Communique: Pacific Women Policy Makers’ Dialogue

Author/s: Pacific Women Policy Makers’

Pacific women parliamentarians and senior government officials met in Nuku’alofa, Tonga on 18 July 2014 to discuss strategies to enhance women’s leadership and decision-making opportunities at national and sub-national levels.  They agreed on actions to support their efforts to influence decision-making processes in order to improve gender equality and better outcomes for women at national and regional levels.

The Dialogue was attended by over 30 Pacific women political leaders and senior women in government from 13 Pacific countries. Countries represented included:  Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea (including political representatives from Bougainville), Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.  The dialogue was also attended by two Australian parliamentarians and senior representatives from the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

The Australian Foreign Minister, the Honourable Julie Bishop, is committed to the empowerment of women, including developing opportunities for women’s leadership.  The Dialogue is the first activity to be implemented as part of a strategy for Australian engagement with women leaders in the Indo-Pacific region. The Dialogue was organised by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, under the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative.  Australia’s support for women’s empowerment in the Pacific was acknowledged by participants.

The Dialogue was hosted by the Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott-Despoja. Her Royal Highness, Princess Mele Siu’ilikutapu Kalaniuvalu opened the dialogue and participated in a number of sessions.

There is a strong cohort of women in the Pacific with the capacity to lead, as elected representatives, public sector senior executives and as leaders in the private and community sectors. Yet women remain severely under-represented in leadership in the Pacific representing only four percent of members of national parliaments.  The Dialogue was an opportunity for women policy makers to share experiences and discuss how they can use their positions of authority to influence better outcomes for women.

Key topics of the Dialogue included:

  • Strategies for improving women’s leadership
  • Working through government mechanisms to improve outcomes for women
  • Linking with women leaders at all levels and working with male advocates
  • Working through regional mechanisms to improve outcomes for women

Strategies for improving women’s leadership

Participants were encouraged by reforms and developments over recent years in the Pacific to remove barriers to women’s leadership and noted promising practices which can be used to inform further reform. These include:

  1. Practice parliaments deliver skills and build the confidence of aspiring women leaders.
  2. The Pacific Women Parliamentary Partnership Program supports female members of parliament and parliamentary staff from the Pacific and Australia to learn from each other.
  3. Momentum across the Pacific to introduce reserved seats for women’s political representation including:
  • Samoa’s Constitution Amendment Act which reserves five seats of the 49 parliamentary seats for women;
  • The amendment to the Municipalities Act in Vanuatu in May 2013 to reserve one seat in every ward for women;
  • Three reserved seats for women in Bougainville’s parliament;
  • Tuvalu has introduced reserved seats for women in local government.

4. Some nations are introducing meaningful reforms to party rules or parliamentary procedure, for example, in the Solomon Islands, Cook Islands and Tuvalu.

Participants agreed that much work remains to be done to advance women’s leadership at all levels across the Pacific and agreed that work needs to target the following:

  1. Governments should identify opportunities to work in partnership with women’s civil society organisations and women’s groups on an ongoing basis.
  2. Governments should remove barriers to women’s private sector leadership, and support for women entrepreneurs needs to be scaled up and maintained.
  3. Women policymakers must support young women leaders including through mentoring, but also by working actively to remove policy and legislative barriers to women’s leadership.
  4. Governments should research whether existing voting systems impose barriers to women’s leadership and introduce reform as needed, for example some electoral systems do not support women’s leadership aspirations, such as the first past the post voting system.
  5. Women need support to conduct campaigns, including logistical, mentoring, administrative and financial support.  Governments should review whether campaign finance reform is needed to ensure candidates without significant financial resources are able to campaign effectively.
  6. Donors and regional organisations should provide technical assistance to Governments to support the introduction and implementation of temporary special measures to increase women’s participation in political leadership.

Working through government mechanisms to improve outcomes for women

The Dialogue discussed strategies for elected women leaders to work with and through National Women’s Machineries[1] to influence positive outcomes for women and considered how to strengthen the link between the legislative and executive arms of government.

Participants noted positive developments in this context including the following.

