25 Jun 2013

Samoa parliament reserves seats for women

5:13 pm on 25 June 2013

Samoa's Parliament has decided to unanimously endorse an amendment to the constitution which will allow five parliamentary seats to be allotted to women candidates.

The amendment was discussed in the house before the third and final reading on Monday, with all 44 MPs present backing the amendment.

Talamua Online reports a flexible formula under which if no woman is elected to Parliament five women candidates who get the highest number of votes will get the allocated seats. This would mean the number of seats would be increased to 54. If less than five women win seats the female candidates who get the most votes will fill the allocated seats.

But if five women candidates win seats in elections, the formula won't be used and the number of seats in Parliament will stay at 49. A spokesperson for an advocacy group, Roina Vavatau, told Don Wiseman they are pleased but wanted a different formula.

ROINA VAVATAU: Yes, we are very delighted that this opening is now being guaranteed and supported by constitutional amendments, but the process is not quite what we anticipated. We made a submission to government that 10% for women be done on a separate electoral roll for women alone. And the set-up is nothing new. It's a set-up that the government from the past has adopted to bring in the two individual voters representives in parliament.

DON WISEMAN: These are the people representing non-Samoans in the Samoan parliament?

RV: Yeah, non-Samoans.

DW: OK. So you're talking about what would be five individual seats?

RV: No, no. We're staying instead of having the five seats for women being spread out in the constituency, give them a special electoral roll, they have a roll that is separate for women voters. Those who wish to support women, 10% will come in on this special roll. It's going to be competitive, it's just like every other electors that are coming into parliament. So the women are not perceived as getting a free ride into parliament. They'll have to compete just like their counterparts.

DW: As it's set up, it's still going to be a case of the women polling well, isn't it?

RV: Yeah, but you see, for example, there's five males running for my constituency and a woman is number four. Is it fair for that constituency to bring the fourth candidate out just because she's a woman? That's why we said if we set up a separate roll for women there's no question about them coming in. Because if people wish to support women genuinely and the women who wish to run in parliament can go into this roll, register with this roll, they just compete, who are the best five women to go in?

DW: Do you expect, as well as these five seats guaranteed for women, do you think there will still be a number of women winning in the constituency seats separately?

RV: Oh, yes. For years Fiame Naomi Mataafa has come in from her constituency, and for the last two parliamentary sittings we've had two other prominent women coming in from their constituency. So there you go - you've got three women coming in from their constituency and five from this special women's electoral temp. It's also a temporary measure. It's not intended to be there forever. We intend to have it just to entice women to become politicians. And then we can phase it back out.

DW: Do you think there's any possibility, before the next election, that maybe the government might look at changing the mechanics of this?

RV: Yes, we were informed there might be a change in mechanics of this. We were informed by the Ministry of Womens Affairs that we'll go along with what has been tabled in parliament, which is a step forward, but we can always look at how we can amend it in the future.