The concept of Temporary Special Measures (TSM) was introduced in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (UN-CEDAW) which came into force in 1979. This was further strengthened in 1990 when the UN set a target of 30% of women in parliaments. This momentum grew in much of the world with over fifty nations adopting some form of temporary special measures since that time. Many countries also effected constitutional changes allowing TSM. Among those, Samoa has been the only Pacific nation to have done so, setting a minimum of 5% of the seats allocated to women.
The rest of the Pacific countries have been slow to adopt TSM, which may be seen as a reluctance to improve gender equality in the region. The substantial resources and the commitment of regional development partners (i.e. Australia and New Zealand) to addressing the low representation of women in Pacific parliaments should also be acknowledged here. Such contributions included a 2012 initiative of the Australian government which committed $320 million towards a ten-year program ‘to empower women to promote gender equality in the Pacific’. Yet while the attention of the international community is welcomed, some questions can be asked. Among those, whose agenda is it to increase women’s political participation in Pacific countries? Why are Pacific governments slow to adopt such measures as the introduction of TSM? Is it because what works in other countries may not necessarily work in the Pacific context? Are there other options to be explored rather than trying to fit this model into an environment that is resistant to it and that is unconvinced that more women in parliament will automatically transform women’s lives? Is it possible that women in the Pacific do not necessarily share the same motivations as women in other regions of the world? These questions guided a research project looking at Niue as a case study. Findings from the research are highlighted in this brief.