Perceptions of women in politics in Fiji: how to accelerate change?

20th January 2015

Following the elections in Fiji in 2014, women’s representation in parliament is now 14%. This is up from 11% in 2006, but Fiji remains well behind the global average of 21.8%. 

To bring women’s participation rates up, we need to understand how members of the community view the role of women in politics, and also their attitudes towards women in leadership more broadly. A recent report on Public Perceptions of Women in Leadership provides this insight for Fiji.

'When we shifted the focus to "leadership" … we found strong support for a greater role for women'

The study, undertaken by the Fiji Women’s Forum in partnership with International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA), offers a snapshot of public attitudes towards women in leadership in the lead-up to Fiji’s 2014 general elections. It draws on responses from more than 1400 participants, solicited through survey questionnaires, focus group discussions, and key informant interviews. 

The research was supported through the Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women program, funded by the Government of the Netherlands. It was led by Patrina Dumaru and Sarah Pene, who also wrote the research report, with input from the Fiji Women’s Forum and IWDA. 

'The majority of women and men in Fiji are genuinely able to identify the value of women’s full participation'

The research findings challenge claims that women’s under-representation in parliament reflects a low level of community openness to women in political leadership. The majority of people in Fiji feel that women are under-represented in government, and that increased women’s representation in politics would be beneficial to the nation as a whole. 

Two contrasting findings were particularly interesting.

The language of the ‘leader’ continues to prompt images of men in the public imagination. When asked to name a political leader whose leadership style they viewed positively, almost 80% named a man, compared to 6% who named a woman. In the responses to the same question, three times as many different male leaders were named (36) compared to women leaders (12). Since women occupy a much smaller percentage of past and current political leadership roles than men, this is unsurprising. It was notable, though, that women recalled women demonstrating positive leadership more readily than men, naming 12 different women across the sample, while men named five. 

When the focus is shifted to ‘leadership’ – what it is and what leadership qualities are valued – we see strong support for a greater role for women. Participants were asked to assess the traits of a good leader, and whether these were more typically male traits, female traits, or equally true of men and women. The results? The traits perceived as more ‘gendered’ ones were not those considered most important for political leadership. Participants most frequently mentioned being hardworking, honest, and intelligent as essential or very important for leadership and these were considered by the majority of people to be equally true of men and women. Women were generally considered ‘entirely capable’ of being involved in electoral politics, if they had the interest and confidence to do so, and if there were more encouragement from their communities and the wider society. 

So why might the lower rates of participation, and election, persist? Among the key factors, suggests the study, are problems of self-perception and a preference for older candidates. 

  • The majority of respondents did not view a lack of experience or a lack of education as being the major reason why women have stood for election less often than men. Interestingly, though, female respondents gave these factors as the main reasons why they themselves would not consider standing for election. Efforts to encourage more women political candidates need to address women’s perception that their education and experience is a barrier to standing for election.
  • For young women, their age is an additional barrier to political representation. Comparing whether age or gender was more important, both women and men more readily expressed a preference for electing candidates aged between 45 and 60 rather than younger candidates, and less readily expressed a preference for either male or female candidates.

Given the challenges to representation faced by young women, policy and programs could be developed to help them gain experience of leadership earlier. So, for example, investment in initiatives such as inter-generational community discussions, led by young women, could provide additional opportunities for their development as leaders. At the same time this would demonstrate to other community members what young women bring to decision making.  

'... inter-generational community discussions led by young women could provide opportunities for their development as leaders.'

The research has shown that the majority of women and men in Fiji are seeing the value of women’s full participation in decision-making processes across all areas of life. While this indicates attitudes are changing, it seems that they are yet to be fully reflected in electoral politics and public debates where the framing of the concepts of leaders and leadership occurs. 

To accelerate change requires specific strategies that target spaces where change is underway, such as among women and the young, and where it has been slower. This research provides a basis for targeting such support by identifying these emerging changes. 

