Majuro, Marshall Islands – Women from 24 electoral districts in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) are currently attending a two-day preparatory session for the second Practice Parliament for Women, in a proactive move by the Nitijeļā (Parliament) to increase women’s political participation and representation.
The preparatory sessions cover a number of issues including parliamentary procedure, the role of the different branches of Government, electoral rules, key national policy issues and campaigning.
On the third day, the participants will be allocated roles as President, ministers, government and opposition senators and will conduct a practice sitting in the Nitijeļā chamber which will be broadcast on the radio.
The three-day programme is an opportunity for women to experience what it is like to be in the House, working on legislation, deciding on the laws, giving them a feel and more understanding of the RMI governance system and functions of the Nitijeļā.
The second Practice Parliament for Women is being implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs, the Nitijela and the Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI).
The support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is provided through the Japanese funded programme for Strengthening Pacific Legislatures in the Pacific (SLIP), which includes Republic of Marshall Islands as one of the focus countries.
In delivering his remarks at the opening ceremony, the Japanese Ambassador to RMI, H.E. Norio Saito said, “The Government of Japan is proud to support the Pacific Island country that was the first to elect a woman President.”
“WUTMI’s theme ‘Being Resilient’ is simply defined as to be ready for anything that happens or whatever comes your way. I believe resilience is an ingrained skill for all women in any field, as wives, mothers, Mayors, Senators, Ministers or President,” said H.E. Saito.
He added, “We believe in advancing gender equality in Parliament, in fact, in May this year, a law was passed in Japan to encourage more women in Government leadership roles. With the provision of this fund (SLIP), it will enable RMI women to utilize it and provide them with the necessary skills to become future Parliamentarians.”
In 2011, UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Internal Affairs supported a Practice Parliament for women in RMI, one of the first in the world.
At the same event, the current President for RMI, H.E Hilda Heine was a participant and was subsequently elected as a Senator in the next election, re-elected in late 2015 and then elected President shortly afterwards.
The Acting President for RMI, the Honourable Amenta Matthew, in her remarks stressed the importance of the equal participation of men and women at all levels, whether at home, in the communities or at the national level.
“A critical element to facilitating women’s leadership, in all sectors and all levels, is the coalition building and networking,” said Hon. Amenta Matthew.
Quoting from an excerpt in the Washington Post written by US Researcher, Carol Kinsey, Hon. Matthew said: “The most successful leaders of the future will take the time and effort necessary to make people feel safe and valued. They’ll emphasize team cohesiveness while encouraging candid and constructive contact, they’ll set clear expectations while recognizing what each team member contributes, they’ll share the credit and the rewards. And most of all, they will foster true networked collaboration through a leadership style that projects openness, inclusiveness and respect. Any leader can do that. Female leaders just already do it more naturally.”
“For those of you who plan on standing in the upcoming election, I congratulate you for doing so; for those you who plan to continue with what they are doing but was interested in this leadership training, thank you for your participation,” said Hon. Matthew.
In her opening remarks, the Clerk of the Marshall Islands Nitijeļā, Morean Watak reassured participants that increased women’s participation in politics is not impossible.
“In the Pacific, we all recognise the difficulties women face in entering politics, but I can assure participants it is not beyond their reach,” said Watak.
She added, “Some of you are aspiring political or local government candidates or want to take up a top job in the government or lead an NGO, this is the place for you to be. In the next few days, you are going to learn how to get there.”
Currently, there are three women elected to the 33 seat Nitijeļā accounting for 9% of the total seats and RMI is the first independent Pacific island nation to elect a female President.
The UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Effective Governance Team Leader, Dyfan Jones highlighted that while regional commitments have been made to promote women in decision making, women are still significantly under-represented in Pacific parliaments.
“Women have never comprised more than 30% of the membership of national parliaments in the Pacific island countries since Independence (not counting Australia, New Zealand, and the French territories in the region), and as of end of October 2018, the percentage of women in Pacific parliaments currently hovers at 7.3%,” said Jones.
He added, “Representation at sub-national decision-making is at similarly low levels and UNDP is committed to increasing women’s political participation in the Pacific.”
The participants were selected based on their interest in standing in future general elections or local elections, women community leaders who wished to develop their leadership, advocacy and policy skills as well as women who are committed to supporting gender equality with a special focus on including young women from diverse backgrounds.
Jone Tuiipelehaki Raqauqau, Communications Associate, Effective Governance Team, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji. E: firstname.lastname@example.org, T: (679) 3227 552.
Peter R. Anjain, Translator/Information Officer, Nitijeļā, Republic of the Marshall Islands, E: email@example.com, T: (692) 625 8472, M: (692) 456 7909.