Navigating conflict and peace : women's political participation in conflict-affected Pacific states : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of International Development in Development Studies at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand
The low rates of women’s political participation in Pacific countries has long been the focus of academic scholarship. In recent years, peace and security scholarship has increasingly started to consider women’s presence in peace processes and the lasting impact this may have on peace and gender equality in the post conflict state. However, there has been little work to connect these two areas to look at women’s participation in political decision-making in conflict-affected states, particularly those in the Pacific. Societies often go through huge transitions after conflict, yet there is no consensus in the literature on the impact of conflict on gender equality or on rates of women’s participation in formal politics. This thesis explores the conditions for women’s participation in formal political structures in two conflict-affected case studies in the Pacific – Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. In doing so, it seeks to examine the post-conflict dynamics and how they have enabled or prevented women’s rights advocates from advancing reforms to parliamentary and political structures to increase the participation of women in formal political structures. This thesis has found that different opportunities for women’s advocates to make reforms to the post conflict political structures developed in each case study, with more scope for change emerging from the conflict in Bougainville than in Solomon Islands. Subsequently women’s advocates in Bougainville have had more success in reforming governance structures to ensure their increased participation, which resulted in three reserved seats in the Autonomous Bougainville Government and legislation providing for gender parity in local government. The failure to achieve similar reforms in Solomon Islands is due to a series of interlinking issues, but can be most significantly attributed to two factors: the lack of an effective internal peace process emerging from the conflict – without which opportunities for an inclusive political settlement didn’t arise, as well as the mandate of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) to restore the pre-conflict political environment, rather than reform the ex ante status quo. Together these two factors afforded few openings for women’s advocates to push for new governance arrangements that could enable the increased participation of women. Conversely, the conflict in Bougainville was largely resolved internally, and resulted in the development of a new constitution and governance structures. This provided opportunities for women’s advocates to ensure their inclusion in these new structures. However, despite the success of women’s advocates in Bougainville, the numbers of women MPs in the Autonomous Bougainville Government have not increased to the extent many had hoped for. The post conflict political environment for women in both case studies is defined by an intensely local political culture with weak party politics, and the failure of service delivery on behalf of the government. These characteristics create a challenging campaign environment for women candidates, which in Solomon Islands is being exacerbated by the increasing use of the constituency development funds.