Determined to bring about change, a record number of female candidates are standing in this year’s election in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Taking place from June 24, 2017 until July 8, 2017, the national election will see the appointment of 111 successful candidates who will form the new National Parliament.
The election follows a significant period of political instability. For instance, a court ruling in 2011 declared the election of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill as unlawful triggered a crisis, which called for the reinstatement of former Premier Michael Somare, and, at its peak, saw a situation in which the nation had two governor-generals, two prime ministers, and two police chiefs. Last year, Prime Minister O’Neill survived a vote of no confidence over his leadership, although he remains the front-runner for this year’s election. Those outside of the political elite place minimal emphasis on elections, which do little to serve their interests or better their position, instead of reinforcing the positions of the powerful elite.
Papua New Guinea has long been considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman and has historically seen very few women elected to Parliament. Human rights groups have long reported a patriarchal culture and one that encourages the use of violence against women who speak out or challenge the state of affairs. Although difficult to obtain accurate information, it is estimated that over two in three women will experience domestic violence, which often results in death. The United Nations and other not-for-profit groups have long condemned violent acts committed against those accused of being witches, a charge that can only be made against women, which includes tyrannical punishments, such as burning women alive. Violence has also been observed in response to the participation of women in wider society or community groups. This, along with the continued presence of “big man” politics and widespread corruption, adds to the challenge of running for Parliament.
Of 3,332 total candidates, just 165 are women, which reflects an increase of 30 female candidates from the previous election in 2012. The United Nations has continued to focus on preparing these candidates for Parliament. To date, the number of women in Parliament has peaked at just three of the available 111 seats being secured after the 2012 election. As well, currently, a total of seven women have successfully secured seats in Parliament since the nation’s independence 42 years ago.
Female candidates and past Parliamentarians have highlighted the importance of including a woman’s perspectives in national problem-solving and working to end the widespread systemic violence. Despite gender equality being featured as an issue in campaigns, it is predicted that the new Parliament will focus on the challenges to the economy, including those to the budget. Nonetheless, the female candidates remain optimistic and determined to bring about positive change in their country.
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