The 2015 Bougainville election was a milestone for women’s political representation. The largest ever cohort of women candidates contested; one candidate, Josephine Getsi in Peit constituency, became the first women elected to the House of Representatives in an open seat. She joins the three women members elected in reserved seats in a House that now has 10 per cent women’s representation, although the number of women in Cabinet remains the same as in previous terms, at one. For many women candidates, however, the results of the election were disappointing, mirroring recent elections elsewhere in Melanesia, which has one of the lowest rates of women’s political representation in the world. While Josephine Getsi’s win is a notable individual achievement, it would appear that the vast majority of women candidates still face significant barriers to election.
This Discussion Paper examines the question of how women contest and win elections in Bougainville, through an analysis of the campaign experiences of successful, near-successful and less successful women candidates. It adds to the empirical literature on women’s political representation in the region through an in-depth study of women candidates in the 2015 Bougainville election: their profiles, motivations and campaign strategies. Furthermore, it analyses the impacts of three issues that emerged as common themes in discussions around women’s participation in political decision-making in Bougainville: the electoral system, money politics and matrilineal traditions.