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Micronesian senator praises Louisa Wall for ‘equality chance’ bill

David Panuelo

Ponhpei’s David Panuelo … full of praise for New Zealand’s Louisa Wall. Image: FSM govt

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Michael Sergel and Finian Scott

A Micronesian senator has used a forum of Pacific leaders in Wellington to congratulate Louisa Wall and the New Zealand people for “giving equality a chance”.

Speaking less than 40 hours after the passing of the Marriage Amendment Bill, David Panuelo – a male senator from Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia – addressed Louisa Wall directly when he told delegates that he admired New Zealand’s courageous and committed stance on what he said was a “sensitive issue” in his own country.

While he did not explicitly support similar legislation in the federation – where homosexuality is legal but taboo – he used his speech to the Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders Forum to argue passionately for moving closer to gender equality in the Pacific.

APJlogo72_iconHe said the appointment of Jane Chigiyal as the country’s first female Ambassador to the United Nations in 2011 was a significant milestone for the country – and an example of the commitment that the federation has to increasing the representation of women.

And he told Pacific Scoop that women’s groups are actively campaigning for better political representation, and it is only a matter of time until women are elected to the country’s national congress.

“We have women who are serving in state legislatures – women are already making it into key roles of leadership, key roles in the private sector, and key roles in the social area,” he says.

“Women will be elected into Congress in the near future, and I think we are already getting there. We have women who are now members of the cabinet and in the Supreme Court, state courts and municipal courts as associate judges.”

Gender equality
Panuelo said men need to support gender equality – and women need substantially greater representation in government.

“I have been a strong supporter of our women’s empowerment movement. Women are family-orientated and would be good representatives of the people. This may upset other men, but in general women are also less corrupt,” he said.

“Our constitution protects the right of women to political participation, and we are subject to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women agreement. But I’d like to see women gaining a lot of strength in movements to influence decision-making.”

He said he had recently voted against a bill to entrench a minimum number of women in the National Congress – but this was not because he opposed the equal representation of women.

“If we go by a way of reserving seats in our constitution – through a constitutional amendment – I think that is going to be a long and winding road that’s going to take a long time.”

Instead, he says he has confidence that strong and united women’s organisations, committed to pushing for greater equality, will be able to achieve results more quickly.

Gender equality was a hot topic at the forum, in which delegates from 18 countries discussed the equal Parliamentary representation of women, and greater rights to family planning and reproductive healthcare.

Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, a Samoan high chief and cabinet minister, dominated the forum with calls for equal representation, equal rights and opportunities, and greater acceptance of condoms and contraception.

Michael Sergel and Finian Scott are Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalists at AUT University. They are covering the Pacific politics forum for Pacific Scoop and the Pacific Media Centre as an Asia-Pacific Journalism assignment. Read their live blog: