Tonga to launch mock parliament to boost women's representation
Tonga's Speaker of Parliament calls for Tongan women to apply as candidates for mock parliament.
Tonga is to run a mock parliament for women to encourage more women to get involved in politics and address the current gender imbalance in the house.
Currently Tonga only has one woman in parliament, who was appointed by the prime minister rather than elected.
Amelia Langford reports.
Mock parliaments for women have already been held in various Pacific countries, including Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and most recently, Solomon Islands.Tonga's Speaker of Parliament, Lord Fakafanua, says he hopes the mock parliament will encourage and empower Tongan women to enter politics.
LORD FAKAFANUA: The idea came from women being underrepresented in our parliament. In the past year 100 years of the history of parliament in Tonga there have only been seven women and we figure that since women represent 50 percent of the population that there is an injustice there.
Lord Fakafanua acknowledges it is shocking that so few women have been members of parliament but he says the aim is to remedy that. He says it will be refreshing to hear the opinions of women in parliament.
LORD FAKAFANUA: They will elect among themselves a Prime Minister, there will be a women speaker, a woman deputy speaker, a women deputy Prime Minister and the agenda will be just as if it was a real parliament with bills, and standing orders, and rules and procedures, and petitions, everything just like a real parliament.
The head of a women and families NGO in Tonga, Betty Blake, says she really believes in the concept.Ms Blake, who is the director of Ma'a Fafine Moe Famili, says it is definitely time for more women to get involved.
BETTY BLAKE: I believe it is a fantastic idea. It is about time that our government consider the importance of women being part of parliament and a practice parliament for women, I feel, is very essential and very timely and it is about time.
Betty Blake says Lord Fakafanua's support of the idea gives the issue far more traction. The United Nations Development Programme developed the concept and helps fund the programme. Its parliamentary development advisor for the Pacific, Dyfan Jones, says practice parliaments get results.
DYFAN JONES: What we have seen, anecdotally, from this training is that a number of women who previously were not sure about running for parliament have told us following the mock parliament that they have decided that this has actually shown them they can be a parliamentarian, they do have the skills to be an effective parliamentarian, and have decided to run for office.
Dyfan Jones gives the example of two women who participated in a mock parliament in Kiribati, who have since become MPs. Mr Jones acknowledges there have been some critics of the idea though.
DYFAN JONES: There has been criticism that this is patronising, if you like, but what we say is that when we offer this practice parliament or this mock parliament it is an opportunity for those who are currently not in the parliament. So, it is a new initiative, it is an opportunity to practice their skills in parliament and often get a lot of publicity when doing so.
Dyfan Jones says Solomon Islands recent mock parliament was broadcast live on television and radio. He says the Pacific has the lowest percentage of women MPs in the world and that is something that needs to be addressed.
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