Although people continue to see ‘leaders’ as men, they also readily recognise and appreciate women’s leadership capacities. This suggests that a key component of programs supporting women’s political leadership should be the framing of leadership discussion around the qualities and capacities needed for good leadership, and how experience outside politics can translate into this sphere.

 

Image: A delegate at the Future Leaders of the Pacific Conference, 2013. (Photo: US Embassy, New Zealand.)

0 Comments

Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.

Documents

Author

Rachel Fairhurst

Rachel Fairhurst

Rachel Fairhurst is the Program Administrator for the Pacific programs team at International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA). Before joining IWDA in September 2014, Rachel worked as a Research Associate for the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, at the University of Notre Dame. Her interests include transitional justice and reconciliation policies, gender issues in war and peace, and the role of civil society in peacebuilding.

Read more

Author

Joanne Crawford

Joanne Crawford

Joanne Crawford is Senior Research and Policy Adviser at International Women's Development Agency (IWDA). She has some 28 years' experience across government, the not-for-profit sector, in universities and as a consultant, with a focus on gender equality and women’s rights, international development and public policy.

Read more

Related items

The Medellin model: don't forget the political processes

Since my DLP paper on Medellín was published, the city has become a ‘model’ for development – offering a palette of policies to combat urban violence that can provide a blueprint for cities with similar problems. 

Opinion by Kate Maclean2nd November 2015

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

A couple of years ago, Cote d’Ivoire’s government erected striking black and orange billboards around Abidjan that carried messages like “It destroyed my region” and “It killed my son”

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer12th August 2015

Higher education in the post-2015 agenda: proof that it matters

Taking stock of recent research evidence that shows how higher education can feed into political stability and civil engagement.

Opinion by Susy Ndaruhutse11th September 2014

Our money, our projects: Demand-driven community development

Emerging lessons from the Central Land Council’s community development program to strengthen Aboriginal people’s participation in mainstream Australia.

Opinion by David Ross15th April 2016

Do anticorruption messages work? Findings so far and what they could mean for Papua New Guinea

How do anticorruption messages influence people’s views about corruption and about anticorruption efforts?

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer23rd March 2017

Medellin - more than a miracle

Bad news sells. And for news editors looking for horror stories to recycle, Colombia's second largest city used to be a reliable source.

Opinion by Cheryl Stonehouse4th March 2014
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal15th October 2015

Inequality – the politics behind the policies

Discussion starter for the #polinequality conference

Opinion by David Hudson11th February 2015

Coalitions for inclusion in Indonesia: communities and government tackling discrimination together

Following up to Luke Arnold on coalitions for disability inclusion in Indonesia, Angie Bexley introduces broader work on the inclusion of six marginalised groups.

Opinion by Angie Bexley22nd August 2016

Thinking about women and girls makes development work better for everyone

A look at what happens when gender analysis is placed more squarely at the heart of governance work. (Guest post in The Conversation)

Opinion by Orlanda Ward7th March 2017

Using aid to strengthen Parliaments: fix the car, or worry about the driver?

Parliaments have always been treated as the poor cousins of democracy assistance efforts. (Guest post for From Poverty to Power)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal24th November 2014

Creative expression and women's empowerment in the Pacific

Art and creative expression have become an activist tool and alternative form of advocacy for young women in Fiji.

Through photography, theatre, dance and song, young women are finding new avenues for public expression. These innovative avenues for making their voices heard have great power in a context where women’s mobility and visibility is often constrained by socio-cultural norms.

Opinion by Tait Brimacombe19th March 2015

Different development: walk the talk

Spent the day at a ‘Doing Development Differently’ event recently and, while it offered a great opportunity to meet and hear from fascinating, dedicated, thoughtful people, I came away somewhat disheartened. Why? Because:

Opinion by Gillian Fletcher14th April 2015
Opinion by Heather Marquette9th March 2015

Gender and power: six links and one big opportunity

Donors have recently made great efforts to understand power in partner countries. Yet they have largely ignored one of the most pervasive power relations – gender.

