End 'embarrassing' all-male parliament, Vanuatu women urge new PM

by Beh Lih Yi | @BehLihYi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 22 April 2020 11:09 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Residents evacuated due to the Manaro Voui volcano, located on Vanuatu's northern island Ambae, receive food and water at an evacuation center in Luganville, on Vanuatu's Espiritu Santo Island located in the South Pacific, October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Bohane

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Two other countries in the world without a serving female MP are Papua New Guinea the Federated States of Micronesia

By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR, April 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Vanuatu women's rights advocates urged the new prime minister on Wednesday to reform its all-male parliament, saying it was "embarrassing" to be one of only three countries with no female lawmakers.

They called on Prime Minister Bob Loughman, who was elected this week, to set aside half the 52 seats in the legislature for women in future polls in the Pacific island nation.

"Right now we don't have any women, it's zero. We seriously need to think about gender equality," said Andrina Komala Lini Thomas, a former head of the government's investment arm and one of 17 women who stood in last month's election.

"Unless there is affirmative action, it's extremely difficult for women to get the required votes to become members of parliament," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the capital Port Vila.

Attempts to reach the government for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Vanuatu has had only five female MPs since its independence from Britain and France in 1980 and has not voted in a single women in the last three elections.

Thomas, who is secretary-general of the Leleon Vanua Democratic Party, said the political system in the country of 300,000 people was stacked against aspiring women MPs, who often lacked resources and money to contest.

Her party, launched last year to get more women into politics, had to drop its plans to contest in the poll last month because of a lack of funding.

Thomas and two other members eventually contested on another party's ticket. She said the party aimed to make a return in the 2024 poll.

Two other countries in the world without a serving female parliamentarian are Papua New Guinea the Federated States of Micronesia, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union group.

The three nations are all in the Pacific, a region with one of the worst records of female representation in politics and where 60% of the women have faced violence, according to United Nations data.

"It's shocking and embarrassing to tell the world that we have no women in parliament," said Anne Pakoa, who contested as an independent candidate.

Pakoa, head of the Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition, said her work on issues such as period poverty and women's displacement during disasters demonstrated the need for women to be represented in parliament.

"Men don't understand these issues, it's hard to get the message through. We want the prime minister to make it his national priority to ensure there will be women in parliament," she said.

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(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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