The National Democratic Institute (NDI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organisation that since its founding in 1983 has worked with local partners to support and strengthen democratic institutions and practices and promote citizen participation in government
WASHINGTON - Women are historically underrepresented in politics in the Pacific Islands; Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands are no exception.
At the same time, women in all three countries experience shocking levels of violence, in the home and in public.
The convergence of traditional patriarchal gender stereotypes and societies accustomed to gender-based violence prevents women from claiming their political rights in democratic processes.
This assessment builds on and contributes to research and action by the National Democratic Institute to eliminate violence against women in politics.
In the Pacific Islands, the assessment found that factors that influence and create barriers to women’s political participation are socio-cultural and institutional, involving the electoral system and political parties.
Many citizens in the region continue to associate politics with men and view political leadership as a masculine trait. Institutional barriers, such as electoral systems and political parties, impact the extent to which women compete in the political arena.
Moreover, although women in all three countries have different experiences, levels of success, and come to politics in different ways, they experience violence because of their activism.
Most women interviewed for this assessment have experienced, firsthand, or witnessed acts of violence against women engaged in political activities.
While physical assault is less common, many politically active women are victims of character assassination and libelous accusations, which tend to be intensely personal and often sexual in nature.
Unsurprisingly, in countries where families and communities tolerate and perpetuate gender-based violence, the perpetrators of violence against women in politics include women as well as men.
Most participants in the research, including male interviewees, agreed that violence against women in politics impacts the ambition and overall participation of women in politics.
Fear of ostracisation or being viewed as a ‘victim’ and a lack of faith in the justice system—fueled by impunity—prevent most women from reporting violence against them.
Several female respondents suggested that since violence against women in politics is a large part of their culture, it is an expected price they pay to engage in politics.
Although all three countries included in this research have legal provisions outlawing violence against women and many institutions have policies to regulate behavior among members, participants noted that institutional mechanisms to prevent violence against women in politics are inadequate or not appropriately enforced.
Finally, researchers explored the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women’s political participation in the three countries. In the Pacific Islands, health concerns and the pandemic’s economic impact have profoundly affected women as they struggle with income loss and food insecurity.
Outside of extraordinary election events, in PNG and Solomon Islands, participants reported that where work has slowed down for everyone, women’s political activity has also slowed directly impacting advocacy for women’s rights at a time when it’s critically needed.
The assessment confirmed that combating gender-based violence in general and violence against women in politics, in particular, requires the efforts of a multitude of stakeholders, including election management bodies, political parties, police and security forces, and civil society organisations, particularly women’s organisations.