Supporting active voting and independent decision making in elections in Bougainville

The Voter Education Project in Bougainville has had tremendous success in reaching and teaching disenfranchised voters about the election process. Over 20 months, the Bougainville Women’s Federation and International Women’s Development Agency provided education about voting rights and responsibilities to 22,463 women and female youth, including 206 with disabilities and 21,368 men and male youth, including 383 with disabilities and another 53 people with disabilities.  These voters were able to use these skills in the 2017 Papua New Guinea national elections.

The project focused on the historically disenfranchised group of people, now aged 35–45, who grew up during the Crisis. Due to the conflict in Bougainville between 1988 and 1998, these women and men had limited opportunities for education and continue to be at risk of marginalisation. Whilst the project targeted both women and men, it paid particular attention to engaging women. This is because the experiences of post-conflict trauma and disadvantage suffered by this particular group intersects with more generalised patterns of women’s disenfranchisement from democratic processes in Bougainville and across the Pacific.

Using a community trainer model, the project provided on-the-ground education about voting, elections and making informed decisions as a voter in over 740 communities. Women were seen by communities in leadership roles, as 22 of the 43 community trainers were women. The voter education workshops included mock elections, which many participants viewed as the highlight. The use of local languages, good governance DVDs and mock elections were critical in distilling complex processes into accessible information.

Detailed data is not available from the Office of the Bougainville Electoral Commission from the 2017 national elections to verify the impact of the project on voting patterns in the specific communities that received training. However, the Commission has confirmed that the number of informal votes was less than in the 2012 national election and the 2015 Autonomous Bougainville Government election.

Reports from election observers evidenced that women were well represented in the ballot boxes. Women reported confidently casting their votes based on their own decisions, rather than as a result of influence or coercion from male family members. One such women is 23 year old Linda from Hagogohe Constituency. She was a first time voter at the 2017 national election. She says that, as a result of attending the voter education community awareness workshop, she learned to listen to the candidates as they campaigned. Before polling day, she had made her own decision on her three preferred candidates. She felt confident in checking her name on the electoral roll, dipping her fingers in ink and taking her ballot paper. Although she admits to feeling nervous as she walked to the polling booth, she found it easy to cast her vote because she had already made her choice of candidates. She felt happy to use her right to vote freely for people she trusted would make a change in Bougainville, based on their campaign promises.

A further outcome of the project included the opportunity for Bougainville Women’s Federation to increase its profile throughout Bougainville. The project enabled them to share with communities about the role they play within community and government, particularly that it works with both women and men to achieve equitable outcomes for women and girls. Bougainville Women’s Federation is hopeful that it will soon become a government entity through their proposed bill to the Autonomous Bougainville Government (currently under review), which would position them as Bougainville’s equivalent to the Papua New Guinea National Council for Women.

Find out more in the Voter Education Project ‘s Final Report: https://pacificwomen.org/resources/voter-education-project-final-report/