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PART 1

By ILIESA TORA

Nuku’alofa – October 21, 2021: 2.20pm (Nuku’alofa Times): The push is continuing.

And it will not slow down, eventhough it might not be visible to many.

Local women groups are pushing for more seats in Parliament.

And they are also looking at pushing for temporary special seats allocated for them in the Legislative Assembly, something similar to the allocated seats for Nobles.

They are not by themselves. It is a push that has seen some positive changes in the world, no lesser in the Pacific region.

New Zealand and Samoa both have women Prime Ministers now.

Women in Fiji started the push with their partners from across the seas in Australia and New Zealand back in Mexico in 1975.

Former women Parliamentarian Lepolo Taunisila sharing the call for more women in Parliament at a media workshop in Nuku’alofa this week. Photo: Nuku’alofa Times

Gisel Valladares wrote in the Origins.osu.eu website in 2020 that in 1975, the first United Nations World Conference on Women took place between 19 June and 2 July in Mexico City, bringing together individuals from a wide range of backgrounds with the goal of promoting gender equality. The World Conference of Women (WCW) was the capstone event of International Women’s Year, the UN’s response to the transnational women’s liberation movement sweeping the globe.

The United Nations General Assembly agreed upon three primary objectives for the conference: gender equality and an end to gender discrimination, integration and participation of women in development, and increasing women’s contribution to world peace.

In addition to the official conference, there was a parallel forum called The International Women’s Year Tribune, where 6,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) discussed various issues, although without the authority to implement any resulting action plans.

The UN managed to bring 133 governments together, most of which were led by female delegates. Margaret Bruce, the Deputy Secretary General of both International Women’s Year and the World Conference on Women told The New York Times that their goal was “to do such a good job in Mexico City that people won’t giggle anymore whenever they talk about women.”

Helvi Sipilä, a Finnish diplomat who served as the Secretary General of WCW, explained that the conference would pay attention to matters such as “political decision making, educational opportunities, economic opportunities, a different status in civil courts and all questions of maternity.”

The enthusiasm that Bruce expressed along with the confidence to tackle the topics Sipilä mentioned captured the powerful spirit of that moment. Women’s issues were finally being taken seriously.

delegates from achieving significant goals, most notably the adoption of two official documents: the World Plan of Action and the “Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and their Contribution to Development and Peace.”

The World Plan of Action provided governments with a framework to follow in order to ensure that women had equal access to resources such as education, employment, housing, and family planning within ten years. It set a deadline of five years to meet a set of minimum requirements. The Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and their Contribution to Development and Peace articulated a set of principles concerning women’s integration into each country’s development processes and increasing women’s participation in politics.

Most importantly, the 1975 Women’s Year World Conference helped set the stage for three further World Conferences on Women in Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing (1995). At the Beijing meeting, the 68 attending nations moved beyond merely developing guidelines and officially committed to implementing concrete actions in support gender equality. For example, the United States announced a six-year plan to spend $1.6 billion on an anti-violence program.

The United Nations Economic and Social Council’s ten-year 2005 review of the results of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action reveal how the four World Conferences on Women had spurred reform in participant countries.

For example, Armenia, Denmark, and France created deputy or full minister positions in charge of topics related to women and gender equality. Other countries such as Brazil, Kyrgyzstan, Djibouti, and Ethiopia moved their offices committed to gender equality to a more central location. Many countries including Austria, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic established equal employment opportunity offices, and other countries published statistical reports evaluating topics such as violence against women, health, and employment.

The report also made it clear that despite the progress countries made, significant challenges remained. Weak national institutions responsible for promoting gender equality, a widespread belief that gender equality was less important than other matters, and lack of funding remain obstacles in numerous places worldwide.

Ultimately, the report highlighted that many countries had adopted a national gender equality agenda, but it was clear that enacting, enforcing, and funding a coherent plan of action tailored to each individual country was quite difficult, especially when the topic continued to be perceived as nonessential compared to other matters.

Today, a rising pandemic has highlighted the weaknesses of our economic order, and drawn attention to the vast amount of work that women contribute in and outside the home, the goals and objectives of the Mexico City World Conference on Women remain as important as ever.

Tonga has been part of those international and regional movements in the last 46 years.

The Tongan governments in the past have been part of discussions and supported the call for gender equality across the board.

Ms Ofa Gutteinbeil Likiliki sharing information on women’s push for gender equality at a media conference this week. Photo: Nuku’alofa Times

Ms Ofa Gutteinbeil Likiliki, head of the local based Women and Children Crisis Centre here in Nuku’alofa, told a media discussion on Wednesday evening that they and other women’s groups in the country are keeping government on their toes about commitments they had made both regionally and internationally.

That commitment includes ensuring gender equality in Parliament as well.

While there have been push in the past to see if there could be special seats allocated for women representatives in Parliament, nothing has eventuated.

Ms Gutteinbeil Likiliki believes it is time that government allows for “temporary special seats” for women in Parliament, so that there are women members as well in the House.

“This can be a temporary measure for say two terms and we can then remove that after that, so that we can see what the reaction is after two full terms,” she said.

The rationale behind that is to get the women in and have them take part in decision making processes in Parliament, learn what they can and then be given the same chance as male candidates in the future elections.

The call for special temporary seats are in line with affirmative actions taken in countries where such needs are seen.

Ms Gutteinbeil Likiliki said eventhough the Constitution is balanced in giving both males and females the right to stand as candidates the fact of the matter is the outcome is not equally balanced.

She added a long term solution will definitely be getting awareness programs done early for children so that it would help in mindset changes about public perceptions of women as leaders in Parliament.

A local survey carried out by the Tupou Tertiary Institute in 2020 has confirmed an earlier results from a survey carried out in 2016 – that despite all their qualifications and achievements women are still viewed as unfit for Parliament by many locals across the Kingdom.

While there are only 12 candidates standing in the 2021 General Elections, local women pushing for the inclusion of their members are silently hoping that someone will give them a chance.

The question remains who will be bold enough to do that!

 

 

 

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