Part 1 of this post was published yesterday.
Newly-elected female PNG MPs Loujaya Toni and Delilah Gore should be enormously proud of what they have achieved – they have run the election gauntlet and won. They triumphed despite being up against a culture that has a tendency to stifle women's empowerment and pint-sized finances (when compared with heavyweights Belden Namah and Peter O'Neill). They will now find themselves in the middle of a complex (and some say corrupt) political process where men with liquidity and forceful negotiating skills usually come out on top.
Fortunately, these women have the support of two camps that may prove pivotal in smoothing out what could be an incredibly bumpy five year parliamentary term. First, there's Dame Carol Kidu, who has immeasurable knowledge and authority after 15 years battling it out in parliament. Her advice will be invaluable.
Second, PNG's 'digital generation' has truly emerged, and the country is benefiting from a more intimate relationship between technology and politics.
A flock of digital entrepreneurs provide PNG with independent contestability and analysis of government procedures and policy via a suite of blogs (many of which I have linked to in this post), Facebook and Twitter. When electoral promises are broken, public funds misused, allegations of corruption arise and when political decisions lack transparency, it will be discussed and debated through Facebook group Sharp Talk, Twitter hashtag #PNG and on a number of blogs and websites.
A group of savvy bloggers provide sharp analysis that PNG's newspapers could only dream of. Social media users have spread news of the PNG election in real time. Informed and inclusive debates occur daily on SharpTalk; female representation in politics has been a popular topic of late with the online masses delighted and proud of the boosted female presence in PNG's parliament.
If their post-election remarks are anything to go by, the new members for Lae and Soho Open will be working towards the same goals advocated by the posse of bloggers and social media users: a more transparent and inclusive government that capitalises on the country's economic growth in a sustainable way, distributes public funds fairly and facilitates service delivery (particularly health and education services) to the provinces.
Papua New Guinea is internationally renowned for being a country of great diversity – geographically, culturally and in its variety of traditions and languages. Yet this wonderful diversity is still not reflected politically. Without decisive political action, the hegemony of PNG's bigmen will remain for decades to come. Once Peter O'Neill has cobbled together a ruling coalition, one of his first priorities needs to be an assertive and considered social policy framework, one that will assess how to reverse PNG's terrible track record in gender equality. After all, investing in people and empowering women is smart economic policy.
The election of two women should be celebrated. But this achievement should boost, not mask, the push to build greater equity into the PNG parliament so that future generations of women will not be as disadvantaged as those who first fought to get into parliament in 1977 and those who are still battling today.
Photo by Flickr user Commonwealth Secretariat.