58 women from across the country came together at the Third Practice Parliament for Women which is being held in Port Moresby. The Practice Parliament, at Hilton Hotel, is being implemented as a partnership between the Independent Political Parties and Candidates Commission (IPPCC), National Parliament, Department for Community Development and Religion (DFCDR) and UNDP.
During the opening ceremony, DFCDR Secretary Mr Jerry Ubase stated: “We are all well aware that the 10th Parliament has become globally famous for having no women MPs at all in its membership. This is a shame for our country... I make a pledge today that my team at DFCDR will do better for our women – who make up half this country and whose voices have not been heard in national decision-making for too long.”
The 58 women who are attending the training will undergo three days of skills-based training. This includes a half-day session with the Registrar of Political Parties, Dr Alphonse Gelu on how to prepare for election campaigning, drawing on resources from the new IPPCC and UNDP “Training Manual on Women’s Political Participation and Representation”.
The women will also have a mentoring session with three former PNG women MPs – Dame Carol Kidu, Ms Delilah Gore and Ms Julie Soso – and one former Bougainville women MP, Ms Isabel Peta. The mentoring session will provide an opportunity for the participants to learn some tips and tricks of campaigning from the experiences of women who have come before them.
On the last day, 17 March, 30 of the women will then participate in a mock parliamentary session which will provide an opportunity for them to hone their public speaking skills by discussing a range of policy issues, including debating a mock bill on freedom of information.
When welcoming the women to the training Dr Alphonse Gelu, Registrar of Political Parties stated: “Although candidate numbers are rising – in 2012 we had only 135 women candidates, but in 2017 we had 167 women contesting – our research shows that less than 4% of women candidates contested the 2007 and 2012 elections. Historically, women are less likely to be endorsed by political parties to run for National Parliament, even though the majority of MPs belong to a political party.”
Dr Gelu went on to say: “My office recognises the inherent value of including women’s voices in PNG’s national legislature and other elected local assemblies. Because we wanted to help ensure we never again have a situation where no women are elected, the IPPCC and UNDP have been running mentoring programmes at the provincial, regional and national level to support potential women candidates and to connect them to political parties. This Practice Parliament is now the culmination of that work as we hope to showcase their skills to the public.”
There have been some queries regarding how the Practice Parliament can help women before they have even been elected. The organisers have made clear that the idea of the Practice Parliament is to first train the women over three days on a range of policy issues relevant to their communities, as well on effective campaigning. These skills will be valuable, whether or not they successfully contest an election.
The Practice Parliament itself then gives the women a chance to practice their public speaking skills by concretely debating policy issues of relevance to their voters. This helps build their confidence to have such discussions with voters at home and helps focus their minds on the election as a chance to discuss policy change ideas.
UN Resident Coordinator a.i. and UNFPA Resident Representative, Ms Marielle Sander, when speaking at the opening, told the women participants: “It takes bravery to put your hand up, to actually say you want to participate in public life. I commend you all for your courage. I am pleased to offer the support of every UN person in this room, to help you develop your leadership potential through this training and the many other activities we implement across the country with women leaders working at all levels to make PNG a better, safer, more equal and more prosperous place.”
The Practice Parliament for Women is part of the Women Make the Change Project, delivered by UNDP and UN Women and funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.