Excerpt from lowyinstitute.org
Last year, Hilda Heine, former president of the Marshall Islands, congratulated Fiame Naomi Mata’afa on her election as Prime Minister of Samoa. Heine noted that Fiame Mata’afa’s win was “a win for Pacific Women.”
Extraordinary, even. Fiame Mata’afa is the first female prime minister in a country where traditional rules around political leadership can prevent women from standing as a contender in elections. There, one out of ten villages prohibit women from becoming a matai, or village chief, and only matai can be elected to parliament. Only seven percent of Samoa’s matai were female at the last survey conducted in 2015. The odds of having a Samoan female PM are slim.
Heine’s comment, though, was pointing to a win much bigger than Mata’afa’s local triumph. Across the Pacific, levels of female political leadership are the lowest in the world, and only two women – Heine and Mata’afa – have served as the heads of their government in the Pacific Islands region (outside Australia and New Zealand).
This month, high-level political women from Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) member states convened the first Pacific Islands Forum Women Leaders Meeting (PIFWLM), which will now be held annually ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting. It’s an historic moment for the voice of Pacific women and is now enshrined into the regional decision-making process of the PIF.
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