Women are still grossly under-represented in national parliaments. Papua New Guinea’s parliament currently has only 3 female members of parliament among the 111 members.
Kopilyo Ima, Director of Social Sectofrom the Department of Community Development and Religion highlighted that this was due to a number of reasons from domestic responsibilities, cultural attitudes on gender roles, lack of family support, confidence and finances.
In raising awareness and increasing women’s participation in politics and leadership roles, Julie Bukikun from the United Nations Development Program said a Practice Parliament Session for Women will be held in Port Moresby next week from the 6th to the 13th of March. This Session will provide a practical forum to expose participants to the realities of policy-making and being a parliamentarian.
This practice parliament session for women is organized by UNDP, the National Parliament, Department of Community Development and Religion and the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties.
Women Members of Parliament from Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Tuvalu and a candidate from the 2014 Tongan election, have come together in Wellington with New Zealand Members of Parliament to participate in the first Pacific Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Mentoring Programme. The Programme pairs an experienced New Zealand women Member of Parliament, with her Pacific counterpart for a long-term mentoring relationship. Over the course of this week the MPs will spend time sharing experiences and knowledge, and will establish a plan for keeping in contact, whether to ask for career advice or help with a parliamentary procedural issue.
The highest polling woman candidate in Tonga's last election says there's little support for women trying to get into parliament there.
The highest polling woman candidate in Tonga's last election says there's little encouragement or support in Tonga for women trying to get into parliament.
Tonga's parliament is all male after the 2014 election, despite 16 women candidates vying for a seat in the 26 member house.
Jenny Ligo speaks up for researved seats for women in Vanuatu.
Prime Minister Charlot Salwai introduced bills for 25 constitutional changes on Thursday, among them a bill to allow for reserved seats for women in Parliament.
The bill would ultimately go to a public referendum.
The chair of Women Against Crime and Corruption, Jenny Ligo, says people are afraid of breaking kastom and culture, but women should be a part of the decision making process at a national level.
‘I think nationwide we need to take it that Parliament is not only for men, they think Parliament is only for themselves and they are wrong,’ she said.
‘Women need to consider, that this is not about one group of women,it has to be a national issue, and women need to think national.’
Jenny Ligo wants up to 20 seats reserved for women.
Vanuatu proposal for a quota for women
A proposal to set a quota for women in Vanuatu’s parliament has split opinion. As Yasmine Bjornum discovered, many believe the challenges faced by Ni-Vanuatu women run much deeper.
Vanuatu is home to 260,000 people across 83 islands. It’s culturally diverse with more than 100 languages spoken.
When Vanuatu secured independence in 1980, it was a natural transition for chiefs and pastors to become members of parliament, as they were already leaders of the community.
To this day, custom still plays a role in the decision-making arena whether it’s at a national or grassroots level. In fact, the Vanuatu constitution recognises the National Council of Chiefs as a formal advisory body.
Vanuatu also prides itself in being a Christian nation. This can present complex problems as custom and Christianity are often used out of context to justify criminal or discriminatory behaviour, particularly towards women. It is common to hear of domestic violence being defended due to the ‘bride price’.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that women in Vanuatu have been marginalised from participating in government because it’s traditionally been considered a male domain.
What did come as a surprise was an announcement earlier this year from Justice Minister Ronald Warsal that the Council of Ministers had approved a constitutional amendment to allow for reserved seats for women in parliament.
Backlash to proposal
Many users of social media were quick to condemn the proposal as undemocratic. Cultural barriers and patriarchal attitudes were acknowledged as a factor for the under-representation of women but the overwhelming response was that if a woman really wanted to contest, nothing was stopping her from proving her leadership credentials.
People insisted that women need to mobilise themselves rather than be handed a ‘free-ride’ or a ‘short-cut’ through a quota system. Julian Ligo, the director of the Yumi Tok Tok Stret newspaper, argued that reserving seats for women is actually degrading and undermines the genuine efforts of women who are trying to get into parliament.
Gender equity is enshrined in Vanuatu’s constitution and the country has made international and national commitments including the ratification of the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1995, the National Gender Equality Policy 2015, the Millennium Development Goals and the Priorities and Action Agenda 2006-2011. So in theory, Vanuatu already has policies in place to ensure women are able to participate in elections equally as men. But in reality, the system doesn’t actively support women and they continue to be under-represented in national, provincial and municipal governments.
When CEDAW was adapted in 2013 to ensure that women were represented at a municipal level, five women were elected to councils in both Port Vila and Santo. Both towns now have female deputy Lord Mayors. Yet it is well known that these women are not fully accepted among their peers with reports of them being excluded from council meetings and being openly accused of having a ‘free-ride’. An insider from the Department of Women’s Affairs reveals female councillors are often expected to perform traditional gender roles such as secretarial work or preparing rooms for meetings.
USP law lecturer Anita Jowitt says that women in decision-making bodies are also subjected to double standards. ‘One of the arguments that I have heard is that female councillors have not done good jobs and speak about things without knowing much about them,’ Ms Jowitt says. ‘One has been seen out drinking and partying at nightclubs. This is exactly how some of our male-elected officials behave and it’s a discriminatory double standard. The arguments are nonsense – all elected officials should be held to the same standards of behaviour. I have also heard the argument that women’s organisations are rife with splits and women cannot support each other. My goodness – doesn’t this sound like the splits within the VP (Vanua’aku Pati) and UMP (Union of Moderate Parties)? Again double standards – men’s organisations also have the same problems.’
