Letter From Suva: 'women of the Pacific have every reason to celebrate'

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01 December 2011

Letter From Suva: A ray of sunshine
It is December again—the end of another year. And as we look back on how we’ve performed during the year, women of the Pacific have every reason to celebrate. First, the good news from Kiribati. For the first time in the country’s history, four women are now joining parliament after successfully beating their opponents fair and square in the country’s recent election. The four are Rereao Tetaake (Teraina in the Line Islands); Teima Onorio (Arorae); Tangariki Reete (Betio, South Tarawa); and Maere Tekanene (Tarawa Teinainano, South Tarawa).  What is most significant about this election is that one of those women pulled off what could only be described as the major upset of the elections. A new face in Kiribati’s political scene, who contested the elections for the first time after the loss of her father, Reete stunned the nation after winning the first round of the election. And not only that, she became the first woman ever to win in the most populated constituency in Kiribati and that’s Betio—an island and a town at the extreme southwest of South Tarawa with a population of 12,509. Her late father also stood in that constituency. A political observer in Kiribati says Reete’s win was also a catalyst for constituents on the other side of South Tarawa known as Tarawa Teinainano to elect a female MP.

“All in all, the election of the four women MPs is an achievement in itself and all the advocacy work carried out by advocacy groups and NGOs to get women into politics has finally paid off. In fact, it is good to see that women are getting into parliament through their own hard work and sweat, rather than getting in there through special privileges. I take my hat off to these ladies and it goes to show that women can compete with men on a level playing field and win,” the observer said. And that’s not the only good news. In Papua New Guinea, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill could be seeing more women supporters for his party after his government acted decisively to get the first part of the equality bill approved after it was almost dead and buried by the Somare Government. This move by government partially opened the door for women to enter politics via 22 reserved seats. The 109-seat parliament in Port Moresby, a hotbed of controversy with clashes between government and the opposition MPs recently, voted in unison 72-2 to amend the constitution to cater for the change. But there are still a lot to be done before the women’s seats are created in parliament. What was passed by parliament was the first hurdle. Parliament must now deal with the second part which is the organic law amendments. The amendments give details of how many women seats will be created and will specify the boundaries for these women electorates. This bill requires a two-thirds majority of 73 votes and must pass two separate readings. If what we’re reading in the media is anything to go by, then PNG women need not worry. They have an ally in PM O’Neill.

“I want to assure the women folk that our government is not about mere rhetoric like the past regime has demonstrated on many occasions. The vote underpins our government’s resolve to have women participate equally in leadership and in all forms of economic and social activity. This what the constitution wants and that is what our government will deliver,” he said. But there’s been mixed reactions to this government move in PNG. Here’s what one blogger Reginald Renagi said on Sharp Talk: "PNG men have hogged the political landscape for too long and today is a defining moment for PNG women. Congratulations to our women for their long hard fight in the face of prejudice, discrimination, arrogance, intimidation and threats of violence by others in the community.” Another Sharp Talk blogger Marawe Pakalu said: “Democracy has no reservations for gender equality when it comes to the election of leaders into parliament. You have to earn your leadership and respect from the people, whether it be male or female, white or black, businessman or grassroot, criminal or judge…the polls will decide.” PNG’s action augurs well for the rest of the Pacific Islands. Some of them have already set the wheels in motion to ensure women are represented in the corridors of power. In Samoa for instance, where they have only one female MP, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has made it public that his government will reserve five seats for women before the next election in 2016. In Tuvalu, a workshop recommended that its parliament should consider a law to create two seats for women. In the Solomon Islands, former Prime Minister Danny Philip was planning to introduce nine seats for women in the country’s next election. But he was booted out before he could implement this. However, it will be interesting to see whether the new PM Gordon Darcy Lilo will advance this. In the Federated States of Micronesia, it has been proposed that four new seats be reserved for women. In line with French law, assemblies of French Pacific territories have half of the seats filled by women. In August, the world association of parliaments revealed that the number of women in parliaments was at a record high but warned that gender parity was still out of reach in many countries. At the end of 2010, women made up a fifth of parliamentarians worldwide, up from 16.3% in 2005. It highlighted the Pacific as weak, with four countries—Nauru, Solomons, Tonga and Tuvalu which held elections in 2010—returning no female MPs to parliament. But the Northern European states remained the leader in parliamentary gender parity with 39.3% of parliament made out of women in Belgium, 40.7% in the Netherlands and 45% in Sweden.

Women in politics was not the only achievement this year. Women power was also evident in sports. In fact, Pacific women upstaged the men in 2011, making it a sporting year to remember. IAAF World Athlete of the Year finalist, shot putter Valerie Adams; Commonwealth record holder weightlifter, Ele Opeloge; Taekwondo world champion Anne-Caroline Graffe; Australian netballer, Mo’onia Gerrard; swimmer Lara Grangeon; and the Fiji women’s rugby sevens team—all stood out in their respective sporting codes over the past 12 months (see story on page 36). Let’s hope that 2012 will be another good year for women of the Pacific.

[Islands Business - Laisa Taga, Editor-in-chief] December 2011 Issue

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