Australian High Commission
Kingdom of Tonga

Women Policy Makers Dialogue Tonga

Women Policy Makers’ Dialogue in Tonga

Natasha Stott Depoja, Global Ambassador for Women and Girls.

No country or region can afford to squander opportunities for development by excluding fifty per cent of their population from government. Yet, despite efforts in recent years, women in the Pacific continue to face many barriers to entering politics. The Pacific remains at the bottom of international tables with women accounting for just 4% of national parliaments in the region. The global average stands at around 20 per cent, and 30 per cent is widely recognised as the critical mass required for women to make a visible impact on political decision-making.

Empowering women as political and social actors can change policy choices and make institutions more representative of a range of voices. Women’s participation in decision making stands to benefit the whole community. Evidence shows that increased numbers of women in government can lead to improved distribution of resources, and greater maintenance of public infrastructure.

This is an issue close to my heart. I am a lifelong advocate of gender equality and served almost 13 years in the Australian Federal Senate. As Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, one of the three key pillars of my role is to advocate for the participation of women in decision-making and leadership.

This week I will host the Women Policy Makers’ Dialogue in Tonga, which will bring together over 30 Pacific women political leaders and senior women in government. Together we will discuss how barriers to women’s leadership can be reduced and how women parliamentarians can increase the impact of their leadership and decision-making. This event will be the first in a series of dialogues with women leaders in the region across a number of sectors, including women in business and civil society.

The dialogue will be followed by the Pacific Women Parliamentarian Partnerships Forum in Tonga from 19-21 July 2014. More than 25 female MPs from across the Pacific and Australia will meet to strengthen their skills in community consultation and advocacy to influence policy changes that benefit women. The forum fosters mentorship amongst the parliamentarians; twinning has already occurred between the parliaments of Solomon Islands and Victoria, Palau and Tasmania, and Cook Islands and Victoria.

These two events allow Pacific Women MPs to share and learn from each other’s experiences, to widen their support networks and to think strategically and creatively about how to overcome this problem. Although few in numbers within their own parliaments, together Pacific Women MPs have a significant voice.

Australia is a committed partner to this cause. This dialogue and forum form part of an ambitious ten year $320 million project that we are funding—Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Program. Together, through this program, we will be working to improve the political, economic and social opportunities of Pacific women.

It is important that this work is led by Pacific women. Women in the Pacific have the talent and the skills to take their countries forward. And they deserve the opportunity to do so. Supporting equality between women and men is one of the best ways to promote economic development and growth, and to achieve peace and security. Gender inequality is imposing a high personal, social and economic cost on Pacific people and nations.

This is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do: empowering women helps ensure the stability and prosperity of our region.