BRISBANE, 06 NOVEMBER 2019 (UNDP)—While women make up 50 percent of global population, they are still not able to take up their rightful place in national parliaments across the region to review and vote on national laws, development priorities and budget allocations.

More than 40 participants from 14 Pacific island countries and territories as well as Malaysia, are currently attending the 2nd Pacific Women in Power Forum as an opportunity to share information and best practices on a range of key issues that would assist current women MPs in their leadership roles, foster international parliamentary networks and provide a mentoring and support programme.

The sessions will cover specific thematic areas which include; empowering the Pacific Female Parliamentarian, Mastering the Skills of Effective Communication and Parliament taking action on Violence against Women and Girls.

The four-day conference is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with funding from the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) with support from the Governments of Japan and New Zealand.  Expertise on the theme of the Forum is also being drawn from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Pacific Communities (SPC) and UNWOMEN.

The Deputy Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament & Vice President of the IPU Bureau of Women Parliamentarians,Anne Tolley in her opening remarks said: “IPU data shows that we have come a long way but there is still a lot to do when it comes to gender equality in parliaments.”

“In 1995, when the Beijing Conference was held, women only accounted for 11.3 percent of parliamentarians. Today, this proportion has more than doubled, reaching 24.5 percent. We are moving in the right direction but, at this pace, it would take another 50 years before we reach gender parity,” said Tolley.

She added, “The good news is that a growing number of countries across different regions have shown that reaching the goal of gender parity is possible. Let us celebrate these achievements, but most importantly, let us take advantage of gatherings like this one to draw lessons from one another and strategize so we can advance gender equality in decision-making.”

Since the first Pacific Women in Power Forum held in Nadi, Fiji, in March this year, national elections have been held in Solomon Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu, but there has been no change in the number of women MPs in Parliament. Both still have two women MPs, like the last term of parliament.

Speaking at the same event, the Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls, Dr Sharman Stone said: “It (women’s political representation) is not simply a matter of women’s right to participate in Parliament.”

“We know from Samoa, through research and observation, when women are in Parliament, the Parliament changes for the better. The institution is more collective, more likely to form on the issues that generate greater social equality on national development,” said Dr Stone.

She added, “The same happens when women are involved in peace negotiations, the peace is more likely to be longer lasting and more comprehensive. Given the challenges in our Region, we cannot afford not to involve more women in Parliaments.”

As part of the Forum, the third and final day will include allies from the Network of Male MP Advocates for Women’s Empowerment and Political Participation. This is in recognition that proactive work by male champions, in partnership with women, is necessary to establish an environment that empowers women’s political participation at all levels of decision-making.

The Deputy Team Leader for Effective Governance and Programme Manager Parliamentary Development for the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Nanise Saune highlighted that networking and cross learning is an essential feature of the Pacific Women in Power Forum.

“Globally, out of the four parliaments in the world that have no women MPs, three are from our region.  Even where women are present in greater numbers, glass ceilings often remain firmly in place,” said Saune.

“The first Forum provided a unique platform for interaction and sharing of best practices for Pacific women MPs who share common contexts and challenges.”

She added, “I am pleased to say that since the Nadi Forum, DFAT has generously provided further support for this gathering and the setting up of an Advisory Panel (made up of some Pacific Women MPs) to guide UNDP on the form of support to provide Pacific women MPs so it is consistent with their aspirations and needs.”

UNDP has created an Advisory Group consisting of a small selected group of Pacific Women MPs to guide the implementation of the Forum to ensure it responds to the evaluation recommendation, that such a Forum, should be needs-based and guided through the ownership of Pacific women MPs.

The Forum which is currently underway in Brisbane, Australia will end on Friday 08 November 2019.

Pacific Island countries and territories represented at the Forum include: Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Tonga.  (PACNEW)