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Women Struggle for a Place in the Pacific

Cahterins Wilson

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SYDNEY, Feb 28 2013 (IPS) - Women face greater odds in achieving equal political representation in the Pacific Islands than in any other region of the world, holding just 3 percent of seats in national parliaments, compared to 20 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa and 18.5 percent in South East Asia.

Following the first Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Forum hosted by the Australian government in Sydney this month, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, the longest serving female parliamentarian in the Pacific region, spoke to IPS about the challenges of gaining political office and some of the measures being pursued to redress the stark imbalance.

Fiame was first elected in 1985 to the parliament of Samoa, a Polynesian nation located north-east of Fiji and first in the region to achieve Independence in 1962. She is a ‘matai’ or high chief, as was her father, Fiame Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II, the first prime minister of Samoa. In addition to representing the Lotofaga electorate in Atua district on the most populous island Upolu, she has served as minister of education, minister for women, community and social development and presently holds the portfolio for justice and courts administration.

She was one of 40 female MPs from the Pacific Islands and Australia, including Cook Islands opposition MP Selina Napa, and Delilah Gore and Julie Soso Akeke from Papua New Guinea, who attended the first regional consultation of the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Programme. Part of the Australian ‘Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development’ initiative supported by AusAID, its objective is to increase the professional skills and capacity of women politicians in the region.