Pacific Women's Political Empowerment Research Group

    About Us

    Women’s political representation is a major component of both the Human Development Index and the Gender Development Index.  The right of women to have equal participation in formal decision making processes is recognised in international conventions, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Articles 4 and 7) . 

    UN Women identifies women’s participation as one of the major development challenges. In October 2020, globally only 25.1% of all national parliamentarians were women. The Pacific region, (excluding Australia, New Zealand and US and French Territories) has the lowest level of women’s representation of the world with only 8.8% of women parliamentarians (UNDP Pacific Women in Politics - See This lack of representation of women is linked to complex social, cultural, political and economic factors.

    The Pacific Women’s Political Empowerment Research Group sits within the Cairns Institute at James Cook University. Our research relates to the Cairns Institute's research theme - Social & Environmental Justice – the goal of which is to assist communities to respond to social and environmental change and increase social inclusion through projects committed to social justice, health and wellbeing.

    The Group aims to conduct research and engage in development practice that will support increased political representation of women in the Pacific region, particularly focusing on PNG, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, in the Melanesian subregion. 

    Our Research

    The Pacific Women’s Political Empowerment Research Group seeks to:

    • Address research and knowledge gaps in women’s political empowerment and representation through longitudinal or specific research topics; 
    • Support the empowerment of women through providing evidence of what works, including the effectiveness of candidate training and other activities; 
    • Conduct research into major gaps in systemic, institutional and policy processes to support women’s political empowerment; 
    • Identify the role of male leaders as advocates for women’s political empowerment;
    • Identify best practices from around the world that may be adapted to the region;
    • Share research and knowledge to support change at the practice level;
    • Forge effective partnerships with Pacific institutions, academics and postgraduate students to further the women’s political empowerment agenda in Melanesia. 

    Leadership Team

    Woman with glasses and short hair picturedDr Lesley Clark is an Adjunct Research Fellow with The Cairns Institute having worked with James Cook University as a lecturer and Director of Equity. She has extensive knowledge of politics in Australia serving as an elected representative at local and State level for 20 years. Since retiring as the Member for Barron River Dr Clark has undertaken a range of consultancy projects in the Asia Pacific region to increase the political participation of women through election observation missions, designing and delivering campaign training workshops for women candidates, providing support to political parties, designing programs for donor agencies to increase political participation of Pacific women, and providing mentoring support to women candidates.

    Dr Clark is currently the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Champion for the Alumni Initiative, a project of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Network which aims to use mentoring by experienced Members of Parliament to support newly elected women parliamentarians across the Commonwealth.

    Woman with glassesProfessor Betty Lovai is the Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor (ASA) of the University of Papua New Guinea. She is also the Executive Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. She was nominated as the university’s alternate representative to the PNG NRI Council in 2016. Professor Lovai received the United States Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in recognition of her exceptional courage and leadership in Human Rights, Gender Equality and HIV and AIDS in 2010.

    Professor Lovai is the Chairperson of the HIV and AIDS Research Advisory Committee and PNG’s representative on the Pacific Women Research Strategy Advisory Group. She is a member of the Environment Council of Papua New Guinea (second term), member of the Lands Development Advisory Group under the National Land Development Program, member of Women in Political Leadership Reference Group, and member of Coalition of Public Service Women in Leadership Committee. Since 2010, she has served as the University representative on HIV and AIDS Research Advisory Committee on the National AIDS Council Secretariat. She is also a Judge on the 2016 and 2017 Men of Honour Award Campaign (Run by Digicel Foundation).

    Notable among her past achievements is her role as a Commissioner on the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission for two terms, Chairperson of PNG Sustainable Development Program Limited Advisory Council, UN Women Advisory Committee 2012 and as the Director on the PNG Sustainable Infrastructure Ltd Company Board.
    Professor Lovai brings to the Council, a wealth of knowledge and experience at the academic level, social works and as a well-recognised and prominent Papua New Guinean woman who is well versed with the many issues affecting women in the country.


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