On 6th October, 2014, Dr. Jiko Luveni was elected as the Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Fiji. Her appointment marked an important event, being the first female Speaker in the history of Fiji.
Dr. Luveni was in Honiara last week for the Regional Conference on Women’s Leadership and Political Participation where she was interviewed by Solomon Star reporter’s Biriau Wilson Saeni in a question and answer session;
What are some of the difficulties you encounter as a first female speaker of Fiji?
Firstly based on my visit to other Westminster parliaments in Scotland, Wales, New Zealand and Australia, a Speaker is usually the most experienced parliamentarian. But in my case, I never had been a parliamentarian before so it has posed a challenge to me.
However being the first female speaker in Fiji, I have a duty to the women of Fiji where I have to prove myself as a Speaker and show them that I can perform the role effectively so that it will has an impact on the public’s perspective on women leaders in Fiji. My performance at this level will give morale boost to other women in Fiji who are aspiring to be leaders especially in politics.
Being the Speaker and also a member of the Fiji First Party I must be very objective. However the way I perform in Parliament, people will always perceive me as siding with the government. But what they don’t realize is that I perform based on the standing order which is the rules and the manual and I will have to follow standing orders. So that has become my challenge as a first female speaker in Fiji.
Fiji seems to top the number of women in Parliament compared to other pacific Islands countries, what is the secret?
Having the support of the Prime Minister and his male colleagues within the government is very important for women and not to mention that the electoral system in Fiji favour women because it is based on an open list propositional representation system.
This means the number of seats a political party will get in the parliament depends on the number of votes that the party acquired during the election. So if the First Party or the Prime Minister manages to acquire 60% of the votes, that means he has 60% of the seats in the parliament.
Whether the 60% are able to gain thousands of votes or few hundred, but if they are within the 60% top candidate they get into the parliament. So that makes it easier for women only if they have enough votes and only if women support women.
However it has to be both women and men voting for women. So through that system women were able to get so many seats in parliament.
When we did the campaign we all campaign for the Prime Minister and the Fiji first Party because we knew that the current Fiji PM is a very popular man. We knew that if he wins 60% of the voters’ votes he will get all of us into the parliament including the women. So the support of males and the electoral system used in Fiji has played an important role of supporting women in parliament in Fiji.
So currently how many women do you have in parliament in Fiji?
Currently we have eight women in parliament and I could have been the nine because I won my seat but now that I am the speaker of the parliament I will exclude myself from the count.
Having more women in parliament, do you think it will change the leadership character in the Parliament for the good of all?
Well it depends on the women parliamentarians themselves where they need to have leadership skills, they need to contribute to the debates in parliament, and they need to convince the Parliamentarians and also the viewer because parliament is viewed on Television in Fiji so they need to convince the viewers that they can become leaders as well.
Having women in Parliament has put them in a position where they have opportunities to prove them as leaders. What we must know is that women play an important role in the development sphere and can be very vital and instrumental when it comes to addressing issues affecting human beings.
Any issue raised by women in Parliament are issues that affecting children, men, family and the nation as a whole and that is why women in Parliament can be very instrumental when it comes to addressing issues affecting people. Women are more likely to take issues in a more detail manner into parliament where women are able to be heard on the leadership table.
The gap between male and female in parliament in Solomon Islands is very huge or big I should say, since the first general election held in the country in 1978 only three females have managed it to the parliament. Based on your experience in Fiji, what are some of the steps to reduce the gap?
The positive thing about women in Solomon Islands right now is that there are statements made by the Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that they will support women in Solomon Islands. It’s a very big statement where even my own country Fiji, our Prime Minister never said that to women in Fiji. So this is a sign of a new beginning for women in Solomon Islands. If the Solomon Islands Prime Minister really means what has been said then I guess the gap between the number of males and females in parliament in Solomon Islands will surely be reduced in the years to come.
With that I would like to remind women in Solomon Islands not to push their agenda too hard on men but to present their issues of gender equality in a way that is palatable to men that the men accept will easily accept it.