Solutions proposed to enhance gender equality in elections

Forty-two out of the 45 women who contested in the 2020 Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) elections recently convened in Buka to reflect on their experiences and propose solutions that aim to increase women’s participation in elections.

At the next meeting of the Bougainville Executive Council the Minister for Community Development, Thompson Gitovia, will share these recommendations for consideration.

The workshop was held at Adeeves Guesthouse on 10-12 November 2020 and was co-hosted by the ABG Department of Community Development and UN Women under the Women Make the Change (WMC) programme. Focused in 10 provinces in Papua New Guinea, including the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, WMC is a three-year programme funded by the Australian and New Zealand governments that supports strengthening the capacity of women in sub-national leadership positions, mentoring emerging leaders, advocacy for legal and policy reform, and promotes equal representation of women’s political participation.

The workshop provided a space for the former contestants to collectively share the challenges women in Bougainville face in contesting both the open seats and reserved seats for women. Experiences in campaigning from three of the four women recently elected into the Bougainville House of Representatives, and former women MPs, were shared during panel discussions that were livestreamed by NBC Bougainville and on the UN Women Facebook page. Presentations were also delivered by the Office of the Bougainville Electoral Commissioner and the Bougainville Women’s Federation on their observations from the 2020 ABG elections.

Secretary Mana Kakarouts from the ABG Department of Community Development expressed her support for the women in saying: “Women make up half the population so it’s important for them to be actively engaged in decision-making. I commend the new ABG President for appointing more women to the Cabinet and view this as a positive sign of things to come.”

This election also saw Theonilla Roka Matbob, Minister for Education and Member for Ioro District, become the second woman in history to win an open seat in the Bougainville House of Representatives. Three other women contested and were elected to the women’s reserved seats, including Amanda Masono, Member for North, Therese Kaetevara, Member for South, and Yolande Geraldine Paul, Minister for Primary Industries and Marine Resources, Member for Central.

Caroline Nyamayemombe, UN Women PNG Head of Agency a.i, said of the workshop: “I was struck by the determination and passion of the women in the room and their desire to bring positive change to Bougainville with clear plans on what needs to be done to improve women’s success in future elections. It was a privilege to have former women Members, as well as the newly elected women Members, participating in the workshop.”

Voter education on women’s right to contest open seats was a key recommendation made by the women, which they hope will address the harassment and intimidation experienced by women contesting open seats. Inadequate funds for their campaigns was a common challenge, to which they proposed the creation of a fund dedicated to supporting women’s run for public office.

Former Minister for Community Development, Rose Pihei, emphasised the importance of staying connected to women at the local level and investing in partnerships, saying: “Women working together can bridge the gap.”

Women make up ten percent of the Bougainville House of Representatives, comprising four out of the forty elected members. The 2020 election results maintained the gender ratio from the last house, with four women elected into the Bougainville House of Representatives.

(Participants at UN Women and ABG Department for Community Development workshop on Women’s Political Participation in the 2020 ABG elections, including current and former women Members of the Bougainville House of Representatives, ABG Minister for Community Development,  Thompson Gitovia, MHR, ABG Secretary for the Department of Community, Mana Kakarouts, UN Women PNG Head of Agency a.i, Caroline Nyamayemombe and Nancy Kavop, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department for Community Development and Religion)

Press release