Status of women in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a land of 800 language groups and cultures with differing attitudes and practices. Although the Constitution advocates equality for men and women, it also places priority on maintaining cultural traditions. There are a number of challenges to improving the status of women. Modernisation is leading to a weakening of the traditional protections for women. Migration to urban areas for economic opportunities means traditional village supports and restraints are no longer operating. The tradition of the bride price is being interpreted as ownership, leading to increased violence against women. The replacement of traditional weapons with high-powered weapons means conflict can be more lethal. Women can be excluded from decision-making and the market economy. PNG has some of the worst health indicators in the world for women. The doubling of deaths in childbirth in the last decade suggests conditions are worsening.
Women village magistrates in Village Courts
PNG has inherited a formal system of law and justice based on the British system. This is overlaid onto traditional ways of dealing with law and order issues. While PNG has developed and adapted both formal and informal systems to meet its law and justice needs, both systems are weak and vary in effectiveness.
At the local level, Village Courts use customary law and mediation to resolve disputes and deal with offences, predominantly minor in nature, thereby maintaining peace and harmony. They deal with 80% of crime in PNG. For many villages in remote areas, the Village Courts may be the only accessible system of justice without walking for several days or taking a boat for many hours to the nearest town and police station.
Village Courts began in 1975. All of the magistrates were men until 2000, when new policies to include women were introduced. An awareness and training program has increased the number of women magistrates. In 2004, ten women had been appointed to ten Village Courts and by the end of 2011, there were 700 women working as magistrates and 300 as clerks and peace officers. With more women magistrates, women have brought cases to the Village Courts and experienced more equitable justice. Male magistrates have begun to understand women better.
Women elected to parliament
PNG is a constitutional monarchy. Since independence in 1975 it has been governed by a series of unstable coalitions. The culture has meant women and women's issues have been poorly represented. Some activists and politicians are working to pass a bill that would allow for the creation of 22 reserved seats for women, one per province.
In 2011, Australia funded training and awareness programs to increase female participation in PNG's parliament. UN Women funded a 'Know Your Woman Candidate 2012: Vote Women' campaign.
In the 2007 General Elections, 101 of the 2,759 candidates for the 109 seats were women, but only Dame Carol Kidu was successful. In 2012, 136 women out of 3,435 candidates stood for election for the 111 seats and three were successful. Delilah Gore, Loujaya Toni and Julie Soso, became the fifth, sixth and seventh women elected to the PNG parliament.
Delilah Gore, a former public servant and respected local churchwoman from the town of Popondetta credits her win to changes in village dynamics and increased awareness of the electoral system. Women talked openly about their experiences and demanded their rights to improved access to water and sanitation, health and education. Their husbands were also frustrated with the lack of services promised by members of parliament and supported women candidates.
Loujaya Toni, a journalist, teacher and human rights activist, defeated a close relative to become the member for Lae. As another urban candidate, she had support from people in settlements as well as her clan. Work among the community and a motivation driven by lack of services and increasing inequality helped her overcome cultural, social and financial obstacles that often prevent women becoming members of parliament.
Julie Soso, broadcaster and women's rights advocate, defeated Barry Holloway who had been elected in 1964 to PNG's first parliament. On her fourth attempt, Julie Soso is the first woman to be elected from PNG's highlands region.
By improving the involvement of women in decision-making and justice, the lives of women and children are being improved in many ways.
Australian Aid, 'The female hand of justice' article
Australian Aid, PNG's newly elected female MP Loujaya Toni video