Opinion by Diana Koester21st May 2015

Beyond perceptions of corruption?

Efforts to understand corruption - and eradicate it - are beset by two core problems. Corruption is hard to define without straying into the subjective; and it's difficult to build robust methodologies to investigate it.

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer5th February 2015

Neither 'good guys' nor 'bad guys': Positive engagement with armed groups

The final post in our short series on 'Power, Politics and Positive Deviance', the theme of our 2016 Annual Conference at La Trobe University, Melbourne, on Monday (8 February).

Opinion by Suda Perera5th February 2016

Innovation: transactional or transformative?

Innovation has become a popular word in international development. In Australia today, Bjorn Lomborg helped to formally open DFAT’s development innovation hub innovationXchange, which is designed to ‘identify, trial and scale up successful approaches’. Other donors, including the US and the UK, are also promoting innovation through initiatives like the Development Innovation Ventures programme.

Opinion by Chris Roche23rd March 2015

Corruption: unpacking the black box of political will

New thinking on the reasons why individuals engage in corruption - including the pragmatic calculation that, right or wrong, corruption may be the only solution to pressing difficulties. 

Opinion by Heather Marquette12th January 2015

The curious case of Indian autocracy and what it tells us about 'thinking and working politically'

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of Indira Gandhi’s declaration of a national emergency in India, which led to an 18-month period of autocracy. Civil rights were suspended, political opponents and journalists were arrested without the right to trial, censorship was imposed, elections were cancelled, non-Congress state governments were dismissed, the constitution changed.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi25th June 2015

Politics, risk and development: three takeaways

Reflections from last week's Australasian Aid Conference and DLP’s 2016 Annual Conference, both hosted at Australian universities. 

Opinion by Chris Roche19th February 2016

Does talking about corruption make it seem worse?

Guest post for The Guardian's Global Development Professionals Network

Gender - the power relationship that Political Economy Analysis forgot?

While most development research is well on the way to embedding gender analysis, PEA - many donors' key analytical tool - largely ignores it.

 

Opinion by Evie Browne13th February 2014

#Feminism: Digital technologies and feminist activism in Fiji

Guest post on Devpolicy on DLP work with research partners at University of the South Pacific.

Opinion by Tait Brimacombe14th March 2017

DRCongo: where a decade of failed democracy has exposed the electoral fallacy

It takes more than a fairly-won election to guarantee that the elected will put their citizens first, rather than themselves. (Guest post for Africa at LSE)

Opinion by Suda Perera19th December 2016

When the stars align to tackle inequality: reflections on the DLP annual conference

From the Occupy Movement to Thomas Piketty to current proposals for a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, inequality has emerged as one of the most intractable challenges of our time, and everyone, from activists to academics to policymakers, is talking about it. 

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal18th February 2015

Time for a grown-up conversation about corruption

To combat corruption, we need to understand the deeper political realities, power dynamics and social structures that perpetuate it.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal9th December 2014

More room for politics in the inequality debate?

This month at DLP our focus is largely on corruption as we prepare for a collaborative event in London discussing 'Corruption and development'. Yet we could hardly fail to notice that inequality, a hot topic since Pikettymania and the theme of our conference earlier in the year, has resurfaced with a vengeance.

Opinion by David Hudson24th June 2015

Masculinity and sexual violence in India

The brutal rape and murder in December 2012 of a 23-year-old student in a Delhi bus has been the catalyst for rapidly evolving activism against sexual violence in India.

Opinion by Martin Rew16th September 2015

Identifying rebels with a cause (and effect)

The Developmental Leadership Program will host its 2016 Annual Conference at La Trobe University in Melbourne on 8 February. Its theme is ‘Power, Politics and Positive Deviance’.

