Voice … Papua New Guineans line up to vote yesterday. Of 3435 candidates, only 137 are women.GREY-BEARDED Simon Parua Kuri, aged about 82, is a revered former “big man” in politics around here, who emerged from a semi-literate traditional background to hold a seat in Parliament for 15 years and fathered 17 children from his four wives.
His daughter Margareth Tini Parua, 48, is a Port Moresby lawyer (with one husband and one child) who is seeking to show that womenfolk have something to offer in politics.
She’s back in her Western Highlands village in the coffee-growing country outside Mount Hagen, running against 24 men in elections for the national Parliament, hoping to capture the seat once held by her father and later for three years by her late elder brother Reuben.
Voting originally set for Friday is now scheduled for tomorrow after logistical problems and rioting kept army and police forces needed for polling security back in the restive Southern Highlands and Hela provinces.
The family ties help and Ms Parua returns usually three times a year to the home she keeps in her village, but she is denigrated by some of her rivals for being an inconsequential woman. “They say women don’t stand up in a sing-sing place and speak out on behalf of the clan or tribe and therefore women can’t stand up and speak for us in Parliament,” she said yesterday.
Her campaign seeks a way around this. “On the campaign trail my brothers – from the clan and the tribe, we call each other brothers and sisters – say mothers are good managers of the home so why don’t you vote for Margareth?” Ms Parua said.
“A mother knows how to manage a home, it starts from home, so if you can manage your home … the basic understanding and expectation is the mother will manage whatever else she touches.”
It’s a simple line, but getting under a few skins. One rival candidate and his supporters threw rocks at her car in an ambush three weeks ago.
Ms Parua’s other message is that Dei has been ill-served by its previous representatives, who handle disbursements under Papua New Guinea’s controversial District Services Improvement Program, which allots Kina 10 million ($5 million) a year to each MP to allocate at his or her discretion.
Under the sitting member, she says, nothing has happened and roads and schools are in decay.
“We have a big health centre in our district. It’s been untouched for the last five years. It doesn’t have an ambulance. It doesn’t have a doctor. The secondary school doesn’t have a generator.
“Things are really bad. Mothers die from diseases and children die from diseases which are preventable. They’ve got the facilities there but they’re just like white elephants … there’s no doctor, there’s no medicine, the basic things are lacking.”
Ms Parua said she decided only recently to stand up and have a go at fixing things. “I realised that our people need somebody who knows what’s happening and who realises and understands the sufferings and the pains they are going through,” she said.
Across Papua New Guinea, only 137 women are standing for election among the 3435 candidates for the 110 seats in Parliament.
In the 37 years since independence, Papua New Guinea has had only three female MPs, with the most recent, Australian-born Dame Carol Kidu, retiring at this election.
A sign of how much women are suppressed here in the highlands has been the reticence of local women in voicing support for her.
“I was very surprised by the response that I got from the menfolk,” Ms Parua said.
“It’s more positive and more responsive than from the females. It’s not that they don’t support me, it’s mainly to do with the fact that the man is the boss in the family unit.”
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