  1. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the Australian Government are partnering with Pacific Island countries to undertake stocktakes of government ability to integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment issues across all ministries and to support follow-up actions. Countries in the first phase of this work were Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, FSM, RMI, PNG and Tonga.
  2. The Samoan Women in Leadership Advocacy Program (WINLA) was established to bring together elected female representatives and women in the public sector to address gender equality and women’s issues, including discrimination, sexual harassment and work and family provisions within government to support women.
  3. PNG’s Equality and Development Network positioned in the Department of Finance aims to better leverage gender outcomes and gender-sensitive budgeting from line agencies.

Participants made the following recommendations for reform to better link women leaders in the legislative and executive arms of government.

  1. Women leaders should work together, including through cross-party caucuses and national advisory mechanisms (such as Councils of Women),  to network and co-ordinate action.  This needs to include consultation with all groups of women in communities, including young and disadvantaged women.
  2. All Pacific Island countries need to improve the collection and analysis of gendered statistics to enable effective advocacy and policy development.
  3. Gender equality outcomes should be used as a key performance indicator in the job description of senior officials across the range of ministries, e.g.  Solomon Islands.
  4. Women’s ministries should be constituted as stand-alone ministries rather than as divisions or units within larger ministries so the ministries can speak with their own voice and seek funding in their own right.
  5. Governments should take action to strengthen the functions and operations of National Women’s Machineries to ensure that they are able to operate effectively, including with sufficient effective staff and budget.
  6. National Women’s Machineries need to support line ministries to understand and effectively apply gender mainstreaming to advance equality and to support parliamentary staff to understand gender analysis and research, including by developing information hubs on gender aspects of policy and legislation. This should also include gender equality training in induction programs for all new MPs and their staff as well as regular and ongoing gender equality training updates for existing MPs and their staff.
  7. National Women’s Machineries need to strengthen and deepen linkages with foreign affairs ministries to connect with regional and international gender equality developments.

Linking with women leaders at all levels

The participants recognised that women leaders must work effectively with women in business, male advocates and young women to advance outcomes for all women, recognising that it is important to bring different perspectives to the work of government and to support each other to achieve gender equality goals.

Participants identified the following promising practices for linking women leaders together, working with male leaders and fostering community awareness.

  1. Samoa has undertaken research to understand voting intentions and whether female candidates are disadvantaged in electoral contests.
  2. Elections in PNG provide separate polling booths for women and men in situations where women’s votes might be often influenced by men.
  3. In the Republic of Marshall Islands, women government officials work closely with the one female parliamentarian and the local women’s NGO (WUTMI) and network with traditional women leaders to influence policies that benefit women.
  4. The Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation organised a Women in Business program to identify and act on barriers to women in business.
  5. In Samoa, women representatives are appointed in each village and funded by the Ministry of Women, Social and Community Development, to link the Ministry with women in communities and facilitate two way flow of information.
  6. In Kiribati, SAFENET, a women’s council drawn from the community and NGOs provides advice to government to influence policies on ending violence against women.

Participants recommended the following actions and reforms to support women leaders to link together, work with male leaders and foster community awareness.

  1. Where reform processes stall, women leaders should build constituencies, including with men, for change through community consultations and supporting women’s organisations to advocate for change.
  2. Government agencies and parliaments should organise internships and work experience for young women.
  3. Governments and donors could consider adapting successful programs operating in the Pacific region, including the Australian Male Champions for Change Program to engage male leaders in promoting gender equality and women’s leadership.
  4. Media is a powerful advocacy tool: women parliamentarians should use the media to profile their work and to engage communities, particularly young women.

Regional mechanisms

Participants noted the work undertaken by regional organisations to promote gender equality. This included decisions at the recent Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting on women’s economic strategies, particularly opportunities in the tourism sector.

Participants urged regional organisations to prioritise this work, including in the implementation of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism.

Participants committed to share promising practices and recommendations with colleagues and to influence the uptake of these where relevant. Participants agreed to continue networking to exchange information and draw on each other’s’ experience and expertise. Participants agreed regular Dialogues would provide a means for monitoring progress on the implementation of recommended actions identified at the inaugural Dialogue. DFAT committed to exploring options for supporting ongoing communication between participants and other women policy makers.

  • Date Published: July 18, 2014
  • Search keywords: Leadership, Women Leaders, Pacific Leaders

Leadership and Decision Making