Calls for unity
The Vanuatu National Council of Women (VNCW) believes official policies and temporary measures aren’t enough. Since its establishment in May 1980, the VNCW says that the complex web of patriarchal attitudes, cultural barriers, lack of re-enforcement of gender equity legislation and the disunity among women organisations have contributed to women not being actively supported in the political arena. ‘The Vanuatu National Council of Women believes that women should be part of the decision making process. But the special measure of reserving seats for women in parliament has to be a consensus of all women in this nation,’ says Leas Cullwick, the Executive Director of VNCW. ‘We need to all come together and talk about this proposal and see if an amendment change is an appropriate action to ensure fairer representation. The way to move forward is with unity and we need to sit together and be honest with ourselves. Everything is for the success and betterment for the children of tomorrow.’
As it stands, Vanuatu is ranked below Saudi Arabia, where women are not even permitted to drive, in terms of representation of women in parliament. The last time a woman sat in one of the 52 seats in parliament was in 2012. Eta Rory, a member of the Vanuatu Republican Party, said at the time that she disagreed with reserving seats for women. ‘Men prove themselves before they win the election,’ said Ms Rory. ‘Even in other Pacific countries, the women must involve themselves through political party systems so that all the people will elect them.’
A study conducted by the Department of Women’s Affairs determined that if a woman was to succeed in elections, belonging to a political party was a major contributor to her success. Other factors include being well known and respected in the community, receiving training and being well organised. Of the five women who have been elected to parliament since independence, none of them have stood as independent candidates. In an interview with The Independent newspaper earlier this year, Vanuatu’s first female MP, Ms Hilda Lini, said ‘I think political parties have to set rooms for women, putting in place systems or mechanisms that could support women in politics.’ Ms Lini reiterated that women need support from their husbands and other men in order to demonstrate their leadership capabilities.
Lack of resources
For a woman to progress politically, she must navigate through patriarchal attitudes that are embedded in Vanuatu society. To even contest an election, a woman has to seek approval from chiefs. If the community leaders don’t approve, female contestants are forced to either withdraw or go ahead as an independent. Without a political party to back them up, it is likely they will face defeat due to a lack of finances and credibility.
The Department of Women’s Affairs has the lowest budget of all the government departments, preventing it from allocating adequate resources to fulfil international obligations and national policy for women in decision-making. Despite facilitating dozens of leadership workshops for women and providing ‘gender-sensitising training’ for political parties, there hasn’t been any significant progress in terms of fairer representation.
Given the First Ordinary Session of Parliament for 2016 was suspended last week, it seems that reserving seats for women may not come to fruition anytime soon. In August this year, all women organisations including the Department of Women’s Affairs, Vanuatu National Council of Women, Vanuatu Women’s Centre and Vanuatu Women Development Scheme will attend a meeting to address not just women’s political participation but how to make women stronger citizens and leaders. The road to long-lasting and meaningful change for Ni-Vanuatu women remains a long one.
Form 5 and from 7 schoolgirls in Honiara benefit from transformational leadership training sponsored by the UN Women's Advancing Gender Justice Programme:
In a statement to open the seminar, Clerk to National Parliament, Clezy Rore thanked UN Women for the technical and financial support towards gender and women related issues in the country
He said he is confident this will not be the last support given by UN Women to YWPG, instead, their assistance towards this three-day training is a symbol of long term commitment of UN Women to maintain a cordial relationship with Solomon Islands Government, Provincial Government and the National Parliament of Solomon Islands.
“With the theme Transformational Leadership, you will all agree with me that at the end of this seminar you will learn new scope of leadership strategies that aspiring women leaders need to be aware of,”Mr Clezy said.
“Gender Equality does not demand that men and women are equal but it is about fairness in access to opportunities by all men and women, boys and girls,” said Audrey Manu,National Programme Coordinator of UN Women's Advancing Gender Justice Programme.
A female member of the Fiji parliament is suspended until the next election for using 'offensive words':
Roko Tupou was voted out of Parliament until the next election for using offensive words on Education Minister Dr Mahendra Reddy during a heated debate in Parliament.
"It is very disappointing that with the suspension of Tupou Draunidalo, women's representation in Parliament is further reduced to 14 per cent," said Ms Bhagwan-Rolls, whose organisation centred on the role of rural women in national decision-making.
"Furthermore, one would have expected that the Speaker — who has oversight of the parliamentary process, including ensuring discipline — could have simply used her power proactively as she observed the debated remarks. She can force a member to withdraw from the House (for the remaining part of the day) as a cooling off period which would have paved the way for dialogue and mediation on the issues of concern.
"In other Parliaments, an initial suspension is for a shorter period such as 20 days. For example, the initial suspension period in the UK Parliament is for five days for a first offence and 20 days for a second offence, during which time they cannot take part in votes and debates in Parliament.
"Instead, what we have is an extremely harsh penalty at a time when both sides of the House should be focused on rebuilding our country following the devastation of Severe TC Winston."
Bougainville - reserved seats and an open-seat win
A Bougainville woman MP says there is a growing understanding in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region of the role women can play in politics.
Bougainville has three seats reserved for women in its 39 seat legislature and in last year's election, the third for an autonomous government, a woman, Josephine Getsi, won an open seat for the first time.
Ms Getsi, contesting against 11 men, won the Peit seat.
Francesca Semoso holds the Northern Bougainville women's reserved seat, a seat she first won in 2005.
She says attitudes in Bougainville towards women in politics are changing.
"And that is how Josephine Getsi comes in from the open seat, the constituency. So it means that people realise and people know the importance of having women to have their part played on the floor of parliament. Women provide that alternative leadership that has been lacking, and is still lacking in a lot of parliaments around the Pacific."