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INSPIRING WOMEN IN SAMOA INTO POLITICS


Left: Samoa’s longest serving woman Parliamentarian, Hon Fiame Naomi Mataafa, MP;


Right: young Samoan women preparing for the ‘Ava Ceremony; a ritual where a ceremonial beverage is prepared to mark important cus- toms, such as the bestowal of matai chiefly titles.


lengthy deliberations amongst Parliamentarians were ignited which brought to light robust views both for and against the Bill.


Those women candidates who had the most votes during the election will be selected to the additional allocated seats. Conversely, if five women gain seats outright, the amendment will not be used, and the total number of MPs will stand at 49. To further illustrate the point, if three women secure seats, an additional two seats will be added thereby increasing Parliament membership to 51 – with the requisite five seats having been filled by female candidates. Eligible candidates for the reserved seats must be registered matais who have the highest percentage of votes at the closing of voting polls and unless there are no other eligible women candidates, there should only be one representative from each territorial constituency.


The amendment also makes provisions for instances whereby two women attain equal votes. In such a


case, the successful candidate will be decided by a lot drawn by the Speaker of the House. Furthermore, if an elected woman Parliamentarian loses her seat and it is later won by a male candidate, election preference will be given to women candidates who ran in the by-election, past by-elections or previous general elections.


Rough sailing – conflicted reception


Although the mechanics of the Bill seem relatively straightforward, its introduction was met with varying degrees of caution and resistance with Opposition members unsuccessfully calling for a national referendum on the issue.9


Such a


response was to be expected given the novelty of the “quota system” proposal – the first of its kind in Samoa. As the requisite first and second reading stages were passed,


180 | The Parliamentarian | 2013: Issue Three


One of the major concerns raised by Parliamentarians opposed to the Bill was that, although well intentioned – its basic structure would produce contradictory results. Contrary to its purpose of being an equality promotion tool, it seemed to tip the scale of favour towards the female population, leaving eligible male candidates at somewhat of a disadvantage. Furthermore, women who would gain seats via the quota would be the by-products or tokens of a pre-determined electoral scheme as opposed to resting on their own merits and the wishes of the voting majority. The underlying logic behind these arguments was that the Bill was effectively steering Parliament to undermine gender equality in terms of electoral eligibility as is already provided for under Samoa’s Constitution and the respective 1963 Electoral Act. In response to such concerns, the Prime Minister reiterated the need to remain focused on the sole purpose of the Bill – to maintain and encourage women participation in the Legislature. He said: “There is a disparity in the roles and responsibilities of men and


women which affects women’s ability to access public office. This Bill aims to level that field by encouraging more women to run for office.”10 Strong opinions were not confined to Parliaments’ chamber – members of the general public in differing capacities voiced their concerns on the move to reserve parliamentary seats for women. Investigations into the Bill were unusually lengthy; it took more than a year for findings to be presented to Parliament. This would suggest that there were high levels of controversy and public interest in the proposed changes. Many written submissions identified possible flaws in the proposed Bill, expressing concerns about the inability of women to attain matai titles in certain villages (thereby making them ineligible to register as candidates), as well as concerns about aspects of fair implementation across all constituencies. As noted earlier, a strict requirement for candidates to be eligible for election is to hold a matai title.11


Of 300 individual villages in Samoa, ten do not permit matai titles to be conferred upon women.12 In its deliberations, the Committee acknowledged the difficulties faced by women from these villages, and maintained that a gentle balance


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