FIJI: Include Women in Polls

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The Fiji Times
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

In the past, Kenyan women were kept out of standing in the elections or even voting on election day because of violence and huge financial costs.

Members of the Kenyan Constitutional Review Committee had to ensure space existed for women enabling them to participate in the constitutional making process, to vote in an election and to stand as a candidate.

While women in Fiji have been present in the highest levels of Fijian politics since the late 70s, much can be learnt from the experiences of Kenyan women in the creation of Kenya's constitution.

This was discussed during last week's public lecture titled 'Constitutional Review: the Kenyan Experience' by Jill Cottrell who, with her husband Professor Yash Ghai, sat on the Kenyan Constitutional Review Committee.

She said the committee members looked specifically at issues of specific rights for women, the representation of women's issues in the constitution, and the participation of women in the constitutional making process. Emphasis was placed on the constitution being gender-neutral, meaning laws and regulations also applied to the idea of gender neutrality.

For example, a requirement that read "there must be no more than two thirds of men or women for that matter" became "there must be no more than two thirds of either gender".

Committee members included a general equality provision and a non-discrimination provision against women in the constitution which for example allowed men and women to adopt either spouse's nationality after marriage.

Customary law was another closely scrutinised area because it was not always favourable to women and committee members made sure it was complied with the general equality provision of the constitution.

The electoral system was also designed as an Open List Proportional Representation Electoral and Voting System encouraging non-traditional participation in elections or in any political process whatsoever with special seats being adopted for women.