Women debate national issues with vigour at first ever Practice Parliament for Women

Picture by Robert Weber (Our Port Moresby)

An historic event occurred in Port Moresby this week, when 58 women who are considering running in the 2012 National elections came together to participate in the first ever Practice Parliament for Women held in Papua New Guinea.

Training for the Practice Parliament started on Monday, with women participants learning about parliamentary procedures, as well as key issues of national interest. Thursday was their opportunity to show the people of PNG what they had learned, as they showcased their parliamentary debating skills during the Practice Parliament. The debate was held at the Holiday Inn, and was broadcast live on FM100.

Participants started their Practice Parliament with a lively session of a mock ‘Question Time’. Participants in the Mock Opposition asked questions of their Mock Government counterparts on a range of national issues, including health services to rural villages, implementing the “Education for All” policy, addressing corruption, ensuring responsible environmental practices by corporations and implementing programmes for PNG’s young people.

Ms Margaret Loko from the NCD was asked a question about how the Mock Government would protect women from unprovoked attacks based upon allegations of witchcraft. Ms Loko gave a spirited response, basing her answer around the actual efforts of the PNG Government in recent years to develop legislation to update the Criminal Code and remove sorcery from PNG’s statute books. Ms Loko was very positive about the usefulness of the Practice Parliament in promoting women’s leadership in PNG. “The Practice Parliament was a real eye-opener for the women who participated and we learnt the finer details about parliamentary procedures of law making that we can put to good use once we are elected into Parliament. I felt like an MP in action today!”.

Ms Mittie Katu-Bradford from Morobe asked a question on behalf of people living with disabilities in PNG. Ms Bradford reflected on the Practice Parliamentary question time saying that “it was a very useful exercise for the public to hear about the solutions that women can come up with in relation to the many issues PNG communities face, including those faced by people living with a disability. My vision is to ensure that the stigma and discrimination that disabled persons face is removed with continued awareness raising and education and I hope that my participation at this week’s Practice Parliament has shown the public that we can also contribute to society and make a difference if the public gives us the chance”.

Ms Dorothy Tekwie from Sandaun is a member of the Greens Party and was asked a question about how to protect indigenous landowners from being exploited by foreign businesses. She used the Practice Parliament as an opportunity to reflect on how the nation could more responsibly manage indigenous land ownership. Ms Tekwie commented that the Practice Parliament session on Thursday “gave women candidates an opportunity to build their confidence to be able to debate and contribute to discussions on issues as potential members of parliament”.

Following the Question Time, participants debated the Mock Reproductive Health Rights Bill, a practice Bill drafted to test the women’s skills in analyzing proposed legislation and debating amendments. Reflecting on her participation in the Practice Parliament, Ms Ruth Francis from Manus noted that “the training further empowered participants to broaden their knowledge and continue to research on issues affecting our communities so that we can integrate these into our campaign platforms.”

The Practice Parliament was organized by the Office of the Department of Women (ODW) and the United Nations (UN) as part of the national ODW strategy to support women candidates in their efforts to get elected to the National Parliament in the next elections.

Mr David McLachlan-Karr, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in PNG, attended the entire Practice Parliament for Women and was glowing in his praise for the women: “I was incredibly impressed by the high quality of leadership, vision and policy knowledge demonstrated by the PNG women who participated. The women showed enormous commitment in researching and preparing their arguments, and anyone who was listening to the broadcast today on FM100 would have realized that they are very articulate. These women certainly demonstrated today that the women of this country can make great national leaders if they are only given the opportunity to engage in national policy and decision-making forums.”

This Practice Parliament was supported by Ms Charmaine Rodrigues and Mr Isikeli Valemei from the UNDP Pacific Centre in Suva, as well as the Clerk of the Solomon Islands Parliament, Mrs Taeasi Sanga, and Mr Albert Kabui, the Legal and Procedural Officer at the Solomon Islands Parliament. The idea of having a Practice Parliament for Women was first launched by UNDP and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in 2011, following a recommendation arising out of a meeting of Small Islands Pacific States on Women in Decision-Making, which was held in Nadi in November 2010.

Readers who would like more information on the PNG Practice Parliament for Women can visit the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/PacWIP and get updates on twitter at @PacWIP. For more information on women in politics in PNG and the Pacific, they can go to www.pacwip.org/

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If you would like any further information please don’t hesitate to contact Peterson Magoola, UNDP Gender Specialist, peterson.magoola@undp.org, +675 321 2877.