Decision makers in action - Pacific panel event at the UN Commission of the Status of Women

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05 March 2010

WHILE electoral systems such as New Zealand's MMP system introduced in 1996 are entry points for women in a country which gave women the vote in 1842 and has already boasted two female prime ministers, in other parts of the Pacific, the difficulty of introducing temporary special measures, such as the Solomon Islands, and other institutional, financial and cultural barriers as well as developmental realities are some of the reasons why the Pacific parliaments remain notoriously under-represented by women.

These were the issues raised in a Pacific panel event at the UN Commission of the Status of Women yesterday featuring the Pansy Wong, Minister for Women's Affairs and Minister for Ethnic Affairs, New Zealand, the first New Zealand Cabinet Minister of Chinese ethnicity together with Fiame Mata'afa, Minister for Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa.

"There are quite a few things that the Pacific is famous for, but one thing that we are infamous for, is being the least represented by women in the world," said a candid Mata'afa who suggested that while there are several reasons for the low numbers, campaigns dating back to the Decade for Women (1975-1985) to improve the numbers in parliament have certainly worked to address the gap:

"I know that the issue of women in decision making, women in politics was one of the concerns, and at that time, there was a problem with data, as we still have. But the writings at the time suggested that there might be a correlation between the level of development of a country and the rate of representation by women.  I would think that is a fair comment in terms of what is happening in the Pacific, and the level of development in our respective countries."

Mata'afa noted however, that indeed the experience in the Pacific is varied and there had been consistent increases in representation by women in parliament in Fiji, up until the last coup in Fiji, noting that there had been two entry points since the 1970s, including the appointment of women to the Senate (Upper House) which complemented the election of women into the House of Representatives.

[Fiji Times - Sharon Bhagwan]

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