More than 20 women representing different communities in Tuvalu are engaged in a five-day capacity building session that aims to increase the interest and the level of participation of women in the upcoming general and local elections.
Since independence, few women chose to run as candidates, and only three have been elected to the National Parliament.
In the most recent 2015 General Election, a total of 29 candidates contested the elections of which three were women, making up only 10% of the ballot.
“We are the economists of our families, we are lawyers, we are doctors, and we are everything to our families. If we have all these characteristics at home, we certainly can contribute at the national level,” said Minister for Natural Resources and Lands, Dr Puakena Boreham.
Dr Boreham was the only woman who won her seat following the 2015 General Elections and is the lone woman MP in the 15-member Parliament.
In delivering her opening remarks to participants, the Permanent Secretary for the Office of the Prime Minister (which includes the Gender Affairs Department), Dr Nese Conway, highlighted the different measures the Government is undertaking to increase equal access and participation.
“In our National Gender Policy, we aim to take measures to increase women’s and men’s equal access and full participation in decision-making as a means of enhancing leadership and governance at all levels, and through this to create a gender-sensitive environment in the Falekaupule and Kaupule (sub-national government) and Parliament to enable women’s participation at all levels,” said Dr Conway.
“This workshop builds on the successful Practice Parliament for Women, held in mid-2016, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The Practice Parliament provided support and training to Tuvalu women interested in entering politics.”
She added, “The Gender Affairs Department has identified the need to provide ongoing support to prepare rural and urban women for the upcoming general elections and Kaupule island elections in 2019, and we hope that this workshop will support the participants in their journeys towards elected office or other leadership positions.”
To support an enriching environment for reflection and open discussions, Teima Onorio of Kiribati and Dr Boreham shared their experiences on the challenges and tribulations of running for office throughout their political career.
Teima Onorio is an MP with the Kiribati Parliament who has made history when she became the first female Vice-President of Kiribati in 2003, a position she served in for three consecutive terms until 2016.
The workshop programme is a practical one, aimed at building skills such as political campaigning and public speaking and debating, to enhance the capacity of participants as future representatives and leaders.
It also provides information on Parliament and political systems, with a focus on the principles of good governance; as well as an overview of the current context for women in politics in the Pacific region.
Providing a regional overview of women’s political participation, the Country Director and Head of Pacific Regional Programme and Policy for the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Bakhodir Burkhanov, highlighted that much remains to be done to level the playing field for aspiring women politicians.
As of May 2018, women have never comprised more than 30% of the membership of national parliaments in any of the Pacific Island Countries since Independence, with the current percentage for all PICs hovering at 7.5%,” said Burkhanov.
He added, “Women’s political empowerment and access to leadership positions at all levels are fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a more equal world. With limited growth in women’s representation, true gender equality and the success of the SDGs are jeopardized.”
The workshop is implemented by the Tuvalu Gender Affairs Department in partnership with UNDP’s regional Women in Politics (WIP) Programme funded by the Australian Government. The aim of the WIP programme is to increase women’s political participation in the Pacific.