First published in Stella issue 1, August 2012
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Jennifer Baing-Waiko. I am married to Bao Waiko and we have two sons, Yavita who is four years old and Micah who is two years old*. We live on our family farm called Ngaru, in the Umi/Atzara LLG of the Markham Open Electorate. We have developed over 60 hectares of land in the past two years with banana, taro, sweet potato, cocoa, and coffee. We engage community, church and youth groups to work on our farm and we also run our own non-government organization called SAVE PNG.
Where are you from?
My father is from Ragiampun Village, Markham Valley, Morobe Province and my mother is from Christchurch, New Zealand.
Are you a member of a political party?
I have been endorsed by the Indigenous People’s Party. I will be running in the Markham Open electorate . My father held this seat from 1992-2007. He will be running in this election as well, with the People’s Progress Party for the Morobe Regional Seat.
What policies are you putting forward in order to win Markham Open [in 2012]?
My policies are inspired by education, access to water, infrastructure, electrification, health, and agriculture. I will establish a special district fund for widows, orphans and deserted families, enabling those who are still able to help themselves through loans and scholarships. I will deliver clean and safe drinking water to Markham communities and am looking at major infrastructure development for marginalized outlying communities in the form of feeder roads, footbridges, and major bridges. I will extend current power lines to electrify more villages, switch to solar power for schools and aid posts and subsidize solar lighting kits for more remote areas. The Mutzing Health Centre is capable of being upgraded to a Rural Hospital with an obstetrician to care for pregnant mothers, midwife-training programs for every ward and village, sufficient stores of anti-venom, proper budgeting for ambulance fuel, and solar powered water pumps. I will improve access to markets for agricultural produce, increase opportunities to export cocoa and coffee, and develop downstream processing of root vegetables such as tapioca, taro, and kaukau.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
On my first visit to Madang, snorkeling and observing the vibrant marine life made me want to be a marine biologist and I completed a Bachelor of Applied Science in Fisheries at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania.
What first interested you in politics?
I vividly remember, at the age of four, being carried on my uncle Noni’s shoulders across the raging, muddy-brown Markham River as we accompanied my father, Andrew Baing, while he carried out his groundwork for the 1987 elections. I grew up with politics. My father is a politician and former Member of Parliament, serving Papua New Guinea for 15 years. He is a clan leader and my great grandfather was a warlord. Leadership runs in our family. As a child I woke up listening to my father and mother going through the paper and discussing politics. It has become second nature. Some families are lawyers, some are artists, some are doctors, and some are athletes. Politics is part of who we are as a family. And I think if you want real change for this nation you have to take an interest in politics and know who you are voting for. As they say, ‘Evil prospers when good people do nothing’.
What changes do you wish to see in your electorate and in Papua New Guinea?
This is such a big question that will raise more questions than answers, but one that is close to my heart. I was educated in Australia and in Papua New Guinea and I want to see health-care standards similar to those of Australia here in Papua New Guinea. Why should politicians and elite business families send their families to other countries for medical treatment when their brethren are dying in our dilapidated hospital beds from treatable diseases? My experiences witnessing deaths are many. But the lives that have been lost are too many to count; those people died in pain, alone, and unnoticed. How much longer do we have to go on like this? I want to see equal distribution of opportunity, health, wealth, education, and sealed roads to every village. I want the people of this nation to take hold of their real inheritance as kings and queens, princes and princesses. This country is blessed beyond measure… I want real vision for Papua New Guinea.
How do you think the country would run if roles were reversed and women had the majority of seats in parliament?
How does a woman run her home? Is Papua New Guinea not her home?
What is the biggest myth about politics in Papua New Guinea?
That politics is a man’s game.
What needs to change in order for women to have equal rights in Papua New Guinea?
The attitude of most men towards women in this nation needs to change. Many men claim to be Christian and read the bible but God did not make man to have dominion over woman. Men need to start respecting women as human beings first and foremost, as the mothers of their children, as their friends and equal partners in family development, community development, and national development. The 2007-2012 government showed its complete disregard for women’s seats by keeping them on the edge of their seats and hanging on a last thread of hope. The kickback of those decisions means that a lot of our male counterparts in the election will be losing to women. A lot of women are standing in these elections and God willing some are sure to come home victorious.
What would be the benefit of 22 reserved seats for women?
The reserved seats are actually called women’s seats. They are a temporary measure put in place for a set period of time agreed upon by the government. The model is used in several countries. The benefit of women’s seats is that voters would get used to seeing women in seats of power. The women’s seats were to have been elected democratically by all electors throughout Papua New Guinea, a similar election to that of the Governors of our provinces. There would be women representatives voted into parliament by men, women, and youth of this nation.
Do women’s seats have any downsides?
My first impression was that it was a sympathy or tokenistic seat for those who would never be able to make it into parliament based on merit or leadership qualities. Perhaps it is the notion that if you don’t have money, guns, or don’t use violence you won’t be able to get into parliament. I also had doubts about the democracy of women’s seats because it discriminated against 50 per cent of the population. I was not sure that women in these seats would be truly recognised and respected as a leader by the people of Papua New Guinea. But that is the very reason I decided to stand for the 2012 elections. I want my people to recognise me as the leader of their choice regardless of whether I am a male or a female.
What are some obstacles to women winning seats in parliament?
Literacy is a major obstacle. We need an easier voting system to cater for the illiterate population. Women’s attitudes towards men – complaining about men, how hopeless that are, how lazy they are, how awful they are – will not win votes. Women also have to change their attitude towards each other. Cut out the jealously and hatred and let in the love, care, nurturing, and encouragement. I believe when women can trust each other to lead, then men will also trust us to lead. We have to give ourselves the chance to lead as women. The power is actually in our hands. To win by an absolute majority you need to get 50 per cent of formal votes plus one. If every woman in every electorate plus one man voted for a woman then every electorate would have women leaders. It is as simple as that. We have come a long way in a short period of time and I believe we will continue to develop at a similar rate. A majority of women in parliament is only a generation away. Wait until this country sees what a parliament with a majority of women can do. We are not far off having our first female Prime Minister.
What has been your biggest obstacle so far?
Fundraising and having the confidence to fundraise. I am used to being a giver and now the roles are reversed it has been very difficult. But for the sake of my people and my supporters I just have to do it.
What inspires you to push forward in politics?
The future that we will forge for our children inspires me to push forward, and the lives of all those in this country that need quality leadership, true servant leadership; the kind that Jesus Christ himself demonstrated, the greatest leader that ever walked the face of this earth.
*Since publishing this article in 2012, Jennifer’s children are: Yavita – 9, Micah – 7, Lilly – 1 and she is due with baby no. 4 in April.
Jennifer will not be running in the 2017 election.
Thursday, 20th April ..... The Issue of Writs and Nominations open
Thursday 27th April ..... Nominations close
Sunday 24th June ..... Polling to start
Sunday 8th July ..... Polling to end
on or before Monday 24th July ..... Return of Writs
Monday 7th August ..... Return of Writs for LLG Election
N.B Commissioner Gamato said the nomination period is seven days, from 20th to 27th April, campaigning eight weeks from 20th April to 8th July and the polling period is 14 days, from 24th June to 8th July.
Stay informed by visiting the PNG Electoral Commission website.