PRESS RELEASE - 30th August 2011

(Majuro, Marshall Islands) - "I am very happy that this mock parliament is being held for the first time in Marshall Islands. I strongly believe that this will help the women of Marshall Islands to engage more effectively in politics," said Hon Norman Mathew, the Minister for Internal Affairs, at the opening of the four-day parliamentary training which will precede Marshall Islands first-ever Mock Parliament for Women on 2 September 2011.

The opening session of the training was attended by Members of Parliament, government officials and observers from NGOs and the public. It was broadcast across the country.

Twenty-seven women are participating in the training. This will be the second Mock Parliament for Women ever held in the Pacific region.

The activity is being spearheaded by the Marshall Islands Nitijela and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It is supported by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In the Keynote Address at the opening session, Hon Alvin Jacklick, the Speaker of the Nitijela of the Republic of Marshall Islands, told the participants: "There are a lot of misconceptions in Marshall Islands that women who run for office are trying to go above the men. However, women have a lot to offer and understand the different needs of our society. They are not trying to go above men - they also deserve an equal place, and an equal voice, in the Nitijela and elsewhere within the RMI Government"

While encouraging the women participants to make the most of the training and Mock Parliament, Hon. Jacklick raised his concern with the small number of women who were nominated for the upcoming 2011 elections. He highlighted that out of the 96 candidates nominated for the Nitijela, only 9 or 9.4 percent were women; out of the 80 candidates who nominated for the position of Mayor, only 6 are women or 7.5 percent were women.

Hon. Jacklick stated, "The low number of women who are nominated as candidates is not good enough. Marshall Islands is a matrilineal society and women need to take their place in society. There is a lot of support from within the Nitijela and many current MPs support women's participation in our country's highest decision making body. If women are serious about advancing gender equality, they need to run in these elections." Hon. Jacklick made his remarks while recognizing that there is very little support within the government to explore the use of temporary special measures, such as reserved seats, to promote women in politics.

The idea of a Mock Parliament for Women draws on the very positive experiences that have been reported from recent youth parliament forums, including the youth parliament held in Kiribati, Niue, RMI and Tonga. The idea was first raised in 2010, at a Forum Smaller Island States (SIS) Meeting on "Advancing Women's Participation in Decision Making Processes" where delegations endorsed the convening of a Mock Parliament for Women in their respective countries. The first mock parliament for women in the Pacific was held in Kiribati from 8-9 August 2011.

In the Pacific region, women are still very under-represented in national parliaments. Three countries have no women in Parliament (Solomon Islands, FSM and Nauru) and six countries have only one woman in Parliament (Vanuatu, PNG, Tuvalu, Tonga, Marshall Islands and Cook Islands).

The Minister for Health, Honorable Minister Amenta Matthew, who is currently the only women senator in the Nitijela, also attended the opening of the training. She noted, "It is really good to have this training for women as we need to encourage more women to run for office. There is an urgent need for more awareness and civic education for the public on the value of women's participation in decision-making, but at the same time we need to work with women to build their confidence. We must remember that women also have an important role to play in national decision making in Marshall Islands; this should be a shared responsibility."

During the four-day training, participants will be trained on key parliamentary procedures, as well as substantive policy issues of relevance to the Marshallese people. The fourth day of training will then specifically focus on the upcoming elections, with sessions explaining electoral processes, as well as training on campaigning strategies. Participants will then get a chance to apply the knowledge they have gained during the Mock Parliament which will be run on Friday, 2 September 2011.

The activity is being supported on-ground by Ms Joanne Lee Kunatuba, the Gender Officer for the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and Ms Charmaine Rodrigues, Regional Parliamentary Specialist with the UNDP Pacific Centre in Suva. Both partners recognize that although this will be only the second mock parliament for women in the region, there has already been a lot of support and positive feedback from the region for this concept, following the Kiribati Mock Parliament. PIFS and UNDP are currently working with other Pacific parliaments on supporting similar activities.

The Republic of Marshall Islands will be holding national elections in November, 2011. It is anticipated that this training will provide an initial opportunity for potential women candidates to develop their campaigning and public advocacy skills. It is an also an opportunity for the broader community to be encouraged to reflect on the importance of supporting the inclusion of more women in decision-making positions in Marshall Islands.