WOMEN parliamentarians are still rarer in the Pacific including Tonga which comprises of less than 10 percent of the elected officials, says the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga during the IPU 148th Assembly in Geneva this week.

Lord Fakafanua made the statement during a parity debate on Eliminating discrimination, transforming economic losses into gain. It was an opportunity for female and male MPs including the Lord Speaker to contribute their views and experiences on what actions their respective countries/parliaments taken to promote laws and policies to advance the empowerment of women while boosting the economy.

Speaking specifically  on the case of Tonga, Lord Fakafanua told  the IPU gathering on Tuesday, March 26 that the Tongan government has recognised the importance of promoting gender equality to achieve sustainable development in the first National Policy on Gender and Development in 2001 to achieve this by next year in 2025.

“This policy was revised in 2014 with emphasis on “Increase women’s leadership and equitable political representation. However, in Tonga we only had seven women elected as Members of Parliament over the past 76 years.

Lord Fakafanua cited a recent survey conducted by Guttenbeil-Likiliki in 2019 on recent “Perceptions of Women as Leaders” showed that 71 percent of eligible female voters and 58 percent of the eligible male voters believe leadership roles, particularly in Parliament, are best suited for men.

“In other words, in Tonga more women believe that Parliament is the domain of men”.  What this means is that the majority of existing parliamentary representatives (men) do not have the democratic mandate for implementing temporary special measures for women compounded by the lack of motivation from the voter base. That’s the challenge we have in Tonga.”

Lord Fakafanua said despite the local attitudes for women participation in the Tongan Parliament, as a Lord Speaker himself, he had been advocating for women participation in our Parliament. This is through the promotion of Practice Parliaments for Women and also annual Practice Parliament for Young Women and Girls.

In his concluding statement he expressed his gratefulness to IPU, World Bank and relevant multilaterals for their support in providing research and data driven policies on unlocking the potential of their island economies by empowering women as well as equal participation in law making bodies.

“Such as our Tongan Parliament is sensitizing us as male and female parliamentarians to the potential of women in leadership…we can take this back and ensure that our population knows of their potential and that we need to strive for in the future.”

IPU noted that Parliaments and parliamentarians have an important role to play in ensuring gender equality in law and in practice. They must repeal discriminatory laws, enact gender equality legislation and oversee its implementation, as they are elected and vested with both the power to legislate and to influence public opinion through the media and citizen engagement. 

Through their law-making function, parliaments and parliamentarians are called upon to remove legal provisions that discriminate against women in areas such as work, family, property and inheritance, as a key step towards women’s economic empowerment. 

Parliamentarians can monitor the implementation of laws that promote women’s economic empowerment through domestic legislation (constitutional law and civil rights, family, property, labour, and tax-related laws).

Lord Fakafanua and Tongatapu 1 MP, Hon. Tevita Puloka represented the Legislative Assembly at the IPU meeting in Geneva.

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