(UNIFEM: Port Vila, Vanuatu) Countries of the Pacific region have the lowest levels of women’s representation in parliaments in the world. In Vanuatu out of the 52 parliamentarians only one is a woman.
As a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Vanuatu has committed to promoting gender balance in decision-making and legislative bodies. CEDAW addresses the issue of representation of women stating, ”Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country…”
The Revised Pacific Platform for Action on the Advancement of Women and Gender Equality (2005-2015) also calls for equitable participation by women and men in public life by increasing the number of women who are appointed and elected to public office.
Vanuatu parliamentarians were part of a weeklong workshop on BRIDGE Gender and Elections in September, discussing TSM as one of the effective ways of overcoming obstacles for women entering politics, especially parliament in Vanuatu.
The workshop reflected on temporary special measures, such as elected reserved seats in parliament, voluntary party quotas and other forms of affirmative action may assist Vanuatu in achieving an improved gender balance in the national parliament. Parliamentarians were also introduced to the principles of different electoral systems and how they affect women’s representation, as well as to the needs for respective voter education.
The weeklong workshop opened by the Speaker of Parliament, Honorable George Wells demonstrated a good turnout by parliamentarians and government officials with over 50 participants attending.
Jeanette Bolenga, Deputy Regional Programme Manager of UNIFEM’s Gender Equality in Political Governance Programme, explains: “The workshop helps MPs to understand what temporary special measures are, which one might be the most relevant in the context of Vanuatu and what the adoption of these measures would entail on a legal, institutional and social level. The workshop also provided a forum for MPs to discuss and potentially agree on a national strategy to improve gender balance in the national parliament. Vanuatu women’s contribution as citizens and leaders is significant but it has generally remained informal and is not adequately recognized in mainstream political processes and power sharing with men, especially in national decision-making institutions,” says Bolenga.
At the workshop, parliamentarians were introduced to principles of gender equality, democracy, electoral procedures, barriers which women face in accessing electoral processes, voting and registration.
Parliamentarian and Labour Party President Joshua Kalsakau say: “As legislators, governments have the power to ensure women are elected into parliament”.
“As members of parliament we legislate, we need to make laws to care for these situations. It depends on the government of the day’s policy.
“Coming from a society of male dominance, it is difficult – we believe in accepting females into the highest level, into parliament. I don’t question the calibres and potential of women in Vanuatu. It goes back to Male dominance – we need to start from the grassroots level.”
UNIFEM starts another BRIDGE Gender and Elections workshop next week in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea for Political Parties.