Boosting women’s political participation as Pacific delegates explore options

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05th July, 2016

The various options Pacific island jurisdictions have taken to increase the numbers of women in parliaments and representative bodies was the topic of discussion at a regional conference held in Port Moresby this week. Roy Trivedy, United Nations Resident Coordinator and United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative noted, “each Pacific country will approach this issue in their own way, but I am hopeful that this conference will allow different countries to learn from each other to ensure that women increasingly take their rightful places in Pacific parliaments.”

Pacific Island legislatures have some of the world’s lowest numbers of women among their elected representatives. As of July 2015, women legislators across the Pacific accounted for less than 6 per cent of all parliamentarians. Women entering politics face local cultural obstacles and gender bias, including opposition from men in parliament. Although women are increasingly accepted in general decision-making roles across the Pacific, they remain poorly represented in elected office.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and UN Women, is hosting the conference examining the use of temporary special measures to increase the number of women in Pacific parliaments.

The Pacific Regional Conference on Strengthening Women’s Participation in Parliaments, is being held in Port Moresby from 23-25 November, and brings together representatives from 13 countries in the Pacific to discuss the barriers to women’s political participation, and case studies of Pacific experiences of temporary special measures to raise the number of women in parliaments. The countries participating are Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Conference delegate, Speaker of the Cook Islands Parliament, the Hon Nikki Rattle said, “this is an excellent opportunity to see what other countries in the Pacific are doing to address the issue of increasing women’s political participation. We know that getting more women into parliament is a significant issue for Pacific island countries, and each country will need to address this issue in its own particular way. A conference like this allows us to see firsthand how places like Samoa and New Caledonia are using temporary special measures to address this issues.”

The Conference is aimed at providing information on practical experiences with temporary special measures in the Pacific, and focuses on the following questions: how could temporary special measures increase women’s representation in parliaments; which countries have introduced legally binding temporary special measures; and what were the steps taken by case study countries that followed a process from agreeing that temporary special measures were needed through to implementing them.

In 2012, the Pacific Island Forum Leaders endorsed and committed to the Gender Equality Declaration 2012, which included temporary special measures – such as legislation to establish reserved seats for women and political party reforms – to accelerate women’s full and equal participation in governance reform at all levels and women’s leadership in all decision making.

[Source: UNDP Asia Pacific website, November 23rd, 2016]

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