Palau takes lead in empowering women

[Melekeok, Palau] – As the Palau President signed CEDAW in New York this week, Palauan women demonstrated their political skills back home.

CEDAW is the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, which was signed by the President of Palau, H.E. Mr Johnson Toribiong, at the UN General Assembly in New York this week.

In Palau in the meantime, a group of 14 women are making history as they demonstrate their own political empowerment at the first ever Mock Olbiil Era Kelulau (Congress) for Palauan women.

Hon Laura Miles, a mock delegate who was formerly the Governor of Sonsorol State, reflected on the positive experience she has had through her participation in the Mock Olbiil Era Kelulau (OEK).

“I came this morning feeling really excited,” she said. “Being a Governor before, I learned a lot about legislative processes, but this training has still enhanced my knowledge. When people asked me to run for the House of Delegates before, I felt ignorant – but after doing this, I know I can do it. I hope that this opportunity is offered to other women, because it has real benefit.”

The women trained for three days to prepare for their Mock Olbiil Era Kelulau (OEK) debut. The session began with the women mock delegates debating resolutions they had drafted themselves during the week.

Participants developed 13 resolutions for discussion, ranging in topics from Outer Islands Transport Policy, the importance of accelerating the search for funds for the Micronesia Challenge Endowment Fund for sustainable conversation of the environment, and a call for the Government to develop a Palauan Studies Curriculum.

“My resolution was focused on trying to get the Government to recognise and support our new Palau National Youth Council (PNYC), because implementation plans are not yet in place to support them,” said Hon Emilia Katosang, one of the mock delegates.

“We also don’t have a current National Youth Policy – because it ran out in 2010 – and the one we had wasn’t developed with much youth participation. So I wanted to use this opportunity to speak for youth in Palau.

“This year was the Year of Youth, so I thought this Mock OEK was a timely way of drawing attention to the important issues such as young unemployment and to get the Government to support more work in this area.”

Mock delegate Remeliik sponsored a resolution which proposed strengthening the current Office of the Ombudsman to focus on corruption and human rights issues, as well as public administration.

“I wanted to use this opportunity to applaud our President for signing CEDAW and thought we could give him some ideas on how to actually implement the conventions back home,” said Remeliik. “That’s why we suggested that our current Ombudsman could be used to also deal with human rights issues.”

The mock delegates also debated two controversial clauses in the real 2012 Palau Budget Bill – section 25, which proposes the introduction of a minimum wage and section 26, which proposes debt forgiveness for the Government’s current bill with the Palau Utilities Corporation.

“The mock session has been extremely beneficial for our women,” said Minister for Community and Cultural Affairs, Hon Faustina Rehuher-Marugg, who supported the initiative from its inception.

“It not only built their capacity to understand key policy issues and Congress processes, it also took them into a space that has been dominated by men throughout our history.

“I would like to see similar activities organized in the future and my Ministry will continue to support and lead on this. My Ministry will use this opportunity to build awareness on the importance of women participating in political decision-making and to demonstrate that we want to work alongside men for the development of our nation. I urge all our Mock Delegates to do the same as they go back to their communities.”

Floor Leader Gibson Kanai, a real member of the House of Delegates, observed the Mock OEK and remarked, “Today, these women have proven to the skeptics, men and women alike, what women can do to balance and improve the way we govern and develop as a society. Their participation in this Mock OEK will help to influence and improve our perceptions of women as leaders and our acceptance of women as legislators. Palau needs a women’s touch in its political life, just as we need it in all aspects of our social, family and economic life as a society.”

The idea of a mock Parliament for Women draws on the positive experiences reported from recent youth parliament forums, including the youth parliament sessions held in Kiribati, Niue, RMI and Tonga.

The idea was first raised in 2010, at a Forum Smaller Island States (SIS) Meeting on “Advancing Women’s Participation in Decision Making Processes” where delegations endorsed the convening of a Mock Parliament for Women in their respective countries.

The first mock parliament for women in the Pacific was held in Kiribati from 8-9 August 2011, and a second mock parliament was held in Marshall Islands on 2 September 2011.

The Mock OEK was supported by the Palau Gender Division in the Ministry of Community & Cultural Affairs and the House of Delegates of the OEK, in collaboration with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

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For further information contact: UNDP Regional Parliamentary Specialist, Charmaine Rodrigues via charmaine.rodrigues@undp.org or the Forum Secretariat’s Gender Issues Officer, Joanne Lee Kunatuba via joannelk@forumsec.org.fj