Opinion by Chris Roche1st December 2015

The politics of redistribution: we need you

Share your thoughts on episodes of redistribution that have helped redress inequality, and help us shape new research into the politics behind them. 

Opinion by David Hudson16th October 2014

Elections: transformational, or blunt tools of representation?

How do we explain the profound dissatisfaction with the quality of representation now manifest in democracies everywhere?

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal8th September 2016

Somaliland's route to peace

Have donors overlooked the role played in development by secondary education? Reflections on new research on peacebuilding in Somaliland. 

Opinion by Sarah Phillips12th December 2013

Gender analysis, and thinking and working politically – bridging the gap

Guest post on Devpolicy  introducing panels at this week's Australasian Aid Conference

Opinion by Chris Roche14th February 2017

It's all about inclusion, but how?

Shifting the focus of development intervention from form to the actual practice and distribution of power. (Guest post for the World Bank Governance for Development blog)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal6th April 2016

Fiji's Roshika Deo - outlier, positive deviant or simply feisty feminist?

Guest blogger Priya Chattier speaks at DLP's 2016 Annual Conference at La Trobe University in Melbourne on Monday 8 February. Her post here begins a short series on the conference theme: Power, politics and positive deviance.

Opinion by Priya Chattier 1st February 2016

What's so 'African' about African leadership?

Does a focus on 'African' leadership obscure the rich and diverse nature of Africa's many states and get in the way of useful lessons from other parts of the world?

Opinion by Suda Perera1st April 2014

Connections, contradictions and the political economy of attention

How can we encourage creativity, even in risk-averse organisations? How can we protect our attention resources?

I listened to two interesting LSE podcasts recently which got me thinking more about creativity following on from a recent blog I posted about the current interest in innovation. Some even suggest the ‘innovation imperative’ is a mega trend.

Opinion by Chris Roche7th May 2015

Resources and reflections on gender and thinking and working politically

Next week's meeting of the Thinking and Working Politically Community of Practice will focus on gender at an opportune time. It follows a spate of interesting papers, blog posts and talks about the relationship between 'thinking and working politically' and gender issues. 

Opinion by Chris Roche12th June 2015

Developmental leaders, 'dirty hands', and the dark side of collaboration

Should donors support developmental leaders who gain or keep power through questionable means? 

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi11th December 2013

Don't give up on government

Can the World Bank's flagship World Development Report inspire a good governance revolution that delivers development gains?

Opinion by Dan Hymowitz3rd February 2017

Development - getting our story straight

Replacing the traditional aid narrative with a more grown-up - and more inspiring - development story. 

Opinion by Alex Frankel20th April 2016

Politics shape services; and services shape politics

How governance and sector specialists can help each other understand the politics of service delivery

Opinion by Richard Batley19th June 2014

Is developmental patrimonialism a dead end?

The key role of leadership succession rules and effective institutions in sustaining the success of high-growth autocracies.

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th September 2016

Politics - the problem and solution to poor services?

One of the most influential and enduring World Development Reports ever produced – Making Services Work for Poor People – is a decade old this year.

Opinion by Claire Mcloughlin13th March 2014

Is education a magic bullet for addressing corruption? Insights from Papua New Guinea

This post for Devpolicy unpacks the findings of a new Development Policy Centre / DLP paper 

Opinion by Grant Walton17th June 2015

What's in a name? Leadership as more than the 'big men' and 'big women' of history

A more nuanced understanding of good developmental leadership demands a shift away from the conventional focus on 'big' individuals.

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver11th February 2014

Political analysis as the practical art of the possible

Bringing politics back into PEA - a new paper with Adrian Leftwich

Opinion by David Hudson24th July 2014

Education against the odds: the work of a women's coalition in Papua New Guinea

In October 2015 I met Anna, a softly spoken young woman who lives in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG). We talked during the recess break at school and Anna told me about some of the challenges she faces trying to complete year ten, the final year of compulsory education in PNG. These include that she is beaten by her aunt and grandmother, they refuse her the bus money to get to school and that her aunt recently set fire to her text books. 

