The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 29) – The National Alliance yesterday published a list of candidates so far endorsed by the party for the national election. Of the 73 candidates announced, just one woman has so far been endorsed to run for the party.

The Alliance has announced that it will not endorse candidates for nine seats held by sitting Members seen as National Alliance allies or with whom the party has some level of support.

That means only a handful of seats remains uncontested by endorsed National Alliance candidates.

Most of those remaining seats are potentially "no-win" situations, and it is most unlikely that any of them could be wrested away from male candidates or sitting Members.

So it is reasonable to assume that the National Alliance, the outgoing senior partner in the Papua New Guinea Government, continues to have little or no regard for female candidates in national election.

Such a scenario in many other developing countries would lead to uproar.

Women have long since refused to be sidelined and ignored in the election process; in many African nations women control a powerful bloc of votes and can boast of a substantial national political power base.

The leadership of the National Alliance has repeatedly emphasized a total commitment to the concept of gender equality.

Year after year Papua New Guinea leaders have mouthed the same old platitudes of encouragement for our women to assume managerial and decision-making roles.

The fact is that Papua New Guinea women under recent governments have been thrust out of sight and treated as a barely tolerated irrelevance in the life of the nation.

Men refuse to even consider that women might do at least as good a job in the House as their male counterparts.

Women can scarcely be blamed for the decades of unfocused, corrupt and wasteful administration that has come to characterize this country and its reputation.

That has been the direct result of more than 30 years of male political domination of Papua New Guinea’s government and administration.

Along with this mass male refusal to acknowledge the potential of Papua New Guinea women, has come a growing male contempt for women in the community.

When our politicians wring their hands over the violence and the rapes and the lack of respect for women now endemic in Papua New Guinea, do they ever stop to think that recognition of women’s abilities in management, in politics and in an almost endless range of the professions might well change that contempt overnight?

For as long as our women are condemned to be seen as the "property" of men, "purchased" with some spurious adaptation of traditional bridal obligations, they will increasingly be treated as non-citizens by too many of our men.

The national elections are a heaven-sent opportunity for men to throw major support behind women candidates, to accept that a new broom is needed to clean out the mess created by many male Members of Parliament.

And when the women begin to chalk up achievements in the public and political sectors, men will begin to realize what they have chosen to ignore for generations – women are inherently as capable, as intuitive, as far-sighted and as skilled as their male counterparts.

The present situation in which women are virtually ignored at the polls can only lead to fewer and fewer women casting a vote.

Papua New Guinea political parties appear to be mired in the past, in the era when men were king and women either acknowledged that absolute rule or suffered as a result.

That does not represent Papua New Guinea 2007.

The young women who flood our universities will have no part of that scenario. They want a voice in their own futures.

They are rapidly gaining skills and training that place them in the forefront of the labor market, and that wave can only grow.

And in company with the increasing realization of their worth comes a newly-awakened awareness of their right to a political voice.

There is still the fast-fading possibility that one of the larger parties will recognize these truths and endorse a realistic number of women candidates.

For if a political party harnesses the women’s vote in Papua New Guinea, it will sweep into power with a massive majority. Perhaps that prospect will gain for women what justice and constitutional guarantees have so far failed to achieve.

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