Parliament a "hostile" environment": women leaders

Two women leaders have lamented the loss of decorum in the XVI Legislative Assembly and its descent into a “hostile” environment which can become a barrier for aspiring women politicians.

Former Attorney General Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu and former Deputy Prime Minister and Faatuatua I le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T) party leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa told a panel discussion on ‘women and political participation’ at the National University of Samoa (NUS) on Monday that the environment within the Parliament was “abusive and aggressive” but ultimately it is what aspiring women politicians want to achieve if they get elected that should drive them past these hurdles.

Taulapapa said she has thought about running for public office but is of the view that Samoa’s Parliament has in recent times lost its decorum.

"One of the fundamental barriers in my view is whether women are willing to enter an environment that we currently have, prevailing in our Parliament,” she told the panel discussion.

“I think it is a hostile, aggressive and abusive place at the moment than it has been for a long time. 

“I have always been thinking about going into the Parliament until I watch and heard women in peace.

“And I'm thinking particularly of Tuala Theresa under Malietoa, attempting to raise issues about education, which all of you know she had a particular experience and knowledge of, and to be roundly abused about her personal life and about the fact that she didn't know anything.”

Taulapapa said women considering standing for politics have to be strong and courageous in order to deal with the “working environment” in the Parliament.

“I think that for me, illustrated one of the greatest barriers for women to go into the House, as being strong and courageous enough to actually deal with the working environment that currently exists,” the senior lawyer added.

“I mean I, you, listen to and I guess the Honorable Fiame has been the target of the latest examples of that sort of hostility.

“But if you listen to any session of Parliament, the nature of the discourse, the abuse, the aggression, that's the barrier that women face but it also won't change until women are in the House. 

The question, according to Taulapapa, is how the way can be made easy for women candidates with experience, knowledge and wisdom to get into politics and bring change in how the Parliament is run.

“So the question is, how we can ease the way of more women who have experience, knowledge, and wisdom to contribute but you have to consider your own self-preservation. 

“I guess the fear of going to step into what is an angry house so I think about it and the words that spring to mind is the discourse often only by one person is cruel, is rude and it's graceless. 

“So women in the House are needed to change that environment and also change the manner in which we govern ourselves so that respect and honour and dignity are restored to the House of people.”

Adding to the discussion, Fiame said ultimately an aspiring woman candidate should know what is her motivation to stand for public office.

She said knowing the answer to that question will enable the aspiring woman leader to disregard what other people think and to focus on the bigger picture.

"Well it's the obvious question why do you want to do it or if we believe what Taulapapa said what would any sensible woman want to do it?" 

“So first of all, you need to understand what your motivation is because you know that's the driving factor. 

“So it's not about what other people are thinking it's about where you are at and what you want to achieve. 

“You know, too often I think you know we live our lives about how other people, you know whether it's other people or society or whatever or when other people say this is what you can do and this what you can't.”

The Deputy PM emphasised that aspiring for public office shouldn’t be about what other people but what you think you can do to bring change to your community.

"It's not about what other people think, it's about what you think but then you have to understand the environment that you're in and work through that.

“But if you don't really have the motivation or you're not very clear about it you'll always be worried about what other people think.”

When asked for her views on how the media in Samoa has covered women in politics, Fiame said currently the world sees Samoa through the perspective of men, and if the Parliament is to truly represent the people then that view should be changed.

"You know it's about how the world is seeing this so it would be fair to say that the way the world, our world is seeing is very much through the men's eyes. 

“So I think we need to so I'm linking this to the whole representative Parliamentary purposes.

“If Parliament is supposed to be representing us and how we see the world, we need to change that worldview. 

“We need to say the world that you think you're in is actually not the world that it is and it's because of this and this.”

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