Your Excellency, The President of Fiji, Jioji Konrote
Hon Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Fiame Mataafa
Hon Speaker of the Cook Islands Parliament, Niki Rattle
Hon Speaker of the Fijian Parliament, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau
Hon. Ministers, Assistant Ministers and Members of Parliament from across the Pacific and New Zealand
Representatives of the Diplomatic Corp – the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and Japan
Ni sa bula. A very good evening to you all!
On behalf of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, it is my honour to welcome you all to the Pacific Women in Power Forum reception. UNDP is pleased to have the opportunity to convene this gathering on an issue that is very important for the Pacific and central to UNDP’s work.
I would like to begin by saying that the full participation of women in decision-making roles and political life is not only a guarantee of human rights but promotes economic stability and contributes to stronger institutions. It is crucial to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that all Pacific countries have signed up to.
Without women’s full and equal participation in politics – be it as voters, candidates, elected officials or electoral administrators, at all levels of government – democracy has not been fully achieved.
Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile and the current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, once said “When one woman is a leader, it changes her. When more women are leaders, it changes politics and policies.”
Distinguished guests, the number of women in parliaments across the world in 2018 stagnated at around 23 per cent and increasing women’s political participation has been slow. According to the Secretary General of the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), at this rate it will take another 50 years to achieve 50-50 parity. Fifty years is too long to wait and we need to increase our efforts to advance the gender equality agenda in our respective countries.
At least in theory in the Pacific today, there are no formal obstacles to equal participation in national political and parliamentary processes. However, as most of you will know far better than me, due to historical and ongoing social, cultural and economic barriers, in practice, there is still a noticeable imbalance in the representation of women and men in Pacific legislatures and sub-national decision-making bodies.
The Pacific Island region has the lowest number of female parliamentarians in the world. If we discount Australia, New Zealand and the French territories, women have never comprised more than 30% of the membership of any national parliament in Pacific Islands Countries. The percentage of women in Pacific parliaments is slowly increasing but as of January 2019 is still only 8%. However, there are positive signs that we must grasp these positive signs. In elections last year, a record number of women were elected in Cook Islands and in Fiji. In the election in Solomon Islands next month, women make up a record percentage of candidates. Things are changing in the Pacific. You are the visible sign of that change. Many of you are pioneers in your own countries, smashing glass ceilings and creating change. The momentum is with us and we must use this momentum for continued positive change.
Through the UNDP’s Regional Women in Politics Project, we have promoted discussions around a number of targeted initiatives including: Temporary Special Measures (TSMs), gender sensitive parliaments through gender analysis of proposed laws, mainstreaming of gender impact reviews in parliamentary committee work, building women’s skills through practice parliaments, working with political parties to remove barriers to women’s political participation. Much of this work has been with other organizations including UN Women, PIFs, CPA and the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, and I am delighted to see that two representatives from the CPA Pacific Region have been able to join this Forum.
One weakness identified in our programming was that our work with women leaders often stopped once they were elected to Parliament. While we supported women as candidates, at the very time they finally succeeded in being elected to Parliament, we left women MPs often unsupported and isolated. Being the only woman MP or being only one of a small handful of women MPs in a country can sometimes be difficult, dispiriting and challenging. This Forum is meant to look at addressing this issue. How can we in the Pacific region work together to ensure women MPs in all countries feel supported and have a network they can turn to; that they never feel isolated; that they know how to turn to their fellow Pacific women MPs for support, mentoring and advice.
Over the next two days, Pacific Members from nine (9) parliaments will have the opportunity to discuss some of these key issues. This is regional and south-south cooperation in its truest form and I am glad that UNDP has been able to facilitate the implementation of this Forum.
On that note, I wish to affirm UNDP’s commitment to supporting initiatives that promote women’s full and meaningful participation and involvement in politics and decision-making processes. We have come so far, but our journey must continue. UNDP looks forward to continued engagement with all Honourable Women MPs through projects and programmes generously funded by our donors – the Governments of Japan, Australia and New Zealand. I am delighted that you have been able to join us this evening.
To conclude, I express my sincere gratitude to His Excellency, the President, for accepting UNDP’s invitation to be chief guest this evening.
A big vinaka vakalevu to the Honourable Women MPs for taking time off your busy schedules to participate at this Forum.
Thank you for your attention and enjoy your evening.