Nadi, Fiji – The inaugural Pacific Women in Power Forum which ended on Wednesday, 27 March has confirmed the need for an ongoing Pacific regional network of women Members of Parliament, which aims to encourage more women to enter politics and support current women MPs.
The two-day Forum attracted women MPs from seven Pacific island countries and featured panel discussions on issues relating to gender equality, economic empowerment of women, discussions on integrity in leadership and benefits of a gender sensitive parliament.
With funding support from the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and Japan, the Forum provided an opportunity for robust and frank discussions on the current status of women in politics in the different Pacific countries which provided insights on how regional and international parliamentary networks can support current women legislators.
In her contribution to the panel discussion on ‘Creating a Support Network for Pacific MPs’, Honourable Te Hani Brown, a Member of the Parliament of the Cook Islands reflected on the different experiences shared between the participants and called for a multi-country network of sitting women MPs.
“Those who stood before me definitely paved the way for me. However, we need to do more to create supportive measures for new ones and young ones wanting to come through”, said Hon. Brown.
Following Hon. Brown’s election into Parliament, at 22 years of age she officially became the youngest ever MP for the Cook Islands and in the Pacific region.
“I was lucky I had my mother as a mentor, but I’m thinking of other women wanting to come into politics and how we can establish a support and mentorship system in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and also other women in power in the wider Pacific region.”
“Forums like this are a tremendous help for us in establishing connections and networks with our fellow Pasifika women. It is empowering to meet other women in similar positions as well as to build relationships and learn from each other.”
She added, “There is definitely potential for us as women MPs to create a support network and we should consider forming a Pacific Women MPs group.”
The UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Resident Representative a.i. Vineet Bhatia while addressing the Forum, highlighted that the full inclusion and effective representation of women is an enabler for sustainable development.
“The Forum is an opportunity to inspire, learn and empower one another in our common pursuit to promote women in leadership at all levels. Participants have different experiences in different countries and in different sectors and sharing this experience and information is a crucial part of empowering Women MPs in the Pacific.
“The participation of women is key to development—there can be no peace, no democracy, no prosperity and no progress without the full and equal participation of women”, said Bhatia.
He added, “The promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women in the Pacific region is a goal in itself, but also underpins all development efforts in this region.”
In many Parliaments across the world there will be a women’s caucus or an all-party women’s group that provides a network of support for women MPs. However, many Pacific parliaments lack a critical mass of women MPs to make a national women MPs caucus or group viable and effective.
Due to the Pacific context, the participants agreed to the formation of a network for Pacific women MPs for the purposes of mentoring, a platform for each member to consult openly as it provides a safe space for learning and improving their own ability in dealing with diverse issues within their own countries and across the Pacific.