Mock or Practice Parliaments Help Put More Pacific Women in the House

Practice Parliament
Practice Parliament in session in Papua New Guinea

Pacific island countries have the lowest number of female parliamentarians in the world. The Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu have no women in Parliament, and as at July 2013 Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga and Marshall Islands had each only one female parliamentarian. This situation is despite the considerable work that has been done to raise awareness with policymakers about the need for temporary special measures to promote women’s representation. During 2011 and 2012, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the UNDP Pacific Centre tried a novel approach to build the capacity of women candidates by running the first ever Mock Parliaments for Women in the Pacific.

Kiribati

In advance of the Kiribati elections, a Mock Parliament for Women was run in August 2011. Thirty women participated, including 17 from the outer islands and 13 from Tarawa. The national elections held in October 2011 resulted in the re-election of 3 incumbents, and the election of a new MP, Hon Maere Tekanene.

Highlights

  • No women in the Parliaments of the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu
  • One woman each in the Parliaments of Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga and Marshall Islands
  • 11 women were elected to 4 Pacific Island Parliaments following practice parliaments in their countries

Ms Tekanene won her seat after contesting national elections for the third time. (The other women members of the Kiribati Parliament are MP Rereao Tetaake (Teraina in the Line Islands), MP Teima Onorio (Arorae) and MP Tangariki Reete (Betio, South Tarawa)). Ms Tekanene who was one of the Department of Women organisers of the Mock Parliament specifically acknowledged the Mock Parliament following her win.

“The Women’s Mock Parliament has played a key role in helping female candidates win the constituencies of Betio and Teinainano both in South Tarawa. In the Teinainano constituency, where I contested, there were five of us, all of whom had had some kind of involvement with the Mock Parliament, either as an organiser or a participant… Each was trying her best in her own way but during the second round when I became the only candidate, they all gave a hand in advocating for me. At workshops and social and family gatherings they attended they would say, “Please, give a hand to the only female contesting in the final elections,” she said.

Republic of the Marshall Islands

National Elections in the Republic of Marshall Islands were held in November 2011, following a Mock Parliament for Women in September 2011. One new woman candidate, Dr Hilda Heine, was elected and has been chosen as a Minister.

Dr Heine was a participant in the Mock Parliament. At the conclusion of the Mock Parliament she commented: “There have been mixed views about this activity being conducted in Marshall Islands but the reality is, women need all the support available. I found this training very useful and would like to see it happen on a regular basis. I encourage young women to take part in future trainings so that they are exposed to law-making processes and experience what it is like to be in the Nitijela.

Reflecting on the usefulness of the training, Dr Heine noted: “Every election we hope women will win but not many women nominate in the first place. One of the reasons women don’t run is because they feel intimidated when it comes to their place in the Nitijela. This training allows women to experience being in the Nitijela, where all our national decisions are made and shows us that we too havea part to play.”

Palau

In Palau a Mock Olbiil Era Kelulau (Congress) for Palauan women was held in September 2011. Hon Laura Miles, a mock delegate who was formerly the Governor of Sonsorol State, reflected on the positive experience she has had through her participation in the Mock Olbiil Era Kelulau (OEK).

“I came this morning feeling really excited,” she said. “Being a Governor before, I learned a lot about legislative processes, but this training has still enhanced my knowledge. When people asked me to run for the House of Delegates before, I felt ignorant – but after doing this, I know I can do it. I hope that this opportunity is offered to other women, because it has real benefit.”

The Mock OEK was supported by the Palau Gender Division in the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs and the House of Delegates of the OEK, in collaboration with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Pacific Centre.

Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Office of the Department of Women and the UN organized a Practice Parliament for Women in April 2012 to support women candidates in their efforts to get elected to the National Parliament in the 2012 elections. Three women were elected at the June 2012 elections, one of whom, Honourable Loujaya Toni, was a participant in the Practice Parliament.

Margaret Loko, a participant and a candidate for a seat in the National Capital District, was very positive about the usefulness of the Practice Parliament in promoting women’s leadership in PNG. “The Practice Parliament was a real eye-opener for the women who participated and we learnt the finer details about parliamentary procedures of law making that we can put to good use once we are elected into Parliament. I felt like an MP in action today!”

Mr David McLachlan-Carr, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in PNG, attended the entire Practice Parliament for Women and was glowing in his praise for the women: “I was incredibly impressed by the high quality of leadership, vision and policy knowledge demonstrated by the PNG women who participated.

The women showed enormous commitment in researching and preparing their arguments, and anyone who was listening to the broadcast today on FM100 would have realized that they are very articulate. These women certainly demonstrated today that the women of this country can make great national leaders if they are only given the opportunity to engage in national policy and decision-making forums.”

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