Female candidates gain sight of PNG parliament

10:52 pm on 7 March 2017

A group of female candidates in this year's Papua New Guinea general election are relishing a chance to better understand the rules of engagement in parliamentary politics.

50 delegates were selected for a week-long programme, under way in Port Moresby, training PNG female election candidates in parliamentary proceedings.

Woman at election rally, East Sepik, PNG.

Woman at a campaign rally in East Sepik during PNG's 2012 general elections. Photo: RNZI/Johnny Blades

The programme is supported by the United Nations Development Programme, which says that with only three female MPs out of 111 in PNG's current parliament, women are vastly under-represented as elected officials.

One of the delegates in the programme, Dulciana Somare-Brash said it was important to learn the traditions that needed to be maintained in order for parliamentary democracy to survive.

She admitted it was difficult to totally prepare a newcomer to parliament for PNG's opaque political scene, but said the training offered promise and pointed people in the right direction.

"The enthusiasm in the room suggests that people are going to go and research. But they know where to look now, and I think that's a really good start," said Ms Somare-Brash.

"So you know, with technology the way it is, and people having access to it, I'm hoping that people are going to do their homework, and we're all going to understand the rules of engagement a little bit better."

Papua New Guinea's parliament.

A wall detail at Papua New Guinea's parliament: Polling is due to start in June. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

The 50 delegates at the training programme are under little illusion that being elected to the PNG parliament is anything but an enormous challenge.

Women contesting PNG elections are distinctly disadvantaged through customary expectations and the fact that they tend not to have the same access to resources as male leaders.

"The elections will be flushed with cash, so there's a disparity already, going in. People with access to resources... it's not all even," said Ms Somare-Brash.

But she said there was a big shift in sentiment towards the current government, opening up the opportunity for change.

"People are soul-searching in PNG," she said. "I think there's a preparedness to check out... we just don't want more of the same. And so that might allow more of an opportunity for women."

Crowd at an election rally in East Sepik, Papua New Guinea.

A crowd at an election rally in East Sepik, Papua New Guinea Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

According to Ms Somare-Brash, there was a wealth of strong and talented female candidates who were to contest these elections.

"Many of these women sitting in the room with me have really, really strong community experience, and really, really strong self-sustaining capabilities that have been overlooked.

"Fifty percent, or probably 60 percent, of our productive capacity, has been ignored in Papua New Guinea because women have been under-utilised."

Dulciana Somare-Brash will be contesting the East Sepik Regional seat for the Pangu Pati in this year's elections, with polling due to begin in late June.

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