25th June, 2013
The Legislative Assembly of the Samoan Parliament has voted unanimously in support of a bill to amend the Constitution to reserve five seats or 10 per cent of the 49 parliamentary seats for women electoral candidates. The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, La’auliLeuatea Fosi, has called it ‘a new dawn for women’. The Constitution Amendment Act 2013 was passed by the Parliament on 24 June 2013 despite strong opposition by the Tautua Samoa party in the months leading up to the vote. Tautua Samoa had argued that the Government should seek the community’s views through a referendum and noted that, in some villages, women were not allowed to hold the title of matai (chief) which is a prerequisite for parliamentary candidates seeking election to the Samoan Parliament.
According to data maintained by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, women comprised 20.9 per cent or one-fifth of all parliamentarians in the 189 national parliaments surveyed as at 1 July 2013. Samoa ranked 134 in the survey, with just two seats (4.1 per cent) held by women. The Pacific region had the lowest average percentage (12.8 per cent) of women holding seats in single or lower Houses. Australiais currently ranked 45thin the IPU survey. Given the slow progress internationally in increasing women’s parliamentary representation, many countries have adopted some form of quota system. Reserved seats are one type of gender quota which is mandated in the constitution or through electoral legislation. Gender quotas have proved to be an effective means of improving the gender balance in some parliaments, although the concept of a quota has attracted wide debate. The Quota Project summarises the most commonly cited pros and cons of gender quotas on its website.
Australia is playing an important role in addressing gender inequality in the Pacific region. In August 2012 the Prime Minister the Hon. Julia Gillard MP announced that Australia would give $320 million to Pacific Island countries under the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program to help empower women and promote gender equality. This 10-year initiative aims to expand women’s leadership and promote economic and social opportunities for women in the region. It includes the provision of mentoring and training to female members of parliament and candidates to help women influence national and local politics and stand for election. The first forum of the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships project was co-hosted by the Australian Parliament and the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians group in Sydney this year.
[Source: Parliament of Australia website]