Image credit: NFWP Group
International IDEA in consultation with one of its C3- Fiji Project partners, Media Watch Group (MWG), organized a National Forum on Women in Politics (NFWP) in Lami, Fiji, on Friday 18 October 2019. One of the topics that got a lot of attention during the NFWP was that of Temporary Special Measures (TSM) for getting more women in parliament. While a few lamented on TSM being tokenistic, majority of the participants endorsed that TSM was the best option to get more women in Pacific parliaments. However, they also questioned why TSM was not given a priority in the region, which suffers from a deficit vis-a-vis women empowerment. Clearly, the view from the NFWP was that more pressure should be put on the policymakers in the region to adopt TSM as the way forward for getting more women in politics.
This forum was a follow-up of last year’s NFWP which took place in August, during the pre-election period in Fiji, where a group of potential women candidates from various political parties were brought together to interact and learn some of the strategies and approaches relating to the promotion of women in politics from the officials of Ministry of Women, the Fiji Women's Forum, former women Members of Parliament (MPs), and academics. In this year’s forum, the NFWP was officially opened by Fiji’s Minister for Women Hon. Mereseini Vuniwaqa. The European Union (EU) Ambassador for the Pacific, His Excellency Sujiro Seam, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat (MSGS) Director General, Ambassador Amena Yauvoli, also spoke during the opening. The participants included current women MPs, officials from Ministry of Women, Fiji Women Rights Movement, civil society organizations (CSOs), young aspiring interested women in politics, and academics, who discussed about outcomes of Fiji’s 2018 elections and the overall challenges in relation to women's participation.
In her opening speech, Minister Vuniwaqa, while acknowledging the increase in the number of women in leadership positions in recent years, said more still needs to be done. She noted that “policy priorities were impacted depending on the gender of legislators, hence more women are elected to office, there is a corollary increase in the policy making that emphasizes quality of life and reflects the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities”. The Minister called for more women to get in politics from all ages and from all works of life beginning from the grassroots to the highest levels in government. The Minister also warned that this was not an easy task “but if there is someone who knows about the battles and struggles, it is us women”.
In his speech, the MSGS Director General, Ambassador Amena Yauvoli paid tribute to the women leaders in Fiji and in Melanesia by noting that they were “leaving a mark and leaving a legacy”. He further commended International IDEA, EU and the C3-Fiji Project for providing a space to discuss issues relating to women in politics. “Platforms like this may be small and often find itself relegated into the footnote of history, but I have no doubt, that we are sowing seeds that will germinate into a fruitful endeavor”, said Ambassador Yauvoli. Furthermore, he acknowledged the significance of the MoU signed between MSGS and International IDEA in February this year as it would be pivotal for strengthening the role of women in the development process and more so in getting more women in parliament.
The EU Ambassador echoed the sentiments of Minister Vuniwaqa and Ambassador Yauvoli and encouraged the participants to use the forum as a vehicle to develop ideas and strategies to get more women to leadership positions. He lamented the few numbers of women in Pacific parliaments, especially in the MSG countries of PNG and in Vanuatu, where there are no women MPs. The EU Ambassador endorsed EU’s support to the NFWP and other initiatives that promoted women in politics or in leadership positions in Fiji and in the region.
International IDEA sponsored two prominent speakers from the Pacific, Ms Dame Carol Kidu of Papua New Guinea and Ms Afu Billy of the Solomon Islands. Both the participants provided insights and perspectives of their own as well as the general experiences from their respective countries about the challenges of women participation in elections. Their presentations were warmly welcomed by the Fiji participants as it allowed them to empathize about their counterparts who faced even greater challenges compared to them.
Fiji’s Supervisor of Elections (SoE), Mohammad Saneem, also participated in one of the sessions that focused on the challenges of women’s political participation and representation in Fiji. In his presentation, he challenged the political parties to do more to get more women as members and candidates. The SoE’s presence at the NFWP was significant as it symbolized the collaboration between the state institutions and CSO’s, which is a desired outcome of the C3-Fiji Project.
Overall, the NFWP was a very successful event which saw the presence of very high-profile participants who delivered their perspectives about a very challenging topic—getting more women in politics—which was very instructive to the participants. Most of the participants felt that the NFWP allowed them to think strategically about their participation in future elections.