8 August 2011 (Tarawa, Kiribati) –
Today marked an historic day in the Pacific, with the Kiribati National Parliament hosting the first ever Mock Parliament for Women.
Thirteen women from Tarawa and seventeen women from the outer islands of Kiribati came together in the Maneaba ni Maungatabu (Parliament) following a 3-day preparatory training workshop last week.
The Mock Parliament, which will run from 8-9 August, has its own Speaker, Ms Terengaiti Babo, elected last week by the participants. Hon
Babo chaired today's parliamentary session, graciously supported by the Speaker of the National Parliament of Kiribati, Hon Taomati Iuta.
Reflecting on her first experience in the Speaker's Chair, Hon Babo observed,
"Being the Madame Speaker is very exciting and very challenging. During our rehearsal I was a bit nervous to begin with, but after a few minutes I settled into the Chair. Now in our real session, I feel in control of the proceedings. This Mock Parliament has encouraged me to run for Parliament in future so that I can be the real Speaker one day. For now, my plan is to run for the TUC Local Council to get some experience, but later on I hope to run for the House of Parliament."
In the morning, Members of the Government in the Mock Parliament faced Question Time from Opposition members. Questions covered a range of topics, from improving classroom facilities for school students, to calling for free pap smears for women, to the provision of better services for outer islands.
Recognising that 8 August is Youth Day in Kiribati, MP Kinateao from Abaiang asked what the Government was doing to provide employment opportunities for school leavers. Minister Hon Iaaneta Clare Baiteke in the Mock Parliament responded: "Promoting employment for young people is a key Government priority. We are already providing support for further education, for example through the Marine Training Centre and South Pacific Marine Services to enable our youth to take up opportunities for good work overseas. The Government also has the Kiribati-Australia Nursing Initiative, which enables our youth to get opportunities to learn nursing and then choose to work locally or overseas because their qualifications are recognized internationally. Young people are our best resource and we want to help them as much as possible."
Hon Baiteke commented about her experience participating in the Mock Parliament,
"To me, this is an excellent move towards the advancement of women. This has been a priority of the National Women's Council since the Beijing Conference for Women, but we have struggled to meet our goals. We are very excited that for the first time we are now entering the Chamber to actually participate in a parliamentary session. Our elections are coming up soon, and we hope some of our women can now do this for real."
Following Question Time, MP Rekeiti Mackenzie from the Opposition moved a motion urging the Government to focus less on climate change mitigation activities and more on "migrating with dignity". Discuss on the motion was lively, with more than ten Members of the House wading into the discussion.
Reflecting on the debate, MP Mackenzie observed:
"My motion was quite controversial, but it was exciting to get a chance to debate it in Parliament. It was very interesting to hear women's views on the topics we were discussing today. I thought that we really demonstrated our knowledge and brought a different perspective to the issues, especially the women from the outer islands who did a really good job of discussing issues that they might not normally be called on to debate."
The final session of the day saw the tabling of the Youth Reproductive Health Rights Bill by Hon Moia Tetoa. The Bill proposes requiring free condoms to be provided in government primary and secondary schools and for sex education classes to be compulsory for students over 8 years of age. The controversial Bill was hotly debated by participants who raised a range of strong arguments for and against the proposed law.
"When I presented the Bill, I was excited. I was wishing that it was the real Parliament that I was presenting to because the issue of our young people's sexual health is very, very important. I felt confident when I spoke on the Bill and really enjoyed getting this opportunity to present my opinion to our Parliament. I was really committed to making a strong argument and convincing my fellow MPs and the public about the importance of providing sex education to our young people", commented Hon Tetoa about her experience discussing the proposed Bill.
Hon Tetoa also reflected on the value of the Mock Parliament more broadly.
"I am so glad that Kiribati has hosted the very first Mock Parliament for Women in the Pacific. I have liked getting tips from the MPs who gave us feedback during the training. I really hope that this will encourage our women to run for Parliament in our elections and I believe it will help them get elected. It's been a good thing to help our women understand how Parliament works. I think they will now go home and help their own communities understand parliament and the issues that are being discussed."
Kiribati will be holding national elections in the next few months. This training and Mock Parliament have been designed to provide an opportunity for potential women candidates to develop and apply their public advocacy skills. It is an also an opportunity for the community to be encouraged to reflect on the importance of supporting the inclusion of more women in decision-making positions in Kiribati.
The training and Mock Parliament for Women is being spearheaded by the Kiribati Parliament and the Kiribati Department of Women. It is supported by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme with additional funding from the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF). The Mock Parliament will conclude on Tuesday 9 August 2011.
For further information contact: UNDP Communications Specialist Shobhna Decloitre on (679) 992 6396 or [email protected].