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Vanuatu: Amendments to Reserve Seats in Parliament for Women to Be Introduced

(May 27, 2016) On May 20, 2016, the Vanuatu Minister of Justice, Ronald Warsal, stated in a radio interview that the government would introduce a bill that would reserve a certain number of seats for women in the Parliament.  (Michael Walsh, Vanuatu Paves Way for Women’s Seats in Parliament, ABC NEWS (May 20, 2016).)  The bill would seek to amend the Vanuatu Constitution.  In order to take effect, such an amendment must be “supported by the votes of no less than two-thirds of all the members of Parliament at a special sitting of Parliament at which three-quarters of the members are present.”  (Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu, s 85, Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute website.)

The announcement follows a national election in January of this year in which none of the nine women who stood as candidates were elected.  The women were among 261 candidates contesting for 52 seats.  (Tess Newton Cain, Vanuatu’s General Election – Some Preliminary Thoughts, DEVPOLICY BLOG (Jan. 25, 2016).)  Warsal noted, “[i]t has been over 10 years since we have had a woman in parliament,” and ”[w]omen have tried over the years [to win office]. In the last election, some women contested for political parties and some stood as independents … but it’s quite difficult.”  (Michael Walsh, Vanuatu to Reserve Seats in Parliament for Women, ABC NEWS (May 21, 2016).)

Warsal  said that the government had not yet determined how many seats would be reserved for women and that he hopes that the details of the bill will be finalized before the Parliament next sits, on June 10, 2016.  (Id.)  Other questions are whether the reserved seats will be in addition to the current 52 seats and whether women will share existing constituencies.  (Vanuatu Plans Reserved Seats for Women in Parliament, RADIO NZ (May 21, 2016); Vanuatu Could Get Reserved Seats for Women in Parliament, RADIO NZ (May 23, 2016).)

Female Parliamentary Representation in the Region

The Pacific region has the lowest proportion of female members of parliament in the world.  (Women in National Parliaments, INTER-PARLIAMENTARY UNION (IPU) (as of Apr. 1, 2016).)  In May 2015, the overall proportion of women in lower houses in the region was 5.7% (excluding Australia and New Zealand).  (Leadership and Decision Making, PACIFIC WOMEN (last visited May 27, 2016).)  Last year, a proposal to introduce a quota for women was presented to the Papua New Guinea Parliament but was not passed. (PNG Considers Female Political Candidates Measure, RADIO NZ (Apr. 22, 2015); Mixed Reaction to PNG Bill on Increasing Female Leaders, RADIO NZ (Apr. 29, 2015).)  An earlier bill was also defeated in 2010.  (See Kelly Buchanan, Papua New Guinea: Bill Seeks to Reserve Seats in Parliament for Women, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 25, 2010).)

In June 2013, the Samoan Parliament amended the Constitution to reserve five seats for women in the 49-seat Parliament.  (Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa, s 44, Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute website, amended by Constitution Amendment Act 2013, Parliament of Samoa website.) The first election in which the quota applied was held in March 2016, with a record number of women standing as candidates.  (Mitiana Arbon, Record Number of Female Candidates in the 2016 Samoan General Election, THE MONSOON PROJECT (Mar. 3, 2016).)  Three incumbent female members and one new member won their constituencies outright, and a fifth woman, who came second in her constituency, entered Parliament based on the quota.  The additional member means the total number of seats in the Parliament was increased to 50.  (Samoa: Fono (Legislative Assembly) – Last Elections, IPU (last visited May 27, 2016).)