Gender and Elections in Port Moresby, PNG - ‘Meri na man olgeta!1’

Papua New Guinea Electoral Commission (PNGEC) and the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) Twinning Project, funded by AusAID, have successfully conducted two BRIDGE Gender and Elections Modules in Port Moresby on October 2010.  The module was conducted twice for two sets of participants over two consecutive weeks.  Participants were drawn from PNGEC head office with some representative Election Managers from the Provinces, representatives from media organisations including NBC, PNG FM100, Wantok Niuspepa and Post Courier and senior provincial administrators from Northern, Gulf, Manus, New Ireland and Milne Bay; all of whom have significant roles to play in elections in PNG.

The BRIDGE facilitation teams for the workshops included Regina Lunge and Alwyn Jimmy from PNGEC and Gordon Marshall, David McKenzie and Cate Thompson from AEC.

PNGEC Deputy Commissioner-Election Administration, John Kalamorah opened Workshop Number One and the Electoral Commissioner, Andrew Trawen opened Workshop Number Two. In their speeches both stressed the importance of BRIDGE as a professional development tool for PNG people working in the electoral environment.  They also focussed on the opportunities for clarity and deeper understanding of gender issues created when people from different work areas in PNG come together for BRIDGE.  All participants were encouraged to take the greatest benefit possible from the training and use it in their future work.  The importance of extra focus on gender issues was stressed and more broadly ethics, integrity and professionalism for electoral administrators was stressed as an integral part of their work.  

AusAID representatives Sophie Temby and Simeon Namunu also spoke at the openings and highlighted the value of collaboration and learning together to improve the electoral climate in PNG.  AusAID is proud to be associated with BRIDGE and the PNGEC / AEC Twinning Project.

We were honoured to have a guest presentation at workshop one delivered by Dr Rona Nadile.  She energised the participants by telling fascinating stories ranging from her important learning across her time as a small child in the village, to her international travel and study opportunities to her role as a senior woman in the PNG public service.

The following quotes highlight BRIDGE thought-provoking experiences that engage participants:

“I liked the different and unique facilitation techniques used to conduct the workshop.  It captured everyone’s attention and allowed for holistic participation.”

“We benefited from the facilitators’ knowledge of human rights and gender issues and international electoral experience.”

“The practical sessions gave us a depth of understanding about international and PNG electoral issues.”

“I benefitted from the cross-pollenisation of ideas from participants from different organisations and backgrounds.”

Discussion and debate was often feisty, sometimes confronting and repeatedly engaging and enjoyable.  Participants and facilitators exchanged ideas, explored new knowledge and canvassed strategies and possibilities for the future while honouring history, tradition and culture specific to PNG. Exploring the complexity of different electoral systems and their potential impacts on gender access; understanding the obstacles to women’s participation; developing appropriate possible strategies, policies and solutions that can lead to better gender advancement; considering specific challenges and opportunities; meant that all participants had a fulfilling and engaging BRIDGE experience.

Much of the discussion during the workshops centred on the small and large things we all can do to further raise awareness of gender issues – especially as they apply to the electoral environment.  Significant learning occurred around the ideas of participation and access for women at all stages of the electoral cycle, especially registration.  It was agreed that focus on gender issues is not simply as it applies to voting.  Many and various barriers and strategies were explored by the groups and engaging, innovative ideas, potential collaborations and networks along with many small personal commitments were made throughout the workshops.

A significant theme which dominated conversations throughout both workshops was the need for women and men to work together on progressing gender equality.  Women cannot make these achievements and meet these goals alone.  The focus early in the workshops on The Universal Declaration on Human Rights1948 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1981 (CEDAW) led many to a deeper understanding of the international nature and universal struggle in which many of us are involved.  ‘Meri na man olgeta!’ was the catchcry!

Participants have vowed to take BRIDGE Gender and Elections ideas into their homes, communities and workplaces for future application.  UNIFEM has also been conducting the BRIDGE Gender and Elections Module in PNG and the wider pacific and future networking and collaboration may well lead to improvements in participation.  If the enthusiasm and dedication of the participants in these workshops is any indication, there is good reason to expect progress in the lead up to and beyond the 2012 PNG national election.

Tok Pisin translation – ‘Women and men together!’

Cate Thompson

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