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International Women’s Day, 2021
More Women Leaders Make Better Societies

The upcoming Samoan election is a unique opportunity to encourage diversity in politics

APIA, Samoa, Mar 12 2021 (IPS) - This year it will be 128 years since the right of women to vote was first recognized, with New Zealand becoming the first nation to allow the participation of women in its general election in 1893.

From the suffragettes – to today’s feminists, both men and women have fought to increase women’s political participation and representation. It has been a slow, sometimes bitter and occasionally even dangerous struggle. Yet global progress remains slow and uneven – as it does in Samoa. As we approach the 2021 General Election on 9 April, it is important to remember that women’s full and effective participation in all areas of life drives progress for everyone.

Simona Marinescu

As in many countries around the world, Samoan women face higher levels of poverty than men, have limited access to finance, carry the burden of a greater share of care duties, and experience challenges in realizing their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Forty-six percent of Samoan women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetimes, with domestic violence cases tripling between 2012 and 2017. More than 39,000 Samoan women are in unpaid domestic care work, making them vulnerable to economic shocks.

COVID-19 has only exacerbated this inequality. Findings from a 2020 UN Women household survey on the socio-economic effects of COVID show that 90 percent of women compared to six percent of men in formal employment saw their work hours decline, and more than twice as many women (63 percent) as men (28 percent) in paid employment reported a decrease in income.

Not only do these factors limit women’s full participation in political life, but they highlight how important it is that women are given an equal role in decision making to tackle the challenges we all face – from climate change to poverty. Women’s participation in political life is urgent. It is a matter of life and death! And of course women must have the opportunity to play a full role in shaping the decisions being made right now as Samoa responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A person aspiring to become an MP in Samoa must hold a matai title and be a member of the village council. But due to cultural constraints, only 11 percent of women are registered matai, and only half of that number are active in their village councils. It is not surprising then that in the 2016 election women accounted for only 14.6 percent of all candidates. Due in part to the 2013 constitutional amendment, 10 percent of sitting MPs today are women (one woman candidate entered Parliament due to the temporary special measure, the remainder were elected through the normal process.) However, this figure is less than half of the global average of 25 percent.

There are 22 women standing in the upcoming election, only 11 percent of the total running.

On International Women’s Day – when we ought to remember how gender inequality continues to disadvantage millions of people around the world, and how it prevents countries from reaching their full potential. This year’s theme: ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,’ with the campaign hashtag of #ChooseToChallenge. As this country recovers from the pandemic, we at the United Nations choose to challenge Samoa to finally end the exclusion and marginalization of women and girls and create a just and equitable environment for all people to exercise their rights. More inclusive leadership leads to stronger democracies, better governance, more peaceful societies and environmentally sustainable economies. In line with the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has committed to ending gender inequality in Samoa, including through actively training women to be better and more prominent leaders, supporting women community leaders, and most importantly supporting women electoral candidates in the upcoming election.

Parliamentary democracy is very young in this country. The 9 April General Election will be only the seventh held since the 1990 referendum, which introduced universal suffrage. There have been multiple achievements in Samoa in that time that have reduced gender inequality. Samoa has made some progressive decisions. For example, it was the first Pacific country to ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1992, the first Pacific country to set up a separate ministry for women, and it is one of 80 countries around the world to guarantee a quota of seats to women in parliament.

You can help to continue this progressive and proud march towards equality in Samoa. This International Women’s Day, I challenge you to be at the forefront of inclusive movements for social change – online and in real life. Challenge climate change, domestic violence and fight for women’s rights. Challenge bigots, hire women, push for women in positions of power and support women leaders. And on 9 April, vote for women candidates where you can – or candidates that believe in diversity in leadership. Disrupt the status quo, and work to amplify women’s voices in public institutions, parliaments, the judiciary, and the private sector.

Let’s shatter the glass ceiling that hinders the realization of women’s and girls’ aspirations, and strengthen a nationwide partnership across gender – for peace and prosperity in Samoa.

Originally published as an op-ed by Simona Marinescu, United Nations Resident Coordinator, Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, and Tokelau – in the Samoa Observer – 8 March 2021.


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