How can women win elections in Papua New Guinea, in a male dominated society? To win elections in Papua New Guinea, one has to think, act, and do what the voters tell you. Women in Papua New Guinea don’t vote female MPs. That should tell you how strong of a culture you come up against. Even if women were free to make their own decisions, they would choose men over women. Actually they do that. – Academia Nomad.
How Can Women Win Elections in Papua New Guinea?
By Michael Kabuni – Academia Nomad | April 6, 2022.
Disclaimer: If your goal is advocacy for women’s rights, please don’t read this article. It will offend you. If you get offended easily, don’t read. But if your goal is “winning” an election in Papua New Guinea as a women read on.
There are the idealistic, modern, Western way of doing things. And then there is the Papua New Guinea or Melanesian Way of doing things. For those of us who live our lives between two cultures, we learn to act appropriately depending on where we are.
I know of women, some of them my colleagues and some sisters, who are highly educated. They are the classic modern women. In Port Moresby or Australia, they live the modern women they are.
But when they go back to their villages, they take their place as delegated by hundreds of years of customary conventions. Conventions which says the men are the head. Brothers own the land. And where they consult their brothers and fathers and elders before they make decisions that affect the village.
This is where I’m going with this post: in Papua New Guinea, more than 80% of the voters are rural based. Where life is governed by culture more than formal laws.
Both the educated and those not educated in the Western curriculum have one vote each. This means those in rural areas dominate Papua New Guinea elections.
These are voters who have no frame of reference for concepts like “equality”.
Even those that are educated in the Western, modern, idealistic ways are very much internally regulated by their cultural upbringing. Everyone in Papua New Guinea has a village they belong to, or were raised by parents who grew up in the village.
So to win elections in Papua New Guinea, one has to think, act, and do what the voters tell you.
This means female voters have to go back to their villages and/or communities way before elections, an get the consent of the tribal elders. They need the support of men more than the women. Women in rural villages do what their husbands tell them. This is the reality.
If women in rural areas made their own decisions, or if their decisions were informed by the idealistic, modern, Western concepts, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Women in Papua New Guinea don’t vote female MPs. That should tell you how strong of a culture you come up against. Even if women were free to make their own decisions, they would choose men over women. Actually they do that.
In an earlier article titled “Conversations with PNG female Politicians” we talked about our conversations with current (Bougainville) and former (PNG) female candidates. When asked these women about their experiences. The attributed their success to the leadership and influence of men during the campaign phase.
What you would call toxic masculinity is sometimes an asset for elections if you learn to use it to your advantage. Study the prevailing cultural imperatives, align your strategies, and campaign. Don’t ever raise the equality argument. You will not find sympathisers for equality in the rural areas, and even in cities.
We all want you to win.
Second, listen carefully to how Papua New Guineans define leadership. Many will tell you they trust the individual who has lived with them in their communities, and has had “Han Mak” – that is, implemented small projects to improve the livelihood of the community.
During dry seasons, or disaster, go out of your way and buy supplies for your village. Assist in any way you can. Doesn’t have to be huge a contribution. Make yourself “visible.”
Policies and plans do not matter in rural electorates. To them, talk is less important than action. “Doing” rather than “saying” matters.
Winning an election is a long hard road. Know your people. Know your place. Become one of them. Get their trust. Only then, ask for their votes.
There is no question that we need more women in parliament. But to win, we need to follow the cultural imperatives.
If your goal is advocacy, then don’t follow this advice. After all, you are an independent individual, with equality guaranteed by the constitution. You don’t need anyone’s permission. Not even men. Or your clan.
But if your goal is winning an election, one where your voters have agreed norms and practices, you must abide by it. This is a game where you are at the mercy of the voters decision. They decide your fate.
After you win, and have the national platform, you then can advocate for change. Not drastic change because you don’t want to risk losing the next election. But a gradual, incremental change.
It’s a long journey before we reach that idealistic, modern, Western form of democracy and equality. Especially the electoral bit. For now, let’s take the long route.
There will be some asking what about corruption and foul play, or intimidation and violence? We’ll, these offences are mostly committed by men. So until we have a free and fair election, you need men’s support to help you get past these things (and at other times, may even commit these offences for you – bitter truth is they will).
Urban seats may be slightly different. But the role of men for female candidates’ success is as important in the urban areas. And also remember that even in urban areas, cultural dictates prevail.
This is a personal take. But where I come from, this is not very far from the truth.
Source link: https://academicnomad.home.blog/2022/04/06/know-your-people-get-their-trust-ask-for-their-vote/
Picture and words by Academic Nomad. Featured image of Sylvia Pascoe from https://sylviapascoe.com/.