Women in Vanuatu can fill the nation’s Parliament with half the number of seats, they do not need reserved seats, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Andrew Napuat, has told the leaders of women nationwide at the opening of the 15th conference of the Vanuatu National Council of Women (VNCW) Wednesday at Mele village, Efate.

He said women did not need reserved seats because the women made up over half the country’s population. He said all they need is to speak as one with one language.

“I know many people are coming and saying you need reserved seats. I wish to tell you that you do not need reserved seats. If you join forces, forget reserved seats, you have enough numbers to put members in Parliament and municipal and provincial councils.

“Today, you will go to every ministers and demand reserved seats, why? you don’t need reserved seats for one, two or six, but you have the numbers to put half the number seats in Parliament.”

“I wish to tell you that maybe we are putting blame in the wrong places. Maybe you are putting the blame on us, the men for stopping you but I’m telling you no, we are not stopping you.

“It’s only you who have not joined forces and you have not talked in one language. If you talk in one language, you will be a force to reckon with by us the men. That is the truth.”

Beginning his speech, the Minister thanks VNCW for invitation to speak at opening of conference.

He didn’t read a prepared speech but spoke frankly and gave some very honest opinion of his as a leader, a ni-Vanuatu, and a father.

“I didn’t want them to write any speech for me today because many times, when they write a speech, the leaders don’t say exactly what’s in their hearts.

“This morning, i will try to be very honest with you all with my views and especially the views of those of us as leaders to help you with what you will be discussing at your conference.”

He congratulated the Vice President and Acting President, Anita Deroin, the Executive Director and members of the VNCW National Executive for the effort made in hosting this conference.

“I wish to congratulate them because it’s been a long time. I was in the Ministry of Justice and i know about all the issues you are facing. So, i know that you have faced such a hard time in organizing such a conference as this and bringing everyone from the provinces. That is why i am standing here congratulating you all on behalf of the government in seeing such leadership in action.

The Executive Director, Leiasmanu Cullwick in her report said since election of ex in 2012, they were met with a major financial problem that has taken them so long to sort and finally Oxfam has come to their aid to help fund the conference.

“On behalf of the government and every people of Vanuatu in looking after the work of not only women but also contribute in every way on the development of our country from the highest level to the family level resulting in this country progressing this far because you faithfully played your part as mothers from your families to your communities to the national level,” Mr Napuat continued.

“Your theme: ‘Good women leadership in family, community, national government and parliament for everyone to work together to preserve the best principles of democracy and good governance, culture, handicraft, leadership, agriculture and food security to ensure every family has food and is healthy and lives a good life in Vanuatu’ says everything. You answered every situation of our country that we are facing, you have answered all of them in this theme. It is a very good theme. You have started with leadership in the family.

“Today social problems, crime and everything affecting the country today is because of absence of leadership in the family. You have correctly pointed out that this leadership must start in the family first. If families are not effective, there is no guarantee that our country will be stable or peaceful.

“Today, people are blaming government saying government has failed in dealing with increasing problems, I wish to say you have stated correctly that the answer is in starting with a strong united family and young people today will not run around the do things the country doesn’t wish to see happen.

People involving themselves in crime and causing road accidents, I believe these people have not received enough training at home. Government will set rules to deal with such issues but without leadership at home we will not be successful,” he added.

Mr. Napuat said that during his time in the Ministry of Justice and Community Services learnt a lot about VNCW, women of Vanuatu and the many challenges and potentials facing them.

“My question is, do you know who you are? Do you know that you make up over half of the population of Vanuatu?

“Your voice is beginning to threaten us leaders. We the leaders are looking and saying that ‘the day women know who they are and their numerical strengthen, will be the end of the day for us. It will be over for us because you are too many’.

“But what is happening,” he asked. “Why haven’t you come up to the level you want, getting women into Parliament? You can come and dominate Parliament with the numbers you have easily.

“I know many people are coming and saying you need reserved seats. I wish to tell you that you do not need reserved seats. If you join forces, forget reserved seats, you have enough numbers to put members in Parliaments and municipal and provincial councils.

“Today, you will go to every ministers and demand reserved seats, why, you don’t need reserved seats for one, two or six, but you have the number to put half the number seats in Parliament.

“I wish to tell you that maybe we are putting blame in the wrong places. Maybe you are putting the blame on us the men for stopping you but I’m telling you no, we are not stopping you.

“It’s only you who have not joined forces and you have not talked in one language. If you talk in one language, you will be a force to reckon with by us the men. That is the truth,” the outspoken Minister continued.

“We have experiences in the past, that the systems we have in place, works. We did not have reserved seats, but you elected women into Parliament. This shows that the system works.”

“During the next two days during your leadership forum, people will be talking to you and showing how to be good leaders that will help you elected into parliament. So, you don’t need any law to help you, the system works.

“What do you need to do? Prove yourself that you are a leader in the home, prove yourself that you can be part of the community, and then there will be no need for us to look around for who to represent the people because everyone will know that you will be the one to be the leader.

He urged the women to unite and work together as one. “I have been receiving requests from different women’s groups doing fundraising, making me wonder if there is only one, or two or three. It doesn’t been that having many groups is bad, but maybe the voices are too many that’s why we cannot achieve what we want – put women in Parliament.”

He gave an example of the story in the Bible of the building of the Tower of Babel in which the people spoke one language and were able to build the tall tower, but when God confused them and they spoke many languages, the project ceased. He urged them to “come together and speak one language – Bislama, not other languages including French, English and Chinese.”

He also referred to another story in the Bible, that of Queen Esther, who had an advisor who is a man and he encouraged them to get advice from the men to help them in there they wish to go.

Oxfam Vanuatu, through Australian Aid provided Vt5.5-million vatu to help VNCW hold the conference at Farea Pacifica at Mele Village. With this funding VNCW is able to bring to conference, accommodate and feed 84 Presidents of the VNCW councils in the provinces, and 11 municipal ward councils of the three municipal councils. Altogether 95 participants, with another 35 women who will join the two-day Leadership Forum run by Oxfam beginning today.

The Conference proper will take place from May 14 through 18 ending with the election of the new President and Vice President and the new National Executive of VNCW. On May 15, the national women’s council will celebrate its 38th anniversary with a full day’s program at Saralana Park in Port Vila.

Other people at the opening ceremony today included the Lord Mayor, Albert Sandy Mambo, and his seven women councilors of Port Vila municipality. There was Ms Anthia Toka, First Political Advisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade. Others were former Presidents of VNCW – Mrs. Leslyne Malsungai, Merilyn Tahi, Merilyne Leona Temakon, and Audrey Luen, former MP and State Minister Hilda Lini, Jenny Ligo, former CEO of VNCW and Anne Pakoa.

Jonas Cullwick, a former General Manager of VBTC is now a Senior Journalist with the Daily Post. Contact: jonas@dailypost.vu. Cell # 678 5460922

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