Another view: Women in Parliament
The 10 per cent representation into political participation of women – what about equality for all?
The Constitutional amendment to allow for women - 5 in numbers - to be at least their minimum members in Parliament for none other but to make their presence felt and their voice heard vis–a-viz their representation amongst men Parliamentarians, raises more questions and arguably point to the underpinning complex of Samoan society than the amendment was intended to address.
Indeed and on any understanding of it, the issue is not of women representation to be the same with or close to the numbers of men- matais - elected, but of some representation of them in order that it can be said there is reasonable representation of women in Parliament.
Reasonable in the sense that whereas all 49 seats in the House are elected members, that 47 of them are men - matais - surely and unless women are also Parliamentarians as elected rather than merely to make up the numbers, the argument is invariably strong that mere presence is not what democracy is about, or what its form of government is and should be.
Absent a more compelling and meaningful rationale to have them enter the House as truly elected by you and I, that 10% argument is yet another political ploy that renders questionable why we have to comply with international human rights as in CEDAW; the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and of course, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I mention these international rights agreements and instruments because that really is where the push is coming from: make these human rights - that is the right of minimum representation of women - part, substantial part of our political system, and we receive all the aid and loan monies we want, and of course, needed. Sadly, it’s the old ploy - as old as the hills that must render human rights, whether international or domestic, an issue entirely our own and therefore be assessed and determined by our own fa’asinomaga, not otherwise.
If they were to be that otherwise, it safe to say our rights and freedoms shall not be of our cultural democracy, but of alien orientation tuned of loan and money and international push we were always resistant of. It follows we live by our values but are told what to do from overseas and elsewhere and outside ...
The constitutional amendment bill is clear it is, amongst others, “to provide for a minimum number of women of Members of Parliament …”, and goes on to prescribe that if of course women - 5 of them - are elected in their own right in the General Election that they are part of the total of 49 members of the House, then there is no need for the amendment to be used. In other words, it lapses as of that General Election.
If however that 10% requirement is not met such that may be only 4 women or less are elected then, section 2 of the Amendment operates as to make “women Members of the Legislative Assembly [to] consist of a minimum of 10% … which for the avoidance of doubt … is presently five (5) and [therefore] be elected … or become additional members …. “. Other provisions - these are (1A) to (1G) - of this new section 2 are so prescribed; worded and written in such a way and with the clear intention that this 10% threshold assures that that minimum 5 women membership in the House is achieved.
Clearly, this is a law that begins from the back to reach the front: because women representation is politically needed and required, that purpose must be achieved however the law prescribes and anoints it. In other words, so long as that purpose is legitimate, its methods and process of achievement is not material – the ends justify the means that that process cannot be questioned. Remember the house without proper foundation built on sand?
Consider the following:
(i) no mention is made in this law about the matai suffrage requirement that a member cannot be elected into Parliament unless one is a matai. Assuming that the new section 2 of the Constitution Amendment makes women representation of their own right, or add a new member as prescribed by Article 44 of the Constitution, which of course requires membership by territorial constituencies of villages and sub-villages, and these invariably do not include women as they are not matais, what happens then? What becomes of the 10% threshold and the 5 women numbers as needed? The point is that unless women are matais in each of these constituencies – which the majority of them are not – this new law impeccably fails, and its supposedly legitimate purpose becomes implacably illegitimate it is unconstitutional and unlawful;
(ii) the law then prescribes for additional members, no doubt for the benefit of women, thereby making membership of the House more than 49. If after a General Election no women are elected in any constituency but there were, for example, 12 of them of the “highest number of votes” in 12 prescribed but different constituencies, then by section 2(1B) of the new law, they become “additional Members”. Does this mean these are members additional to the 49 seats under Article 44 of the Constitution, that the total members of the House is then 61? Or, if instead of 12 as ‘highest number of votes’ for women not elected, there are 3 of them - of course from 3 different constituencies - would that make the total number of seats in the House 52? The point is: where is this leading us into? Do we have a definite numbers of seats – members – in the House, or shall it be such that depending on this 10% women threshold and their 5 minimum seat requirement, that Article 44’s 49 membership House is just, well, numbers, that obviously shall alter and change in any General Election, even that of a by-election?
(iii) or is it the understanding that despite that 12 or 3 or any other number of “highest number of votes”, only 5 women is required as to make their representation meet the law? What becomes then of the other “highest number of votes” in the remaining 7 of that original 12 ‘highest number of votes’? And how does one choose which 5 of that 12 to be additional members?
