Two women named as cabinet ministers in a first for Bougainville

by Michael Taylor | @MickSTaylor | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 2 October 2020 12:15 GMT

A voter from Selau is seen at Buka market, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, November 30, 2019. Picture taken November 30, 2019. Bougainville Referendum Commission/Jeremy Miller/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

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Appointment of two women as cabinet ministers is a first for Bougainville, which has made some progress to boost women’s representation

By Michael Taylor

Oct 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The new president of Bougainville, an autonomous part of Papua New Guinea, appointed two female cabinet ministers on Friday, a rare move in a region where women are often sidelined in politics.

Papua New Guinea is one of only three countries worldwide to have no female lawmakers, though Bougainville has made some progress to bolster women's political representation since the end of its decade-long civil war in 1998.

"I have appointed two female members to the cabinet to ensure there is recognition of the dynamic role that our women have in Bougainville society," said Ishmael Toroama, a former rebel military commander elected president last week.

He appointed Theonila Roka Matbob as minister for education and Yolande Geraldine Paul as minister for primary industries and marine resources.

Toroama's government is now set to seek independence for Bougainville's 250,000 people, who voted overwhelmingly for a separation from Papua New Guinea at the end of last year.

Political analysts said the cabinet appointments were a positive development that could pave the way for women to have a bigger future role in government.

"Hopefully it augurs well for a greater role for women in political decision-making and representation," said Shane McLeod, a research fellow in the Pacific islands program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

"That can resonate through the region," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In contrast to Papua New Guinea, Bougainville has taken steps in the past to increase women's role in politics and government, said Kerryn Baker, a research fellow at the Australian National University.

Bougainville's constitution requires at least one woman to be appointed to the 14-member cabinet, according to political analysts, and the island's 39-seat House of Representatives includes three "reserved" seats for women.

"This new milestone is a continuation of that," Baker said, referring to Friday's appointments.

She noted that both women had relevant professional experience; Matbob ran a community education centre, while Paul has been involved in agricultural initiatives in Bougainville including efforts to revitalise the cocoa industry.

"The president is sending a clear signal that he's placed these women in these positions because of their qualifications and backgrounds, not because they are women, and his comments reflect that," Baker said.

A record number of women candidates ran in the two-week general election held in August, winning four seats in the legislature - one more than the minimum number and matching a record set in a 2015 election.

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(Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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