22 Oct 2013

Cross-sector call for temporary special measures for women

6:16 pm on 22 October 2013

A Pacific human rights lawyer says temporary special measures for Pacific women should be applied across a whole range of sectors, not just seats in parliament.

Imrana Jalal made the call in her speech opening a major Pacific women's gathering in the Cook Islands, the 12th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women

Ms Jalal says the mechanism used in some countries mainly to promote political representation by women should be applied in all areas where women are not as well represented as men.

IMRANA JALAL: I believe that temporary special measures should be in every sector where women are not as well represented as men - for example, the employment sector. So if we don't have women engineers we should have time-bound targets that say scholarships will be allocated to women who are interested in obtaining them. There should be temporary special measures in access to credit and finance. There should be temporary special measures in access to scholarships and training. So it's widely perceived as only being applicable to seats in parliament, but in fact it's meant to be much more than that. It's meant to to be a form of progressive, proactive action to advance gender equality.

SALLY ROUND: Do you think that's realistic in the Pacific, given that temporary special measures aren't accepted here?

IJ: Well, I think the battles are being won. We've just seen in Samoa, Samoa a very short time ago passed a law for the first time in the Pacific allowing for special reserve seats for women under the mechanism of temporary special measures. So we've won one battle. In fact, many Pacific Island governments already practice it to a certain extent, although sort of unofficially. For example, with the applications for scholarships, there's a concerted effort to try and give women more scholarships, especially in the sectors where it's under-represented. So it is happening, but I think it needs to be more proactive and there needs to be targets which are time-bound. I'm a great believer in targets. If you commit yourself to temporary special measures, if you commit yourself to gender equality without targets, in my view it doesn't happen. [I believe in] targets that you have to be accountable to in five years' time.

SR: You talked about the resources boom in Papua New Guinea, how women are not benefiting from that.

IJ: Well, I think it remains to be seen. My sense of it is that both Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are enjoying incredible wealth as a result of these resource booms, but if you look at the sectors that service the resource boom industries, like mining in Papua New Guinea, we don't see the women who are mining engineers, we don't see the women who are technicians and scientists in that industry. So if that's where the growth is, how are women going to benefit unless they're able to serve the industry?

SR: So temporary special measures there, you think, as well?

IJ: Absolutely, absolutely. If there's five scholarships available and there are 25 capable people who all qualify minimally for positions or for the scholarships, then more than 50% should go to women if women are applying. At the moment most governments look at the equality paradigm very simply. They look at scholarships or training options and say 'OK, 50% for women and 50% for men'. But that way women will never catch up with men. So I believe that there should be a greater number of scholarships and training opportunities given to women.

Imrana Jalal, who gave the keynote address at the 12th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women in Rarotonga.