Friday, September 26, 2008

Pacific needs men and women leaders

The nations of the Pacific need to have both genders represented in parliament if they are to realise their full potential in the global environment.

Opening the two-day sub-regional workshop on special measures for advancing women’s representation in legislatures in Port Moresby today, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare  said: “We can no longer argue that custom stops us from recognising women as equal partners in our development when our aspirations are to embrace many western ideals and concepts.”

The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat is organising the workshop in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), AusAID, UNDP Pacific Centre, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, International Development Law Organisation (IDLO), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and PNG Sustainable Development Programme Ltd (PNGDSP). Participating in the workshop are Ministers, current and former parliamentarians, officials and key representatives from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Against the world average of 16 percent women parliamentarians, the Pacific countries have the lowest average by region of 3.1 percent (excluding Australia and New Zealand). The Pacific region has five out of the seven countries in the world without any women in parliament. The five countries are Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

“This fact is no more pronounced than in PNG where our population is around 6.1 million yet we have had in the last 15 years (come 2012) only one woman representative in parliament,” Sir Michael said.

“While these are decisions made by the voters of Papua New Guinea, we as the members of the legislature should be doing much more to change the mindset of our voters to give women equal consideration when polling time comes around.

“I personally as you may know have continually supported the advancement of women since Independence.”

Sir Michael added: “I realise that not all my colleagues are keen to positively discriminate in favour of women or to even recognise the value that both genders can add to the development process. Sadly there are some whose minds are already made up on the rightful place of women in our Pacific Island societies.

“But I am confident that with the new generation of leadership in the region today and persistent lobbying and awareness we can overcome some of these hurdles. As members of the legislature we too have our part to play in increasing the representation of women in our parliaments.”

Sir Michael told the participants that there is already provision in the PNG constitution for nominated members of parliament and Dame Carol Kidu (the only woman MP in PNG) has been actively encouraging its implementation.  Sir Michael also mentioned the possibility of creating reserved seats for women in Parliament, saying he personally favoured this as a longer term measure.

“Apart from legislation there are other little steps that can be taken to ensure women candidates are not forced out of the race through intimidation and harassment and that woman voters equally are not pushed to vote for candidates selected by their male relatives. One of the simple ways forward is to have separate polling booths; one for women and one for men. The electoral Commission has a large role to play in providing an environment that encourages free choice by women voters,” said Sir Michael

He added: “My personal thoughts are that it is also up to women to be a little more assertive. Nobody likes a person male or female who is too aggressive but everyone admires strength of character, integrity and most of all performance. I think women are blessed with feminine attributes of gentleness, empathy and a nurturing spirit. I believe women must take advantage of these traits to offer a leadership that is different to men but at the same time complimentary in all aspects of nation building.”

Sir Michael welcomed and acknowledged the support of the region’s development partners towards achieving the objective of increasing women’s representation in Parliament. He also thanked the organisers of the workshop.

For more information contact, Dr Henry Ivarature on phone (675) 323 2333 or email


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