Opinion by Ceridwen Spark14th January 2016

Pacific power: new femininities and women's leadership in the Pacific

The educated, internationally connected women who are changing the way 'development' is done

Opinion by Ceridwen Spark24th June 2014

Taking the Results agenda to the next level?

On new book The Politics of Evidence and Results in International Development

Opinion by Chris Roche15th July 2015

What do we do on Monday? Political settlements in theory and practice

The political settlements framework can seem a distraction to some practitioners, many of whom have been thinking and working politically about development for a number of years. They find the term difficult to define with any precision and, in any case, quite unnecessary. In the real world, progress towards better understanding of and engagement with the political conditions which help and hinder development has been ticking along nicely, independently of the academic debates.

Opinion by Edward Laws15th July 2015

Adding gender and power to the TWP agenda

Thinking and Working Politically presents development to us as an endeavour embedded within power structures. This is so important.

It helps us see clearly that we need to understand domestic politics to deliver development outcomes. Who are the players? Who makes decisions? Who will stand to lose from a proposal and how can they block progress?

Opinion by Sally Moyle6th August 2015

The practicalities of change: Positive deviance and land reform in Vanuatu

Anna Naupa's 2016 Adrian Leftwich Memorial Lecture discussed where most transformation happens - in drafting the rules, or in putting them into action.

Opinion by Anna Naupa13th April 2016

Development cooperation and fighting corruption: thinking differently

Everyone associates Brazil with football and the World Cup. Brazilians pouring out onto the street last summer to protest the competition being hosted in their country was last thing many of us expected to see.

Opinion by Heather Marquette24th June 2015

Anti-corruption in Bolivia: fighting greed – or attitudes?

Unsurprisingly, when people are asked about corruption, they say they are against it. But that doesn’t tell us what they really think about it, or what they do when confronted with it.   

Opinion by Nieves Zúñiga29th June 2015

Climate change and adaptation in the Pacific Islands: watering down women's security?

Beyond 'adaptability'? In this guest post, Nicole George highlights the work of women leaders who are challenging a narrow adaptation agenda.

Opinion by Nicole George7th March 2014

‘Crows who come in search of dollars’: NGO legitimacy in conflict zones

Do political dynamics affect NGO legitimacy more than performance?

Opinion by Oliver Walton19th August 2014

Shuffling the decks: quick fixes versus long-term stability

(First published as a guest post for the ODI's Development Progress blog)

Opinion by Suda Perera22nd January 2015

Political settlements: people and the landscapes of power

The problem with politics is that it involves people, and people do strange things. When development actors engage with power they often prefer to iron out the unpredictability of real politics in favour of the much neater lines of trends and social groups. We revere drivers of change studies because we can cope with the long-term, identity-based analysis of `deep’ politics. 

Opinion by Alan Whaites24th July 2015

Welcome to DLP's blog

Welcome to DLP's new blog on politics, power, policy and developmental leadership

Opinion by Heather Marquette10th December 2013

Gender in impact evaluation: norms as well as numbers

The World’s Women 2015, recently released by the UN, tells us that in 2015 women held 22% of parliamentary seats – almost double the level recorded in 1997 (12%).

Opinion by Gillian Fletcher27th November 2015

Perceptions of women in politics in Fiji: how to accelerate change?

Women are widely seen as entirely capable of taking on political leadership in Fiji; however, when asked to think about 'leaders', the public imagination automatically sees a man in the role.

Opinion by Rachel Fairhurst20th January 2015

Cancer and the links between medicine and development

Guest post for From Poverty to Power

Opinion by Chris Roche15th April 2015

Forgotten South Sudan tangled in factionalism and failed politics

A toxic blend of complex historical identity politics and short-term elite politicking

Opinion by Jonathan Fisher4th September 2014