Paving the road to Parliament for Samoan women

Oct 18, 2015

Sharyl Siliniu-Muagututia (on the right) during one of the IPPWS sessions. Photo credit: UNDP Samoa.

“I started dreaming about becoming a politician at a young age, I suppose, by joining debate groups at the primary school” says Alofipo Seuoti Fialuma Sheryl Siliniu-Muagututia, from Saleaula, Savai’i.

A Chief in her village, an active Church supporter, a mother and a wife, full of talent and very outspoken, Sheryl Siliniu-Muagututia is one of the many women benefitting from the Increasing Political Participation of Women in Samoa (IPPWS), a joint initiative between UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Government of Samoa and the Australian Government.

Sheryl is taking part in a series of trainings aiming at building the skills of women who, like her, intend to run the 2016 elections. “The workshop is a great navigational toolkit. It is like a recipe book on how to become a good parliamentarian” – she said.

The IPPWS was launched in April earlier this year, and one of its main areas is to facilitate spaces for dialogue and create awareness at a community level on gender equality, women in politics and good governance.

“I am grateful that UNDP and UN Women initiated this programme. Before the IPPWS came into place women weren’t out there and only a few of them were running as candidates. Men used to overtake this role. But now a lot of things have changed. There is more education” – she points out – “UNDP and UN Women are raising awareness on the importance of bringing women on board. Now I see many women in different positions, in politics and in the Government. It´s a big shift, that’s how I feel it is.”

The joint programme also aims at working with political parties and strengthening governance processes to support women candidates. “I wanted to voice my opinion, so I put my hand up and realised that I couldn’t do it on my own. Through the support received by Samoa Ala Mai - one of the partners of the IPPWS - the use of social media and the word by mouth, I managed to become a candidate. But some of the women are still in their shell, they are scared to come out and speak up. It has to do with mentality. This programme should be broadened to enlighten those women and empower them about their role and their capacities.”

 She also remarks: “Because a lot of the trainings are held in Upolu - and travelling can be a problem for many women in Savai’i – it would be great if the IPPWS could be expanded to reach many more women from different constituencies. These courses should be also replicated and include younger women. A lot of them want to be a politician”

Finally, the IPPWS is intended to provide post-election mentoring and support to all members of parliament on activities including responsive budgeting and the preparation of gender-sensitive legislation. On that regard, Sheryl Siliniu-Muagututia states: “It’s good to know that the IPPWS will be supporting us not just in becoming good candidates but also with information and trainings developed for women elected. I am eager to see how the programme takes us forward.”

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