Focus on more women politicians at Workshop for Pacific Parliaments in Apia

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08th August, 2012

Speaker of Samoas Parliament and the Prime Minister with delegates after official opening of IPU Regional Workshop in Apia (PHOTO by Talamua)

Inter Parliamentary Union focuses on more women politicians. Ensuring more women participation in politics and parliaments is one of the main focuses of the Regional Community Engagement Workshop for Pacific Parliaments that drew to close in Apia this week. The two day meeting was organized by the Parliament of Australia.  It was officially opened by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

Samoa’s Speaker of Parliament, La’auli Leuatea Polataivao Fosi Schmidt welcomed the delegates saying, “We are honored to host this regional workshop which will seek strength in democracy,” he said.  La’auli said that this workshop is all about sharing information between different parliaments and members of parliament discussed the Constitution upon which their parliaments are based upon, law making, bills, proposed legislations and the relationship between Members of Parliament and their constituencies.  “This is all about sharing and there is a different Constitution for each parliament. Other parliaments are unstable but everything is fine in Samoa. Maybe other parliaments will ask us how we maintain peace and harmony within Samoa,” he said.

The Director of the Division of Programmes for the Inter–Parliamentary Union, Martin Chungong stated the purpose of the workshop. “The purpose of this workshop is to discuss how parliaments work with communities. One of the issues that will be discussed is representation in parliaments. I am interested in talking about women’s political representation in the Pacific as it is something that is lacking,” he said.  Martin says it is important to bring women’s perspectives in parliament as parliament reaches out to communities and it is up to them to make decisions.

The 11 countries taking part include Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa.  Over 30 participants from around the Pacific are attending together with Speakers from Cook Islands, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Samoa taking part. In the first session the Global Parliamentary Report: The changing nature of parliamentary representation based on research by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and United Nations Development Programme of parliaments across the world were discussed.

Low Women representation

According to the research, the representation of women and men in parliament stands at a global average of women: 19.7 per cent and men: 80.3 per cent. Director Martin said women now stand at 20 per cent. For the Pacific the average percentage of women represented in parliament is 17.2 per cent, Martin says this is mainly because of the number of the women in the Australian and New Zealand parliament. Also in the statistics was the global average of Member of Parliament’s ages. Women were at the average of 50 years and men at 53 years. For Sub Saharan Africa, 49 years and Upper Chamber at 59 years. Eighty per cent parliamentarians are between 40-60 years.

For profession the main categories are:

  • Liberal professions-28 per cent
  • Private Sector-19 per cent
  • Politics and public sector-18 per cent
  • Education- 12 per cent

In the research the perceptions of the MPs most important role was also discussed. For MPs they believed law making was the top most priority at 52 per cent and for citizens, solving constituents’ problems was considered important at 37 per cent.

Expectations of constituents for their Members of Parliament ranged from accountability as they expected more responsiveness and information about parliament. Another notion raised was that elections are no longer sufficient. There are expectations of greater transparency and limits on the parliamentary mandate. There are also parliamentary monitoring organizations, with 190 organizations in 80 countries and also parliamentary scorecards in place.

The second expectation by constituents is constituency service. Director Martin said constituents are looking to parliament to provide more by seeking jobs, paying school fees and development projects. These things make the most impact also reconciling local and national work such as resources for constituency work, staff, office space, travel allowances and constituency development funds.

The third expectation is engaging citizens. This is through establishing communication through radio, television and internet, visiting parliament on open days, talking to the people. Director Martin said that social media such as facebook, twitter, youtube and mobile phones were also used by MPs to communicate what they are doing. Consultations such as public hearings, local meetings and contribution to parliamentary committees are considered another form of communication.

Parliaments are resilient! This is a continual evolution: a strategic approach to reform, understanding changing expectations and enhancing the role of MPs. Resilience and renewal is modernizing parliament by building new relationships with citizens and is it fit for the 21st century?


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