I read with interest the views of Solomon Islands women/girls opposing the idea of the 10 reserved seats. Below are some of my views in relation to issue. They are posted here to give a balance view of the whole idea of the 10 seats given the fact that most of the postings about the issue have been in 'disagreement' to the idea of the 10 seats. At the outset, I must say that I support the idea of the 10 reserved seats.
One of the reasons, which support that women should be given certain quota in the Parliament, is because studies have shown that women in political life have a positive effect on governance. This is because women have higher standards of ethical behavior and are more concerned with the common good.[i] Solomon Islands women if given the opportunity will be a case study for male politicians in Solomon Islands. For instance, Azfar, Knack, Lee and Swamy (1999: 20) find that "...increasing women's presence in public life can reduce levels of corruption..." Overall, they suggest that "polices to increase the role of women in politics...can be [a] useful [tool] in combating corruption." More recently, Transparency International (2007: 2) cites "recent research' that claims 'a statistically significant correlation between increased participation of women in governance and reduced incidences of corruption..." Additionally, studies have shown that "women (are) more trust-worthy and public-spirited than men." Alice Pollard and other women clearly states that: "These results suggest that women should be particularly effective in promoting honest government. Consistent with this hypothesis, [they] find that the greater the representation of women in parliament, the lower the level of corruption, that women are a good investment for building stronger democracies."[ii] Women participation and experience are needed in political life is therefore very important. It is fundamental for the existence of a peaceful society.
Another reason, which supports the fact that there is a need for quotas for women to enter political life, is women know fully about their needs and wants. If given seats in Parliament due to the establishment of quotas whether temporary or permanent, they will help to address the needs of women in time. It must be understood that women in Solomon Islands have long been suffering under male-dominated political rule. Issues that should be addressed have been long been overdue. Classical examples include family law issues, criminal issues such as rape and corroboration rule, sanitation and water supply issues in the village level, are issues that are overdue. According to a "Human Rights advisor, Imrana Jalal Pacific laws on violence against women (VAW) are outdated and treat women with indifference and that Pacific Island governments need to make a concerted effort to review this legislation so that laws can better protect women."[iii] In Solomon Islands, the male-dominated Parliament has over-looked these issues. I believe if given the chance by quota to enter political life, women will address these issues quickly and comprehensively. Such perceived deficiency has not been at the forefront because of the limited understanding of the male dominated parliament in relation to issues affecting women vis-à-vis children. Therefore, if women are given the chance, they will have positive impacts on the policy agenda of the government of the day and women's issues will be raised easily and more often than before.
Third, according to D r u d e D ah l e r u p "quotas for women do not discriminate, but compensate for actual barriers that prevent women from their fair share of the political seats."[iv] In Solomon Islands there are cultural barriers to the participation of women in political life such as the notion that Solomon Islands is a country characterized by big-man politics and the fact that most Solomon Islanders believe that politics is man's business hence affecting election outcomes. These are barriers that will take time. It will take decades if not centuries before such barriers are conquered. Certainly, waiting for the time when there is a shift in the general populace's perception is certainly a 'waste of time'. It is morally incorrect to wait for a change in people's ideologies/perception; however, it is morally correct to involve women in parliament to meet their pressing needs. Therefore, in context, "[q]uotas and other forms of positive measures are thus a means towards equality of result. The argument is based on the experience that equality as a goal cannot be reached by formal equal treatment as a means. If barriers exist, it is argued, compensatory measures must be introduced as a means to reach equality of result."[v]
Fourth, a study that was carried out in Solomon Islands in 2005 highlight that "[p]reliminary research suggests that countries with very low percentages of women in parliament and the formal labour sector, or cultures that restrict women, condone violence against them or treat women as property, are more likely to resort to armed conflict to settle disputes."[vi] In context, "the study concluded that women's exclusion from decision-making is a critical risk factor, as research has found that states with a lower percentage of women in parliament are more likely to use violence to settle conflicts."[vii] Therefore, women must be given a direct role in decision making. Thus, the current move to give 10 seats for women is an important step in the right direction.
Fifth, the quota system provided women the effective right to be elected in the political arena, particularly in the affairs of the Government of the day. Women make up nearly half of the population of Solomon Islands. It is essential that they participate in sufficient numbers in politics and government to ensure a truly democratic and representative government. This is what is known as equal representation. Equal presentation is an important component of democracy. Solomon Islands aspires to be a democratic nation. In order to put the notions of democracy in its rightful place in a contemporary society, the involvement and participation of women in decision making to affect policy outcomes in the national level must be fully realized.
To conclude, the current law governing election is 'dead law'. It has been made several decades ago. It needs to be changed to meet the growing changes that are taking place in society particularly in relation to women issues. We therefore need to give "life" to the current law regarding elections. Women therefore must be given the 10 seats in Parliament. It is an important way forward.
[i] Gretchen Bauer and David Wilson, Beyond Substantive Representation? The Impact of Women MPs on Governance in Sub-Saharan Africa (2008).
[ii] See Sherrill Whittington, Sofi Ospina and Alice Aruhe'eta Pollard, Women in Government in Solomon Islands (2006) 6.
[iii] 'Human Rights Advisor: Pacific Laws do not Protect Women' Solomon Times, March 17, 2009 (Honiara, Solomon Islands) http://www.solomontimes.com/news.aspx?nwID=3747 (Accessed 9 April 2009).
[iv] See Drude Dahlerup, 'Using Quota's to Increase Women's Political Representation' Handbook: Women in Parliament Beyond Numbers (1998) 3.
[v] See Sherrill Whittington, Sofi Ospina and Alice Aruhe'eta Pollard, Women in Government in Solomon Islands (2006) 6.
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