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article imagePapua New Guinea's men-only parliament eyes seats for women

By Gorethy Kenneth (AFP)     Mar 7, 2019 in World

Papua New Guinea is considering making its currently all-male legislature more representative, by creating parliamentary seats reserved for women.

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill introduced the proposal on International Women's Day on Friday, saying it was "only fair" that there was more debate about women's role "at the leadership level."

There are currently 111 members of parliament in Papua New Guinea, representing 8.3 million people -- and not a single woman MP.

Speaking ahead of a retreat that coincided with the annual day to promote equality, O'Neill said it was a "sad fact" that women's interests were neglected.

"In our own national parliament, we currently have no elected female member. Despite so many highly skilled and talented female candidates, they were not elected."

"I want to see this situation rectified and our government will present a proposal to Parliament that will create seats specifically for women."

Papua New Guinea is struggling to overcome its international reputation as the "worst place in the world to be a woman" and the land that #MeToo forgot.

Domestic and sexual violence are endemic and often go unpunished. It is estimated that two-thirds of women in Papua New Guinea experience domestic violence.

It is not uncommon to see domestic disputes take place in full public view.

In some parts of the country, brutal witch hunts are overwhelmingly targeted against women.

But a series of legal reforms have changed the penalties for domestic violence and victims say the police are now taking it more seriously.

There are signs that political parties are also taking women's role more seriously too.

"We will never achieve our true potential if we do not attend to the core and basic issues of our communities," said O'Neill.

"And that is the wellbeing of all of our people, especially the women of our country."

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill is proposing creating seats only for women
Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill is proposing creating seats only for women
PETER PARKS, AFP/File

In the past, seven women have been elected to the national assembly and more serve in provincial assemblies and district councils.

But previous efforts to introduce seats for women have faltered over the need for a constitutional amendment.

Theresa Jaintong from the PNG National Council of Women said she supported the move and hoped it would shift from the government's agenda to the floor of parliament and become law.

But not all women like the idea of getting specifically designated seats.

Former Minister for Women and Community Development Delilah Gore said that she, like others, had won the hard way.

Rubie Wanariu, one of 165 losing women candidates in the 2017 elections asked: "Why would they be allocated?"

"It continues to give the notion that women are the weak link... We have been fighting for gender equality and balance."

"I would think females should also be seen as equally capable and must be equally mandated if they want to contribute to the development of the country."

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