Marshallese Women Experience First ever Mock Nitijela
2 September 2011 (Majuro, Republic of Marshall Islands) – Nominations for Marshall Islands national and local elections closed in late July. Out of 96 candidates running for the Nitijela, nine women have nominated to run. Of those nine women, six participated in the first ever Mock Parliament for Women, which was held in the Marshall Islands Nitijela this Friday. A number of candidates running in local elections also participated in the Mock Parliament, which had 27 participants in total.
The Mock Parliament was chaired by Chairperson Abacca Anjain-Maddison, who was elected to act in the role as Speaker by the Delegates during the 4-day which preceded the week. Chairperson Abacca Anjain-Maddison, who is a former Senator and is running again in the upcoming election reflected on the positive experience of presiding over the Mock Parliament. “I was quite nervous to begin with, as it was quite overwhelming to feel the aura of the Nitijela while sitting in the Speaker’s Chair. But I settled in quickly and really learned a lot from the experience. The women performed very, very well and I think we all showed that women Senators would have a lot to offer the people of Marshall Islands in term of ideas, commitment and a willingness to serve our country,” she said.
The morning started with Question Time from Opposition Delegates. Questions covered a range of issues from improving inter-island transfers for students and teachers going back to the outer islands, tackling the challenge of high levels of teen pregnancy, the impact of climate change and removing ordinances from World War II especially in the outer islands. The Delegates then discussed a motion on climate change and had a very active debate on a proposed Mock Bill on introducing sex education into the school curriculum for students.
Current Senator Dennis Momotaro, who observed parts of training and the Mock Nitijela session, reflected on the day, observing, “This training was very helpful for women, particularly for those standing for elections both at the local government level and for the Nitijela. We have very capable women in Marshall Islands and I hope we break the ice at this year’s elections. Historically, we have had only one woman in the Nitijela. This is the time to make a difference and I hope the voters of Marshall Islands will give our women a chance.”
In fact, throughout the week, there was considerable discussion amongst the community about the role of women in the Nitijela. One of the Delegates in the Mock Parliament, Dr Hilda Heine, noted, “There have been mixed views about this activity being conducted in Marshall Islands but the reality is, women need all the support available. I found this training very useful and would like to see it happen on a regular basis. I encourage young women to take part in future trainings so that they are exposed to law-making processes and experience what it is like to be in the Nitijela. Every election we hope women will win but not many women nominate in the first place. One of the reasons women don’t run is because they feel intimidated when it comes to their place in the Nitijela. This training allows women to experience being in the Nitijela, where all our national decisions are made and shows us that we too have a part to play”.
Delegate Heine’s views were echoed by other women who participated in the Mock Parliament. Delegate Marcella Sakaio said that “We cannot make everyone happy but we need to do what is right to support the women of the Marshall Islands. Usually, people’s first reaction to a new idea or change is negative, but once they understand you get their full support. This Mock Parliament has helped me to be strong. I will go home to my island of Ebeye and educate more people to be more supportive of women’s political participation for a better Marshall Island.”
As the women concluded the Mock Parliament and reflected on their experiences during the week, a number of candidates highlighted their renewed commitment to campaigning hard in order to be successful at the elections. Delegate Juana Leviticus Bellu noted, “I was not going to campaign for the upcoming local government elections but I am now, since going through this training. In our culture it can be hard for women to run against their uncles and brothers because we look up to them, but I will make sure I share this training with other women and encourage them to run for election as well.”
Observers of the training were also very positive in their feedback. Mrs. Billa Jacklick, wife of the Speaker of the Nitijela and candidate for upcoming local government elections, sat in on the week long training because she was interested to find out more. She observed at the end of the week, “This is a good start-up for women who are thinking of running for elections. Women need to give their campaigns more thought and realize that it requires planning. Local government is a good first-step for women who want to play a role in decision making. I am the only woman out of seven candidates running for the Mayor seat in Jaluit and look forward to campaigning. I wish the delegates of this training all the best”.
The Republic of Marshall Islands will be holding national elections in November 2011. The training and Mock Parliament were designed to provide an opportunity for women candidates to develop and apply their public advocacy skills. It was 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 Marshall Islands.
The training and Mock Parliament for Women was spearheaded by Nitijela staff and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It was supported by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme. This activity is highlighted as a key recommendation in the 2010 Smaller Island States Action Plan on Women in Decision-Making, a project funded by the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality.