Wednesday, 6 May 2009 12:45 AM

Women in Parliament

Dear Editor- It interest me when I read in this website about this issue, therefore, I too I want to share my views with others on this debatable issue.

Although women play important leadership roles in many of our communities, formal and informal organizations around the country, they still find it difficult when it comes to the racing for a seat in the highest decision-making house of the land.
Solomon Islands are among the 13 countries worldwide and alongside Tuvalu and Nauru in the pacific region with no women in the parliament according to the Inter Parliamentary Union figures reveled last year. And this revelation raised some questions in the minds of some advocators of gender equality as to why Solomon Islands a signatory to the 1979 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and 1995 Beijing Platform for Action still without a women in the parliament?

Solomon Islands just like many other countries around the world where traditions continue to emphasize and often dictate, women's primary role as a mothers and housewives. A traditional, strong, patriarchal value system favors sexually segregated roles and so-called "traditional cultural values" militate against the advancement, progress and participation of our women in any political process.
Many of our societies around the country are dominated by an ideology about 'a women's place'. According to this perception, women should only play the role of 'working mother' which is generally doing the house activities. Well, if we are similar with other countries in this perception towards the women, then why other countries have women in their parliament? -I'll answer this question in my next letter.

According to the people survey done by the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), aim of uncovering public perceptions of development and social issues in Solomon Islands, it show that 89 percent of the respondents want women in parliament, and frankly speaking, this results really interests me, because, if this result really reflects the wishes and the desire of the people of Solomon Islands for women to be in the parliament, then why none of the 27 women candidates elected in 2006 general election?. And this is what all of us including the National council of Women (NCW), the advocators for the so-called '10 reserved seats' should seek the root causes rather than giving up and starts asking for the seats to be reserved for women in the parliament.

Whilst, I'm a strong believer that women can make a good leadership in any spheres of life, and with some have the potential and talent to be a good politician, I would have to agree with other contributors who already share some constructive arguments on this issue that asking for 10 reserved seats in the parliament for women is not a right direction in tackling the gender inequality or under-represented if you like in our highest decision-making house of the land,. Before giving some arrays of reasons as to why I think it's not a rightful move for the NCW in addressing this issue of under-represented of women in parliament. Few questions I want to ask the NCW to think about.

With due respect to our hard working women of the National Council of Women (NCW), I just want to pose two very simple questions; are you already identify the obstacles why women not winning the elections in Solomon Islands? And do you think the move to ask for 10 reserved seats in the parliament is the only best remedy to solve this problem of gender inequality in our parliament?

While, I for one yet to access to the content of the concept white paper presented to the government by the National Council of women (NCW), I hold no doubt as already speculated by the media and revealed by the minister responsible and the president of NCW November last year, that the concept white paper is all about asking for 10 seats to be reserved for women in the parliament in 2010 general election. The details of how it's going to be done still obscured, but according to the president of NCW when interviewed by Sam Sake of the radio Australia November last year, she mentioned that the 10 seats are representing the 10 provinces in the country including Honiara city.

And that leads to me raise some points worth considering by the National Council of Women (NCW) and the supporter of this so- called 10 reserved seats.

1. Lest we forgot that the Parliament is not intended as a demographic mirror of a society. Parliament is a place where the laws of the land are made and the future direction of the nation decided.
2. Do we realize that the representation system in the parliament is for the entire constituency which includes every single person, be they man, woman or those 18 years and above, and not just one section of the population within a constituency. In other words, an MP is a public servant who represents a constituency and not any group, section or portion of his/her constituency, and this call by the NCW is really against the principle of true representation in the context of Solomon Islands.

3. Do we realize too that this concept of reserving seats takes away the democratic rights of every single Solomon Islanders who suppose to elect their representatives into parliament through a true democratic process under the supreme law of Solomon Islands the constitution?

4. Do we realize too that this concept of reserving seats undermine and impart a severe blow to the healthy democracy of Solomon Islands? And it violates the rights to equality in the supreme law of the land?

5. Do we realize too that reservation deems women as incompetent, inferior, incapable, inadequate, and unprivileged and an insult to women and their capability?, and if somehow not looked at it carefully, it will perpetuate gender discrimination in Solomon Islands in years to come?

6. Do we realize too that sending women to parliament by reservation and through undemocratic means will only serve to undermine the legitimacy and efficiency of the elected women representatives?

7. Do we realize too that women in Solomon Islands will be the only group of people that are going to have double representatives in the parliament if the fast-track move for reserving seats were successful?, and this is a total blow to the principle of equal representative.

If our women think that they have been left out and want to participate and contribute towards the governance of this country then there is nothing stopping them in our constitution from doing so. If they said that they are fighting for equal rights and opportunities, then why should there be special privileges for them? And the one more thing that I want to add on here is that history has remind us from African countries who adapted the similar move that any kind of reservation and policy of such kind is going to give rise to the elements whereby the policy will more abused than being put to good use.

To all the women of Solomon Islands, do we recognize the fact that women can do anything that the all men do? And can make it to the high public offices? NCW don't give up, there are other ways and means for addressing this issue than asking for reserved seats as an excuse for addressing women issues. I'm not convinced at all with NCW that only if women were given the chance then their issues will be address. NCW lets be very clear here that women issues should not be used as a leeway to give a certain quota of seats to women in Parliament. You have to proof yourself with your time, effort and capability to win election just like any other men do before you deserved a seat in the parliament to represent your constituents.

History abounds with examples of women who have held the positions of president and prime minister in various countries around the world, to name a few, women leader such as Isabel Peron, the former president of Argentina, Indira Ghandi the former prime minister of India, Violeta Chamorro the first woman president of Nicaragua, Janet Jagan, the former president of Guyana, Helen Clerk the former prime minister of New Zealand and of course the indomitable Margaret Thatcher the prime minister of Great Britain and many more. And the fact about these powerful women leaders who once lead their respective countries is that, they don't go into their parliament by reservations or any kind of fast-track special measures, whether it be by temporary or permanent basis, rather they proof despites all odds that does not allow women from entering parliaments in their respective countries and won elections.
And these women come from countries where cultural and other values are also regarded as stumbling blocks for entering parliament. But with the belief and the right type of confidence they possessed, they proof and show to the women around the world, that despite the political obstacles, socio-economic obstacles, ideological and psychological hindrances, women can still do what all men can do, and can still enter parliament without reserving seats for them.

Therefore, National Council of women, I would suggests that rather than asking for free seats into parliament, your mission now is to inculcate the right type of confidence and belief among women and to cultivate assertive stances among them. Nothing comes on a silver plate. NCW should still continue to work hard to build a civilized society to a paradigm that reflects their values, strengths and aspirations, thereby reinforcing their ability to be attracted to and to participate fully in political processes of Solomon Islands in years to come.

Finally, fellow hardworking women of Solomon Islands, let's just be patience and keep working hard. The time will come for you to get there.

God bless all the women of Solomon Islands.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of Frank S.Bilau and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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