source: SBS news / Stephen Armbruster

“Why should I give a free seat if I’m fighting for it? And if I get it and know that I have the support of the people,” said Ms. Paru, a Pangu Pati candidate.

“I was the first female aeronautical engineer in PNG to break into a male-dominated area and they didn’t give me a free ticket.”

I was PNG’s first female aeronautical engineer, breaking into a male-dominated area, and they didn’t give me a free ticket.

Luciel Parou, electoral candidate

This concept is complex in the PNG culture with 850 different languages ​​in a population of about nine million.

JJ Milli outside the Parliament of Papua New Guinea

Political scientist Gijjay Milli would like to see a quota of women in the Papua New Guinean parliament. Source: SBS news / Stephan Ambruster

“We don’t have words in every language to clearly explain what reserved seats are, so I think women will face backlash if they get into parliament this way,” Ms Pascoe said.

“It’s just the public perception of these words in PNG. Maybe we need to find another way to explain this so that people don’t think you were given something just because you’re a woman.”
Even if only one woman is elected, it will be another step in the right direction for Papua New Guinea.
If you or someone you know has experienced family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit . In an emergency, call 000.