Samoan Prime Minister dismisses call for referendum on Women's Bill

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21 February 2012

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has strongly dismissed a call from the Opposition Party to hold a referendum on the planned legislation to improve women representation in Parliament. The call was made by Tautua Samoa Party Leader, Palusalue Faapo II, last week. But Prime Minister Tuilaepa said this is unnecessary. “That is why districts elect their representatives to Parliament. So they go in and make these sorts of decisions without Parliament having to go back to the people again and again." 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi

If the Opposition leader cannot make such a decision, then he shouldn’t be in Parliament,” Tuilaepa is quoted in Government statement. For 40 years, women have been represented in Parliament. There is no need to ask the public. “The bill is to improve women representation in Parliament by guaranteeing that at least five women will be in Parliament after each general election. It’s not a huge bill.”He explained that if less than five are elected, then women who scored the highest percentage of votes in their constituencies will make up the balance. 

“But if five or more women win seats then this particular piece of (planned) legislation will not be activated.” The Prime Minister said there was growing concern with the declining number of women who run for office and the subsequent, declining number of women who make it to Parliament. “In 2006, 19 women contested the general elections and four made it in. Nine ran at last year’s elections and only two are in Parliament. Next general elections there may not be any more women in Parliament.”

Tuilaepa said he was familiar with the issue of some villages disallowing women from taking up matai titles — a prerequisite for contesting general elections. “Titles are the sovereignty of families and villages and government shouldn’t interfere with it. While some families ban women title holders, many more do not. “Everybody has family who give out titles to their women. There are also the sa’o tamaitai titles and taupou titles that only women can ascribe to and can take with them to Parliament.”Tuilaepa pointed out that there is a gender disparity in terms of roles when it comes to running for public office. 

“While young boys have a lot of freedom, young girls tend to stay home and do their studies. That is why every year we have more girls taking up scholarship placements than boys. “And when they do come back with their degrees, they work hard and don’t stray far from home. Unlike young men who tend to patronize bars and night clubs. When they get married and have children, women again stay home, take care of the kids and the household. Again, their husbands go to work, play golf, have a few beers afterwards with their mates and get home after ten at night. Men also have all the freedom to run for Parliament minus the home responsibilities left to their wives.

“Women who run for office are either those who choose to remain single and not have children, or old women whose children have all grown up and have taken up an interest in politics. “That, I think, is not equal opportunity. There is a disparity in the roles and responsibilities of men and women which affects women’s ability and access to public office. 

This bill aims to level that field by encouraging more women to run for office.”Last week, Palusalue Fa’apo said the Tautua Samoa Party is not against having more women in Parliament but it opposes plans to amend the Constitution to introduce the change.“We support having more women in Parliament,” he said. “Our Party president is a woman and that shows how much we care about the development of women.” But Palusalue said women should be given the opportunity through the same process as men. “We see this will occur in due process and there will be women in Parliament. Our Constitution already guarantees the rights of women.”There are many issues that need to be resolved, Palusalue pointed out. 

“A public referendum should be undertaken for an appropriate decision in this matter. There are villages that do not allow women to be bestowed matai titles so the government should look at what should be done since the law already gives this right to women.” Palusalue said the opinion of women must be sought.“When a Samoan woman is born, her role is already pre-destined. She is a leader and if that means she is a Parliamentarian, we have no doubt that it will happen.”

[Samoa Observer]  

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