13th May, 2013
Report – By Michael Sergel and Finian Scott in Wellington
Samoan high chief and senior cabinet minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa says the representation of women in the Pacific is simply not good enough.
She opened speeches at Day 3 of the Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders Forum in Wellington today, in a delivery that has set the mood for the conference.
“Everyone knows that the Pacific has the lowest rate of women’s participation in Parliament,” she told Pacific Scoop.
“One of the points that I was making was the role of the leaders, to pick on current issues and responsibilities – and that’s where gender equity comes in.”
She says that minimum representation requirements were a minimum but necessary measure in Samoa.
“We are just processing an amendment to our constitution that essentially provides a minimum of 10 percent of representation of women in Parliament,” she said.
“Personally I’m not a fan of temporary measures, but I can step back personally to realise that if you don’t make institutional provisions, it’s not going to change.”
She says parliaments with women are inherently different to parliaments without women.
“Unless you have people in there, you won’t know the difference. I have been there when we had just four women, and it changed the dynamic of Parliament, and changed the dynamic in the party caucus,” she said.
“We need a variety of women. I am single, I was young when in entered Parliament. The older married women could give it to the men in a way that I could never do.”
In the opening speech of the conference, Afioga Mata’afa told delegates females needed to have “equal opportunities, equal rights and equal value” to their male counterparts. She said such equality was inherently linked to the social, political and economic development of the entire Pacific community.
Ending violence against women, gender and sexual discrimination, and providing equal representation of women in parliament should be shared goals for every Pacific nation, she said.
She called for “concrete steps”, including Parliamentary quotas, political inductions, better working conditions, and better support staff to train government in gender issues.
She also showed delegates E Au le Ina’ilau a Tama’ita, a Samoan film funded by the Australian-backed Pacmas sponsorship group.
The film talked to those who believed women’s rights were part of Samoan cultural tradition, and those who believed it was entirely incompatible with Christian belief.
Afioga Mata’afa reminded delegates that only 4 percent of Pacific parliamentarians outside of the French Pacific are women, and only 11 percent of Samoan matai are female.
“Women can make a meaningful contribution – even greater than men – if given the opportunity by men,” she said.
The motion, put forward by Afioga Mata’afa, moves “that steps be taken in all of our countries to lift the status of women in the Pacific and to empower them to be active participants in economic, political and social life – we should promote the equality of opportunity for all people in the Pacific region.”
Michael Sergel and Finian Scott are Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalists at AUT University. They are covering the Pacific politics forum for Pacific Scoop and the Pacific Media Centre as an Asia-Pacific Journalism assignment.