Pacific Island Women in Parliament encouraged

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14 November 2008

Women in Parliament encouraged-  Pacific Island nations believe special measures are needed in place to increase the representation of women in parliament.  The conference of the Pacific Parliamentary Assembly on Population and Development (PPAPD) and the 7th Forum Presiding Officers and Clerks Conference (FPOCC) heard that Pacific Island states are amongst countries that have the lowest level of womens representation in parliament.  In a presentation to the conference, Dr Jon Fraenkel of the Australian National University said efforts to increase womens representation had taken a very short and narrow view, reports Pacnews.

Programmes have often entailed training exercises, sometimes only weeks before an election, and these are usually targeted at the small group of women who stand as candidates, he said.  Dr Fraenkel said the primary problem in the Pacific was not the number of women candidates, but the immense gender-related hostility they encountered on the campaign trail, which was very discouraging. Not only were there few women MPs in Pacific parliaments, few women stood for election in the first place.

"Sometimes, an election focuses on an issue that becomes so politically significant that all other questions are forgotten.  "In Fiji's 1999 election, for example, there was a strong emphasis on getting women elected and the number of women MPs rose from three to eight.  "Then there was the coup in 2000 and that became the focus of the 2001 election," he said.  He added that another reason for this episodic trend is schism within the womens movement.

"People are often happy to campaign for the right sort of women to get elected, but if the most likely candidates are political adversaries, the willingness to emphasise gender issues at elections wanes," Dr Fraenkel noted.  The conference heard that to substantially increase the number of women in parliaments, there was a need to introduce proportional representation systems or some form of direct affirmative action. 

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