Pacific Women in Power Forum discusses pathways to increase women’s political participation

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27th March, 2019

27 March 2019

Nadi, Fiji – In recognising that the Pacific, as a region, has the lowest level of women’s political representation globally, concerted efforts are being made to ensure equal representation in respective national parliaments. 30 women Members of Parliament from six Pacific island countries are participating in the Pacific Women in Power Forum organised by the United Nations Development Programme Pacific Office in Fiji (UNDP).

The two-day Forum, with funding support from the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and Japan, provides a space for Pacific women MPs to interact and engage on key issues relevant to their leadership roles and the Pacific context in general. Some of the topics discussed in the Forum include the development of support networks for women MPs, encouraging more women in politics, the development of effective candidate training, and information on economic empowerment, integrity and leadership.

In delivering his address as one of the key note speakers opening the Forum, the Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji, Honourable Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, highlighted the need for more equal representation to ensure more equal, stable and prosperous societies.  

“Not only are we tasked with breaking the chains of intergenerational poverty, but also, we are similarly challenged to break the cycle of gender inequality, now and for all generations to come”, said Hon. Ratu Nailatikau.

“Women are an essential, crucial catalyst to sustainable developments, so let us ensure their empowerment so we can live in a more equal, sustainable, stable and prosperous world.” 

He added, “Pacific women have always been extremely influential behind the scenes but now all over the region, they are finding a new and very clear voice in public life and we must do everything possible to make that voice heard, listened to and acted upon not only regionally but internationally.”

In the last decade, resources have been dedicated to programmes aimed at increasing women’s political leadership and participation, but progress has been slow, and in the case of some countries like the Federated States of Micronesia it has been non-existent, or even declined as in the case of Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

In her key note address to the Forum, the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, the Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa drew from the Samoa context and highlighted that while the Pacific as a region has a long way to go, there are options for parliaments to consider in order to create change.

“A challenge for us here in the Pacific is that we are not sure how the process for Temporary Special Measures (TSM) would be implemented and people tie themselves up on how it would be implemented, and the end result is that countries don’t then implement TSM”, said Hon. Fiame.

Temporary Special Measures refer to measures to increase the number of women elected to parliaments through the adoption of electoral gender quotas.  Samoa is the only country in the Pacific which has adopted Temporary Special Measures at a national level in order to guarantee that a minimum of 10% of MPs in Parliament are women. Other Pacific countries have introduced TSMs at sub-national level.

“One of the positive things about the Samoa situation is that it has presented a model that can easily be replicated if other countries wish to do so”, said Hon. Fiame.

Speaking on behalf of the Speaker of the Parliament of the Cook Islands, Hon. Niki Rattle, who was unable to join the Forum, the Minister for Health for the Cook Islands, Hon. Vainetutai Rose Toki-Brown delivered her key-note address speaking to the theme of the Forum; “It’s About Time: Women Changing the Pacific”.

“I believe that the Cook Islands has stood up to the challenge of this bold statement with 6 women MPs out of 24 Members and a woman Speaker with this being the highest numbers ever”, said Hon. Brown

“Another historical development for Cook Islands women is that for the second time only, the Leader of the Opposition, is the Democratic Party’s Hon. Tina Browne. The role of the Leader of a Political Party has been a male dominant position for 53 years but not anymore.”

She added, “We also made history with the election of a 22-year-old woman MP Te Hani Brown, who is the youngest MP ever in the Cook Islands and in the Pacific.”

Through this Forum, UNDP promotes South-South Pacific and knowledge sharing and cross learning. These connections provide an effective platform for interaction and sharing of best practices for Pacific women MPs who share common contexts and challenges.

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