(iv) and if it is additional for women, then unavoidably, issues of minority and preferential treatment arise. Obviously, women in Parliament are of minority representation, not of any unwanted or questionable reason, but merely of the voters themselves not of the mind or want to vote them in. And that goes further back into the cultural society that we are - women are hardly agreed to by true heirs and suli tuipolata, and of course the taupulega of the aiga potopoto, to be matais. And of course without that matai chiefly title, they cannot be candidates in the General Elections. So if in any particular constituency there are no women candidates, what becomes of the 10% threshold and the 5 women minimum requirement in the House? That test is obviously not achievable. The point, to repeat is that we have to go back to the beginning in order to go forward. As stated above, this is a major problem with this law: it begins from the back to the front;
(v) accepting the minority argument that women must be represented as they are of minority membership in Parliament, what of other minority representation as for example the individual voters roll that had been in the pipe line for so long to be deleted and done away with? Should that be done now? And what of Chinese Samoan citizenship or other Pacific Island Samoan citizenship, or even that of fa’afafine Samoans, all whose rights are of course the same as all of us, but are still minority in that there is no representation of them in Parliament? If the argument is that all these people are Samoan in their own right and therefore are eligible for political representation by virtue of that Samoaness - if that characterization be used - and of course their own Samoan citizenship, then the same can be said of women: they are indeed Samoan women, by all our Samoaness, and of course our Samoan citizenship.
Absent therefore some other valid rationale that the new law has not shown as to make this minority issue permissible by the rights orientation of all of us that of course, the Constitution preserves and entrenches, this law is unmistakably an ass;
(vi) and speaking of fa’afafine minority, look at the gay marriage issue in the just decided US Supreme Court decision in Hollingsworth et al v Perry et al (# 12-144, June 26, 2013) that outlaws California’s Proposition 8 law banning same sex marriage. Gays are indeed minority, but they have rights like all others that the law and society must accept and accept and accept … ;
(vii) then of women preferential treatment – why should there be any special treatment of women just because they are women, that they need a minimum of 5 in numbers to be appropriately or proportionately represented in Parliament? This is sexiest. What makes them special that they are preferred that extra and higher treatment than every other Tom, Dick and Harry – I mean Toma, Titi Toti - who incidentally are all Samoan and of that same Samoaness, but are not accorded that preferential treatment? The question is unmistakably rhetoric but realistically true. And it’s the same as in (v) and (vi) above. And once again, preferential treatment takes more meaning for example as in the racial voting issue in the American Voting Act 1965 because of the black white divide that crossed race borders in the Brown v Board of Education of Topeka historic right to education case. That of course, cannot be met by the underlying rationale of this constitutional amendment, or by the real and actual application of it as is now evident.
Unavoidably however, they shine on the disparity and discrimination this law holds; and
(viii) finally, can some preferential treatment therefore be made for all voters – including of course women – over 21 years of age who are not matais and who shall never ever be matai for whatever reason, and therefore in their lifetime shall never be candidates as to be elected into Parliament, no matter how much they want, how good they are, and no doubt, are obviously of the political drive to win an election?
The least representation of women in the elections and therefore in Parliament is not solely political that calls only for a political or legal remedy.
The issue is much wider – it is inclusive of the vertical and horizontal spread of the people we are and the country we live in, that political measures are invariably short cited: they pertain only to the life of the politics that caused it to happen, and therefore merely fragment it. It is not taken totally of the whole.
The argument is that unless such measures are identified; addressed and met by a holistic understanding that makes politics and political measures part of our entire life journey, these shall not end.
If one were for example to look at the Electoral Act and observe how that law has become so fragmented because of “daily” amendments in almost every year of election, inclusive of this constitutional amendment just to make women part of the whole, you can understand where this piece is coming from and going to. And we are now politically free for 50 years. Isn’t that knowledge enough to know what we are doing and where we are heading?
Unless we take these measures as part of our education and learning for which our young are taught from their tender early years to know their future, these measures and remedies shall remain wholly artificial. And when one considers it was the push in respect of women rights of representation and participation into the political affairs of the State by virtue of CEDAW and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and anti discrimination conventions, should not that right issue be of more importance for our young in their search and education for tomorrow, and therefore be taught of them and for them in schools?
If not, the question shall always remain: what right do we have and where is equality for us all?
*This piece was initially published in 2013 when the issue surfaced. Now that we have reached the situation where we have four women – not five – it has been reprinted to take our minds back to what was predicted then.