Increasing participation of women in SODELPA

PARTY OPINION By Pio Tabaiwalu SODELPA In order to mitigate against the common popular belief that the lack of women’s political participation often rests with deep-rooted discrimination and manipulation by
01 Mar 2014 09:19

Ro Teimumu Kepa during the SODELPA Women Committee meeting at the Fijian Teachers Association hall last Friday. Photo: RAMA


By Pio Tabaiwalu

In order to mitigate against the common popular belief that the lack of women’s political participation often rests with deep-rooted discrimination and manipulation by men to retain the reigns the power, this article is submitted from a SODELPA male perspective.
Writing on women’s political rights and issues of concern, is a step in inculcating in men a more conciliatory and inclusive approach, hopefully to engender a more balanced view in terms of empowering women.
This is crucial in breaking down barriers in traditional Fijian and Indo-Fijian patriarchal societies.
SODELPA is of the firm belief that increasing women’s representation and participation in government will greatly empower women and achieve gender parity and integration.
The notion of women’s empowerment is rooted in the Christian belief that we are all created equal in the image of our creator and therefore all have the inherent “creative” abilities to contribute effectively to human kind.
Throughout the world women’s representation in positions of authority has positively corresponded to a more equitable distribution of community resources, including more gender-sensitive spending on programmes related to health, nutrition, and education.
By sidelining women from the highest echelons of decision-making we are effectively annihilating the collective wisdom of approximately 50 per cent of our population.
Unlike their male counterparts women are exposed to several barriers that may impact their desire to run for elected office.
These barriers include: gender stereotyping, political socialisation, lack of preparation for political activity, and balancing work and family demands not shared by men.
Women’s participation in contemporary formal politics is low throughout the world.
The global average of women in national assemblies is 21.5 per cent. SODELPA believes that women’s participation at the highest political levels is crucial, if the goal is to affect a more equitable quality of public policy.
The population of Fiji in the 2007 census was comprised of 46.4 per cent women, 28 per cent of which are iTaukei and 18.4 per cent Indo-Fijian. This is fairly reflected in decision- making processes in government, commerce and in the political arena to address the systemic discrimination prevalent in existing structures and policies.
Women in politics are of such crucial importance that the United Nations has identified gender equality in representation as a goal in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action. These are international instruments that SODELPA will pursue vigorously in the implementation of its gender-equality policies.
Fiji is a party to these international instruments and conventions on women and gender development. The SDL, the predecessor to SODELPA, had a Plan of Action in response to the 1995 UN Beijing World Conference for Women that called for implementation in five focal areas:
n mainstreaming women and gender concerns,
n women and the law and women in decision-making;
n formal sector employment and livelihood;
n elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and violence and trafficking against women and the girl child,
n addressing women’s health and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS issues.
The Millennium Development Goal calls for women’s empowerment for which a key indicator is the proportion of seats held by women in National Parliament.
The Pacific region, excluding New Zealand and Australia, has the “dubious distinction” of having the lowest number in the world, of women in Parliament.
Only 3.5 per cent of parliamentarians were women, compared to the global average of 21.5 per cent.
In 2001 there were five women representing the SDL party in Parliament, two at full Cabinet level and two assistant ministers.
In 2006 there was one Cabinet minister and three State ministers.
The Constitution of the SODELPA provides for 25 per cent membership of women before any new branch is opened as a way of ensuring women are involved from the grassroots level, to the top of the Party structure.
There is an Annual Women’s Forum where SODELPA women choose their representatives to the National Executive Committee, Management Board and the General Assembly.
Women are at the core of the decision— making process of the SODELPA.
SODELPA believes in a proactive approach where we encourage women to participate at grassroots level while providing active support to assist women’s upward mobility to the highest levels of the party.
Our women parliamentary representatives should be elected on ability and not on a quota system.
Our belief is that the women should earn their place and gain the respect of their colleagues
SODELPA will pursue a higher percentage of participation of women in Parliament and a long-term target for equity in terms of their political participation relative to their numerical percentage of the population.
This is to be accommodated through a fair and equitable proportion of women in boards, city and town councils and in Parliament.
“It is past time for women to take their rightful place, side by side with men, in the rooms where the fates of peoples, where their children’s and grandchildren’s fates, are decided.” Hillary Clinton.

n The opinions expressed in this column are those of SODELPA. They are published by the Fiji Sun to enhance free and open debate ahead of the General Elections.

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