Dame Carol Kidu Retires

By Carey Wagner | May 16, 2012 | Papua New Guinea

Dame Carol Kidu, former Leader of the Opposition for Papua New Guinea, in Port Moresby on April 4, 2012. Photo: Carey Wagner

When I met Dame Carol Kidu while covering gender based violence in Papua New Guinea, one of the first things she told me was, “I don’t want to go down in history as being like I was labeled in a newspaper article.” They had called her a women’s advocate. She argued, “Yes, I have taken up many women’s issues, but I would rather say that I’m just concerned about people and human rights for all people.” But, shortly after I walked in her Parliament office door, a group of women walked out. One said she sought Dame Carol’s advice on how to be a leader in politics.

The Parliament seats were filled by 108 men and 1 woman. That woman was Dame Carol Kidu, leader of the Opposition. Now that she gave her retirement speech yesterday, I wonder how she will be remembered. Just a few days ago a video was posted of her being pulled away by police as she tried to stop bulldozers from taking down a settlement community being paved for a development project. Jo Chandler says in a Sydney Morning Herald article of her final farewell, “Mind you, other tweeters observed that the applause from fellow MPs was a bit muted – perhaps as a result of her passing swipe at some of them having one or two wives too many. The feisty Dame is rarely accused of failing to speak her mind.”

After leaving Australia to marry her love from Papua New Guinea in 1969, with a nice bio here, the now 63 year-old widow told me she wants to focus on making change for her own community and family in Port Moresby. She told me, “I live on indigenous land. I don’t have water. I carry water everyday in drums to my house.” Residents in settlements in her district had complained to me about the same thing. They wanted running water and wanted Dame Carol to fix the roads.

She didn’t shy away from addressing the ongoing complaints of problems in government. “This city has large amounts of money and they are being misdirected into beatification instead of fundamentals like engineering and roads,” she said. “We have some fundamental problems in the development process in this country and I believe that until we address them we are going to struggle like we are now.” There is an influx of wealth from resource mining and development in PNG, yet a lack of social services. Maybe Dame Carol’s future commitment to working at the grassroots level will bring some success.

Even if she doesn’t want to be remembered as a woman’s advocate, I’ll remember her as an incredibly impressive woman who inspires women across the globe. And I’m sure this will not be last we hear of her, yet.

Carey Wagner reported from Papua New Guinea with a grant from the International Reporting Project (IRP). Read more for Wagner on her blog.

Dame Carol Kidu, former Leader of the Opposition for Papua New Guinea, in Port Moresby on April 4, 2012. Photo: Carey Wagner

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