Women’s political and administrative leadership in the Pacific

Author/s: Nicole Haley & Kerry Zubrinich

Improving women’s leadership and political participation has proved to be a key developmental challenge for Pacific Islands Countries, particularly the Melanesian countries (Barbara and Haley 2014:48). Since its inception the Australian Aid Program’s flagship gender equity initiative – Pacific Women (AusAID 2012) – has supported a range of activities aimed at improving and better understanding women’s leadership and decision making in the region (Pacific Women 2015) 1. Drawing upon this objective, and the available research and analytical work, this paper provides an overview of women’s political and administrative leadership in the Pacific. It has been prepared to inform forthcoming design work being undertaken by Pacific Women. The paper incorporates and expands upon an earlier concept note we prepared to inform the original Pacific Women design (Haley and Zubrinich 2012), and considers women’s leadership and participation as it relates to formal institutions and processes, including national and subnational government, the public sector and civic engagement (c.f. Domingo et.al. 2015; and McLeod’s (2015) political, administrative and civil society leadership).

As McLeod (2002:43) rightly points out, women’s political participation is often framed in terms of representation in parliament, but as she also reminds us grassroots women do not necessarily view political participation in this way (ibid:44) and as such it is “important that [their] political actions … are recognised and promoted” (ibid:46). This paper considers women’s leadership and political participation, broadly defined. Civic engagement is considered a key part of women’s political participation.

Pacific Women has made significant investments in research and analytical work concerning women’s leadership. Much of this research has been undertaken by scholars from the Australian National University’s State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program. In particular we have generated a sizeable corpus of new research concerning women’s leadership and political participation across the region. This research not only lays the foundations for a more nuanced analysis of women’s political participation in Melanesia and the Pacific more broadly, but has important policy and program development implications. Our Improving women’s leadership, political participation and decision making in the Pacific research examines women’s leadership and political participation at the national and sub-national level, through a number of discrete research activities. The project is very much a collaborative one, having involved 12 SSGM scholars2 (including three PhD candidates) to date.



[1] Improved women’s leadership and decision making is one of seven “key result areas” for Pacific Women.

[2] Current and former SSGM scholars been involved in this research, including: Nicole Haley (CI), Kerry Zubrinich (CI), Kerryn Baker, Julien Barbara, Priya Chattier, Jack Corbett, Hannah McMahon, Theresa Meki, Roannie Ng Shiu, Thiago Oppermann, Ceridwen Spark, and Almah Tararia.

  • Publisher: State, Society & Governance in Melanesia (Australian National University)
  • Organisation commissioning the research: Pacific Women
  • Date Published: January 2, 2016
  • Language published in: English
  • Search keywords: Politics, Political, Leadership and Decision-Making, Women's Leadership, Gender

Enhancing Agency, Leadership and Decision Making