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Pacific disgrace – Where are the female MPs?

Papua New Guinea is geared for elections and its Electoral Commission has announced that the national poll will be contested by 3,499 candidates.

Of these only 142 are women, just four per cent of the total candidate list. In 2017, 159 women contested for seats. This poll sees a reduction in female candidates.

Of the 159 women who contested the PNG elections in 2017, none of them made it to parliament.

The scenario is similar in most Pacific countries when it comes to women in politics. Samoa now has a female prime minister but to fill in the 10 per cent quota allocated for women, the courts were looked at.

In Vanuatu there are no women in the current parliament, and since Independence, only five women have been elected to Parliament.

An amendment to the Municipalities Act passed in 2013 has allowed for a 30 per cent quota for women’s representation within some of the municipal councils of Vanuatu.

The adoption of quota mechanisms at municipal level was initiated by the Director of Women’s Affairs to tackle the issue of attitudinal resistance of women’s political participation.

In the Solomon Islands, there are only four women in the 50 seat parliament. Since Independence, only four female MPs have ever been elected to the Solomon Islands Parliament.

In Tonga, two women are currently part of their cabinet line-up. However, this has not always been the case in the Kingdom.

Pacific women in politics, former Fijian Speakers the late Jiko Luveni (L) sits opposite her Cook Islands counterpart Nikki Rattle in 2018. Picture: Fijian Parliament

Under the new electoral system which came into place in 2010, no women won in the elections, however two women were appointed by the King of Tonga to their Legislative Assembly.

The three Tongan women currently in Parliament have been elected to their posts.

In the Cook Islands there are six women in parliament, five in Niue, four in Tokelau, two in Nauru, four in Kiribati, two in Palau including the vice-president, one in Tuvalu and two in the Marshall Islands.

Outside of Australia and New Zealand, Fiji has the highest number of women in parliament at 11.

Shamima Ali, A founding member of non-governmental organisation dealing with women’s issues in the region called the Pacific Women’s Network believes a lot of this has to do with patriarchal way of thinking that has been entrenched into the Pacific culture.

She said the recent outcome in the Australian elections showed true representation, and this was needed from the Pacific.

“That is the reality of representation of the population, that is such a step forward and such a good leadership in the Pacific that we need to look at and we have got a woman in New Zealand who is doing such a good job,” Ms Ali said.

“We must make the environment conducive in the Pacific for women to want to stand for leadership positions.

Marshallese women who participated in a women in parliament exercise. Picture: Luisa Senibula Twitter

“Women aspiring for political positions in the Pacific is fraught with patriarchal views. It has been done in Australia and I am sure it can be done in Pacific countries.

“We have many women leaders in the Pacific and they are leading the charge everywhere, at community level, at corporate level, most work done for the benefits of communities is led by women.”

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The Pacific Community’s Arieta Moceica who works on gender based programs said the perception built into Pacific people from an early age even in school curriculum has been that the man has always been the leader.

“It was being taught in schools that men were leaders and women played in the support roles but in reality it have been the women who have been leaders,” she said.

“Women lead community projects, fundraising activities and other things which happen in the communities yet when they think of women in politics it does not eventuate.

“So deeply is this entrenched that women do not even vote for women.”

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