A New Zealand Parliamentarian has praised Samoa for the way it has embraced and promoted gender issues, especially in terms of getting more women in leadership roles. Louisa Wall, Manurewa’s Labour Party, was one of over 60 women who gathered in Samoa for the 4th Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnership (P.W.P.P) Forum.
During an interview with the Sunday Samoan, she said Samoa is a leader in the region.
“On behalf of the women gathered here, we just really want to acknowledge the leadership of Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa (Sailele Malielegaoi) as well as his Deputy Fiame (Naomi Mata’afa),” she said.
“She has been involved in this initiative from the very beginning so we are very proud to see that she has made it to the position that she is in right now.
“We do have to also acknowledge Samoa for implementing the temporary special measure and actually creating a law here in Samoa that says there has to be at least 5 women representatives in parliament.
“Basically that is what we have been trying to do, we have been trying to promote politics as an area that women can actually participate in so it is really important to acknowledge leadership when we see it so on behalf of all of us, thank you.”
Although the Women Parliamentarian Forum has proved to have helped progress in terms of gender equity within leadership roles, there are still many issues yet to be addressed.
“The issues we are all still facing right now is still about representation and so I think everyone has a role to play with lifting the number of women representatives in parliament, if we had true equality then 50% of our parliament seats will be occupied by women,” Ms. Wall said.
“In New Zealand representation sits at 32% and so we still have a long way to go, having equality is really about how we can hear the different voices around the decision making table and I think we’re all aware that women are really strong in our families and communities.
“Women do a lot of work with children; to maintain harmony, nurturing, and I think that really the domain of decision making in our modern democracy should include women so that we can actually collect advice and make a difference for our countries.”
According to Ms. Wall one of the biggest issues is the mindset that men belong in power. “I think for a number of us, politics is seen as a domain for men only; it’s not seen as an area that women can contribute to,” she said. “I feel that some of that is related to traditional roles where women are caregivers, nurturers so for a lot of our cultures and societies it’s almost like ‘women belong in the kitchen and not in parliament’ but I think that women can do so much more.
“We can raise the children, run companies and play sport as well as be Members of Parliament.”
The claims of women being able to do just as much as men (sometimes even more) has been proven by Ms. Wall time and time again with her being a former Silver Ferns and Black Ferns player all while getting her masters in social policy;
She was also named New Zealand’s Women’s Rugby Player of the year in 1997.
According to Ms. Wall, her history with sports has played a big part in where she is now. “I think for a number of women that are actually here, they have come through that sports pathway so I am positive that sport is an amazing domain for women because we are really tough,” she said.
“If we can represent our countries in sports then why can’t we represent our country on the political stage?” Ms. Wall urges the people to think more on the strength of women.
“We have got to broaden the way we view our women, we’re not just mothers, nurturers and belong only in the kitchen; we belong right throughout societies… we actually had 3 women today (Wednesday) representing the banking sector all handling the banking institutions of Samoa; all women with children, husbands and so on,” she said.
“We offer the ability to multi-task where we can do more than one thing at a time.
“We contribute a unique voice; it’s not about who can do the job better but rather it’s about having a diversity of opinions around the table which allows you to have full discussions about what the issues are which will then provide a solution and a way forward.
“That is what’s lacking in the Pacific right now, that unique voice which holds care and compassions. We look at the world in a different way because what drives us is our children who are our next generation.”
When asked about differences and similarities between women in parliament in New Zealand and Samoa, Ms. Wall said there are a few.
“Samoa is very unique because you do have a qualification in reference to your Matai system and so to qualify to stand you have to be honored as a leader of your community then serve them for 3 years. We in New Zealand don’t have those qualifications,” she said.
“What underlines that philosophy is that the community you want to represent has to have a relationship with you; “They must know who you are, what you stand for and what your values are. You have to demonstrate to them that you know their needs and aspirations then work with them to try fixing any issues that they might have.”
According to Ms. Wall, women have a gift of being more in touch with their spiritual side. “One of the sessions that we had this afternoon (Wednesday) had four of the Fijian women speakers who were very preoccupied with the cyclone, so we just stopped that session and had prayers,” she said. “That is something that will never happen in my parliament, we don’t pray in the middle of a discussion but that’s what sets us apart from men. We are extremely spiritual; God plays a big role in our lives.”
Ms. Wall concluded by branding Samoa as the ‘Star of the Pacific’.
“I love Samoa I want to come back again and again, I feel very blessed being here. I think Samoa should be incredibly proud of itself,” she said.
“I feel that the leadership that you have in the country is definitely improving the lives of the women in contributing to the gender equality declaration that the pacific island forum committed to in 2012 and I think Samoa is the Star of the Pacific…. And I mean that whole heartedly.”