Pacific women put aside political differences for common goal
Women from seven Pacific Islands gather to discuss how to boost the representation of women in elected positions in the region.
A group of Pacific women politicians and leaders have put aside any political differences to join forces to boost the number of Pacific women in political positions.
The Pacific has the lowest number of women in government in the world at just 4-point-7 percent.
Amelia Langford spoke to some of the participants.
Twenty women from seven Pacific Island states came together for a three-day workshop, which was organised by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development and the Fiji Women's Rights Movement. The regional co-ordinator of the workshop, Kate Lappin, says the group identified some of the key barriers to women's participating in politics and ways to overcome them. She says one of the challenges is to shift people's attitudes in the Pacific about the rights of women to be part of the political process.
KATE LAPPIN: We also are trying to prepare women for a different form of leadership - a transformative form of leadership, that perhaps models something other than the adversarial nature of politics that is part of the barrier to women's participation.
And Kate Lappin says the group also came up with ways to overcome those barriers, including setting up a a regional Pacific caucus or network to support ongoing dialogue and solidarity. Fiji's former minister for Women and Social Welfare, Lavinia Padarath, says she has gained a lot from the workshop.
LAVINIA PADARATH: To me, it has been the empowerment of women to participate to take part in the political life of each country - I think the Pacific badly needs that so it is very motivating and encouraging in that way that a group of us can come together.
Lavinia Padarath, who is also the president of the Fiji Labour Party, says for the first time women from Fiji were able to put aside any political differences to work on a common goal of getting more women into politics.
LAVINIA PADARATH: The three oldest parties in the country have been working together - we are united for the first time so we are working together and that's one of our goals and this workshop training has encouraged us even more to include more women.
Papua New Guinea's Minister for Community Development, Loujaya Kouza, agrees the workshop has been a success. The group has elected Ms Kouza as chair of its new regional women's caucus.
LOUJAYA KOUZA: Wherever we can we want to be that united caucus for the region of women, helping to support, to facilitate, to talk about what it is that needs to be attended to regionally, what needs to be supported, whether by way of networking, by way of awareness, by way of prayer support, by way of monetary support, how can we do this, and to just work it together.
Loujaya Kouza says one of the group's first priorities will be to support women in Fiji who plan to participate in the country's upcoming elections in September. Ms Kouza says it's intimidating being a woman trying to break into politics.
LOUJAYA KOUZA: It is a very very big challenge for example they don't judge you by the content of your character or your qualifications or whatever but they judge you by what you look like or whatever, whatever. They like you or they don't like you. They don't know anything about you but it can be most intimidating.
Loujaya Kouza says being a woman politician means her private life has become part of the public domain. Participants in the workshop also included the first woman elected in the Cook Islands from the outer islands, five Fijian women elected in the 2006 democratic elections and a number of women planning to contest future elections.
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