Samoa’s Parliament Considers Abolishing 10% Quota for Women’s Seats

"it's better if you just said, 'We don't need women here'"

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Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau and Chair of Parliamentary Committee, Auapaau Mulipola Aloitafua.

27 October 2023, Translated from FaaSamoa. Samoa’s Parliamentary Committee tasked with reviewing recommendations on amendments to the Electoral Act have proposed the 10% quota reserved for women seats be abolished.

In an emotional plea one of the women representatives in parliament, Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau of Alataua i Sisifo appealed to maintain the 10% women’s quota which has provided the opportunity for two extra seats in this Parliamentary term.

Just four out of the 51 constituents in Samoa had voted for a woman at the April 2021 general election.  Aeau Tima Leavai from Falealupo (HRPP), Faimalotoa Kika Stowers of Gagaifomauga No1 (HRPP), Mulipola Anarosa Ale Molioo of Palauli No1 (FAST), Matamua Vasati Pulufana of Faasaleleaga No1 (FAST). The 5th woman MP was Prime Minister Hon Fiame Naomi Maatafa who was unopposed.

After post-election petitions and constitutional challenges to interpret the 10% quota, Aeau Tima Leavai lost her seat and two more women candidates with the highest percentage of votes, were declared MPs to satisfy the quota as set down in Samoa’s constitution. Ali’imalemanu Alofa Tuuau (HRPP) and Faagasealii Sapoa Feagiai (HRPP) make six women in Samoa’s current Parliament.

This week, a recommendation from the Electoral Commission of enquiry supported by the Parlaimentary Committe was put forward to repeal the 10% women’s quota. A change that would require a Constitutional amendment.

Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau and Chair of Parliamentary Committee, Auapaau Mulipola Aloitafua.

It was noted by the Committee Chairman, Auapaau Mulipola Aloitafua, that the Commission of Inquiry report states that of the 398 Samoans surveyed, 240 or 61% opposed, while 20% supported the 10% quota and 18% wanted to review the approach to allowing more women’s seats in Parliament.

Aliimalemanu argues that this is a very small portion of Samoa’s 200 thousand population were asked. The former Chair of the Parliamentary Finance and Expenditure Committee said 240 represents only 0.12% of Samoa’s population.

“Does that mean Parliament will base its decision on the views of 0.12% of the population?”

Aliimalemanu highlighted that women would be grossly under-represented in Parliament if the quota was not available to ensure the minimum 10% seats and accused leaders of undermining the value of women in decision making.

“Your hollow words are sweet when you tell women they are valued in your speeches, but it’s better if you just said, ‘We don’t need women here'”.

Aliimalemanu made reference to the value Samoa had placed on ensuring women were represented, by inserting the law as a Constitutional Amendment to guarantee 10% of Parliamentary seats for women.

Aliimalemanu told Parliament she hopes the decision to abolish the quota is not made against the two women currently holding the seats, being both from the opposition Human Rights Protection Party.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here who doesn’t want to remove the chance for your daughters to enter Parliament, but when our daughters ask in the future, who removed the 10% quota?, the answer is, your father, your mother, or your father’s brother, your mother’s sister did..”

Aliimalemanu says she hopes the decision to abolish the quota is not made against the two women currently holding the seats, being both from the opposition Human Rights Protection Party.

The Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee Auapaau Mulipola Aloitafua intervened to say their Committee’s decision is based on the recommendation put forth in the Report by the Commision of Inquiry.

Aliimalemanu insisted that the removal of the 10% quota would show Samoa’s lack of support for the advancement of women and girls in positions of leadership and pleaded with Parliament to not make decision based on party politics, and to maintain the 10% quota for women in Parliament.

A National Human Rights Institutute (NHRI) report states that Samoa ranks among the lowest in the world (131 out of 139) for women’s political participation. Since independence in 1962, women have remained below 10% of Samoa’s parliamentarians.

The Constitutional Amendment Act 2013 requiring a 10% quota of women parliamentarians was first enforced during the 2016 election. Only three women were voted in at the 2011 general elections.

According to a National Human Rights Institute report, in order to get to the root cause of unequal participation, it is important to address women’s exclusion at the village level.

Samoa is the Home of Taula.

Only 11% of matais are female and the NHRI believes that unless women’s involvement in decision making is resolved at the village level, the underrepresentation of women in Parliament will remain a challenge.

On the other hand, a high proportion of urban businesses in Samoa are owned or managed
by women and there are approximately equal ratios of women in executive and
middle management positions in the public sector and the proportion of women in
formal employment (excluding manual labour) is almost equal to men.

At the youth level, boys have fallen far behind girls academically as statistics show their drop rates are much higher while youth crime continues to rise for young men.

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