27 September 2022, Holiday Inn, Port Moresby
Remarks by Mr. Edward Vrkic, Deputy Resident Representative, UNDP Opening of the PNG Women’s Election Diagnostic
September 27, 2022
Chairperson, Acting Registrar and staff of the Independent Political Parties and Candidates Commission
Secretary of the Department for Community Development and Religion, Mr Jerry Ubase
Representatives from PNG political parties,
Representatives from the diplomatic corps and my fellow UN agencies
And last but not least, our esteemed participants who I am so pleased to be able to welcome to this gathering
Greetings and on behalf of UJNDP and our UN partners.
* * *
I am very honoured to be asked to speak at the opening of this very important meeting, which brings together such an impressive group of Papua New Guinean women, who had the bravery to put their hands up for public office and to run in the last national general election.
As many of you will be well aware, it was reported that 142 women ran in the 2022 election. We know from history that those women knew that they were putting their hand up for a very difficult task.
In the entire history of Independent PNG, there have only ever been 7 women elected before this 2022 election. That is 7 women out of more than 1000 members who have comprised the National Parliament since 1975. It is a daunting task to run against those odds – and I commend all of the women who had the courage to stand this year and dedicate their time, resources and personal lives to such an enormous task.
The 142 women who ran this year is a smaller number less than the 167 women who ran in 2017. Despite this however, PNG still elected 2 women to the National Parliament – Honourable Rufina Peter, the new Governor of Central Province and Honourable Kessy Sawang, the member for Rai-Coast Open.
Unfortunately, despite the progress represented by the election of these two women MPs, the reality is that women still comprise less than 2% of the National Parliament. This is well below the global benchmark of 30% that has been the aim of countries around the world since it was first endorsed in the Beijing Platform for Action.
The Sustainable Development Goals also commit UN member states, including PNG, to promoting more women in national parliaments. SDG Target 5.5 calls on PNG to “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life” and uses the number of women in the national parliament as a benchmark for progress.
UNDP is committed to working with the PNG Government and with the people in this room to support your efforts to improve the representation of women in political office. It is for this reason that we have been so pleased to work with the Independent Political Parties and Candidates Commission and the Department for Community Development and Religion to support their efforts to help women candidates participate more effectively in the national election.
As many of you here will know, we worked with the IPPCC to support their mentoring programme for aspiring women candidates, including the regional meetings held in 2021 and 2022, the national meeting with women and political party representatives held in Alotau in January and the Third Practice Parliament for Women held in Port Moresby in March.
We all tried our best to be useful to PNG women, in their quest to be elected to the National Parliament. I also know that many other development partners in this room also engaged in a range of activities which aimed to increase the likelihood that women would be successful in this election.
While the election of Hon Peter and Hon Sawang is a huge step forward, I am well aware that much more still needs to be done if the women of PNG are to have an equal voice and play an equal part in the decision-making in the National Parliament and NEC. The reason we are here this week is to hear from all of you regarding what exactly needs to be done over the next five years.
I know there has been frustration amongst many women and many in the community that development partners efforts seem to have had only a very limited impact to date. For that I am very sorry – and I can say to you very clearly today – we want to do better and we would very much like to hear from you regarding how we can do better.
But I am also well aware that there is no silver bullet for how to fix this very challenging problem. In my own country of Australia, it has taken 25 years for the Australian Labor Party to increase the number of women in parliament to more than 40% of MPs – but that only happened because they introduced a women’s quote back in 1994! The other major party in Australia – which has no women’s quota in place – has only just over 20% women MPs.
This is not to say that quotas are the only answer, but it is clear that they are a quicker and more effective way of ensuring a minimum number of women in a parliament and they are used across the world. Since the 1990s, over 100 countries have implemented political gender quotas, and by 2013 over half the world’s countries had adopted some form of quota, including over 20 established democracies by 2018.
In the latest data published by the IPU (which covers progress in 2021), five countries now have gender parity, namely Rwanda, Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates. The IPU has stated that “quotas are one of the most critical success factors in increasing women’s representation. Among the 30 countries that had some form of quota in place for the single/lower house in 2021, 31.9% of MPs elected were women, compared to 19.5% in countries with no form of quotas – and the 1.7% in PNG.
While quotas are obviously important, I don’t want to side track the discussion over the next two days by only focusing on this possible response to the current situation. The people in this room know how elections are run in PNG and the various factors that impact on whether and how women get elected. Our team are very keen to hear from YOU regarding what you think will make a difference in future.
I know there are no easy answers. Having reviewed election observation reports and a range of other analysis produced over many years, I am well aware that lack of financing for women candidates, concerns about personal safety, the impact of money in politics, the impact of the wantok and “big-man” systems, the electoral system itself and the way that electoral processes are rolled out all make a difference. So too does the community’s perceptions about leadership and the value of women. All of these factors play some part in the results of elections.
Over the next two days, we would like to hear from you about what you think is impacting on women’s ability to be successful at elections. More than that though, we would like to hear what you think – concretely – needs to be done to make change in future.
What do you think will have a REAL impact? What types of activity or support could concretely result in more women being elected in 2027? This is not just about what development partners can support, but what your own national officials and institutions can do. The UN is here to support PNG – not to lead but to assist.
With that in mind, we stand ready to be useful, if we can, and however we can. But we also look to everyone in this room – and out in the community – to drive change to ensure that PNG implements the commitments to non-discrimination and gender equality contained in the 1975 Independence Constitution which continues to guide the country to this day.
With that final reflection, I wish you the very best over these next two days and am looking forward to reading the final outcomes statement from your deliberations which hopefully will guide us all.