The Pacific Forum Island Countries (FICs) have formally recognised that the participation of women in political decision-making needs to be enhanced. However, the political advancement of women remains constrained by both institutional and attitudinal factors. Addressing these problems requires both regional and national approaches.
All FICs have endorsed the UN resolutions dealing with the promotion of women’s representation in decision-making, such as The Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Most FICs also have constitutions that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, and a few have even adopted polices to address the representation of women in decision-making. Additionally, many Pacific cultures have traditionally valued the complementary, if separate, roles of men and women, and have a pool of well-educated women.
However, barriers to women’s advancement remain, restricting the realisation of women’s rights to political representation. Barriers include the following:
- Women are constitutionally protected from discrimination, but institutional discrimination remains, including unequal access to land and titles and outdated laws.
- Governmental machinery designed to enhance the role of women in public life continues to be weak in most FICs.
- Contemporary culture in the Pacific tends to be conservative and patriarchal.
- Women are not fully socio-economically integrated. Their contribution to the formal and informal economy is still considered secondary and their access to wealth is limited.
- Domestic violence continues to affect women throughout the region.
- Demand and supply side factors limit women’s chances for political representation, including a lack of political party support and reluctance among women to run for office.
The lack of representation of women in decision-making is a common feature of all FICs. It is therefore urgent that the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat begins redressing this problem as part of its Plan for the Collective Future of the Pacific by:
- Establishing a monitoring centre for the Advancement of Women in Politics and Decision-making. The centre should collect, analyse and disseminate data, maintain a database, and provide policy advice.
- Initiating and coordinating sub-regional workshops on electoral reform in order to promote the political representation of women.
- Initiating further research on the barriers and opportunities to women’s political participation, the role of women in local government, and traditional leadership and voting patterns.
- Supporting Pacific media initiatives aimed at increasing quality coverage on the current status of women in politics and challenging negative stereotypes of women as political leaders.
- Assembling a toolkit on women’s representation, including materials on best practice in pre-election training of candidates and in using the media for promoting women in politics.
- Considering the role of youth parliaments in fostering young women leaders.