To consider ways to help increase and sustain the number of women in Pacific Parliaments through the use of special measures, officials and key representatives from four Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) will attend a sub-regional workshop in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea 25 - 26 September.

The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), AusAID, UNDP Pacific Centre, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, International Development Law Organisation (IDLO) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) are organising the workshop. Over 30 participants will be from the four Melanesian countries of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Against the world average of 16 percent women Parliamentarians, the Pacific countries have the lowest average by region of 3.1 percent (excluding Australia and New Zealand). The Pacific region has five out of the eight countries in the world without any women in parliament. The five countries are Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

"It is with these facts in mind that women parliamentarians from the Forum Island countries together with development partners, academics and civil society organizations agreed at a meeting in the Cook Islands in 2006 on the need to address barriers to women's representation and participation in Pacific parliaments," says Peter Forau, Acting Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

"This workshop supported by these development partners also supports the good governance pillar of the Pacific Plan specifically participatory democracy, consultative decision-making and electoral process. It is also in response to Forum Leaders' directive in 2007 for member countries to explore ways to enhance participation, particularly by women in decision making processes and institutions, and in particular parliamentary processes," says Mr Forau

Mr Forau said: "For many reasons, elections in the region have not been particularly favourable towards aspiring women candidates resulting in the low numbers of women in Pacific parliaments. One approach that has made a difference is the use of special measures. Their use in other parts of the world has led to significant increases in the number of women parliamentarians."

Special measures include reserved seats and quotas and can also include electoral reforms aimed at improving the representation of women in parliament.

The organizers of the workshop hope participants who will be hearing from seasoned international experts and the experiences of Pacific champions such as Papua New Guineas' lone woman parliamentarian Dame Carol Kidu, come away better informed about special measures and perhaps work on appropriate country strategies for discussion and consideration by policy-makers in their own countries.

Other similar workshops will be scheduled for the other sub-regions in the Pacific after the one in Papua New Guinea.