Integrate women¡¦s leadership
By Patrick Kaiku
I refer to the article, ¡§Male dominance of leadership is destroying our society¡¨ in the View Point column of the Post-Courier of November 10, by Philip Yume Gass.
He proposed for the direct intervention of government through institutionalising women leadership in the provincial governments of matrilineal societies such as New Ireland and Milne Bay provinces.
The justification for this urgent action lies in the need to seek greater gender balance in the modern political institution of the state and the preservation of the unique tradition of matrilineal influence of the said societies in Papua New Guinea lest they lose this valuable part of their identity in this current male-dominated system.
Not surprisingly, the present PNG political system is so characterised by political science scholars as befitting a modern perverted version of the traditional noble bigman system where the institution of state is used by today¡¦s wealthy businessmen or aspiring bigman or political elites for private reasons.
This is because it has gradually become an institution for the continuation of wealth-generating ventures (through corrupt practices or otherwise) and for power-hungry leaders to command the unusually ¡§die-hard¡¨ followers who are reciprocated most often with perishable handouts.
Matrilineal societies, however. have not been immune from the domineering spread of this marginalising male political culture so often characterised through outright thuggery and the ¡§legalised plundering¡¨ of the wealth of this country into the hands of a minority.
The criminalising of political processes and institution of state is also widely demonstrated. For example, election-related violence and vote-buying is indicative of the macho power play.
It¡¦s no wonder some of the important and beneficial aspects of national development in PNG are greatly impeded and the viability of the state as a supposed sacred entity perilously finds its place in the PNG context.
Significantly, the dominance of males in the political arena would also be seen in the total disregard shown towards critical developmental issues affecting women, who appear either as mere statistics or ¡§invisible¡¨ actors in this country¡¦s countless male-dominated political arenas.
Presently and in view of the dismal absence of integrity, humility and honesty at all levels of leadership, it is now urgent that the provinces seek alternatives through dramatic provincial government structure reforms reflective of the socio-cultural attributes of the multi-cultural nation-state we find ourselves in.
In this greed-infested society where the mighty and powerful (always the male population) dictate the terms and conditions of the destiny of this country, PNG provinces that have hitherto been proud of their matrilineal legacy must take the lead in asserting the right of women to be accorded the ¡§political voice¡¨ in the state institution with a need for public awareness and a referendum on the issue.
I say this because women leadership can be integrated into the modern system of government.
No one can deny the sanctioned provisions for the people of PNG ¡§to foster the Papua New Guinean forms of social, political and economic organisations as the tools for achieving the social, political and economic development of Papua New Guinea¡¨ (Gawi, Ghai and Paliwala, 1976: 261). However, the utilisation of existing traditional systems is far from being a realistic national goal and directive principle. The reality is that this goal is not reflective of the distinctive values and traditional institutions of a multicultural society as PNG and to date no practical traditional institution of government has been incorporated into the formal western state system.
Aside from the trivial provision under the Organic Law on Provincial Governments and Local-level Government (OLPG&LLG) for the inclusion of three chieftancy representatives (always men) and one woman representative in the provincial assembly, it is just insignificant in boosting women political presence in the governments of provinces with matrilineal traditions.
Further, for a PNG nation-state that was negotiated by men, it can only be reflective of their perceptions of the male leadership tradition as they were conditioned in their patrilineal cultures.
On the other hand, take for instance the New Ireland Province which undisputedly stands out as a society in PNG where the matrilineal system of arranging land ownership and where the relative power and respect for women in areas of decision-making and their influence in the regulation of clan or societal interaction is paramount since traditional times.
In these instances, women representation and the institutionalisation of matrilinealism in the provincial assembly, serving as a formal unit in the provincial government can be facilitated due to the societal acceptance of the role of women.
So in fact, it is a continuation of what has been conventional practice since time immemorial. This integrative exercise of new and old leadership systems can only come about if the said province is undertaking initiatives under autonomous arrangements or is given the appropriate political and legislative leeway to institute provincial structures that are reflective of its socio-cultural uniqueness instead of being inconsistently limited to by the dictatorial OLPG&LLG or patrilineal-designed National Constitution. It can be interpreted in this instant that the OLPG&LLG presupposes commonality among all provinces in relation to legitimate traditional systems of leadership, which is not true if a thorough case-by-case analysis of PNG provinces is conducted. If the move towards the formal recognition of equal gender representation in the numerical composition of the provincial legislature is successfully negotiated, it will undoubtedly serve as a benchmark for women participation in the modern political arena.
It would for example, start off with having half the provincial assembly composed of qualified women representatives from all sectors and constituencies of the given province. In time, it will prevent the on-going proliferation of the corruptive ¡§big-men¡¨ politics that has denied political empowerment of women and the general marginalisation of grassroots in the present system of government.
The current political structure under the OLPG&LLG facilitates the dominance of male leaders in the national and provincial assemblies and the problem of control over resources and political support bases.
So through constitutional reform and national law to accommodate for this move, provinces are given the sole mandate to incorporate the informal mechanisms reflective of their respected, productive and humble tradition of women leadership.
And the matrilineal tradition is given a chance to prove the subdued worth of our womenfolk in the provinces concerned.
The writer is from New Hanover Island, New Ireland Province and is a politics student at the University of Papua New Guinea.