Why Can't Women Win? Impediments to Female Electoral Success in Solomon Islands

Author/s (editor/s):

Terence Wood

Publication year:

2014

Publication type:

Discussion paper

This paper discusses impediments to female candidate success in national elections in the Western Melanesian country of Solomon Islands.

Increased female representation in parliaments is desirable both for reasons of gender equity and because evidence suggests such increases come coupled with development benefits. Yet, while numbers of women members of parliament (MPs) are increasing globally, trends of improvement are much less in the Pacific. At present, Solomon Islands has only one female MP. What is more, the majority of women candidates who have stood in national elections in Solomon Islands have not polled well and, on average, women candidates in Solomon Islands elections are becoming, if anything, less competitive over time.

Reflecting gender imbalances in Solomon Islands society, women candidates suffer a number of significant obstacles as they try to win elections. Yet, surprisingly perhaps, the foremost of these does not appear to be strong voter preferences for male candidates. Survey data as well as interviews suggest that, in some abstract sense, the typical Solomon Islands voter would be willing to vote for a female candidate.

Rather than taking the form of gendered voter preferences, the major impediments faced by women candidates are:

  • Women are held to different standards of behaviour in Solomon Islands society, and this is a tool that opponents use (to apparent effect) to call into question the character of women candidates.
  • Having money to spend is an integral aspect of electoral success in Solomon Islands elections, and women candidates generally want for this resource.
  • Votes in Solomon Islands are usually won with the support of influential local figures (brokers), and predominantly patriarchal locallevel leadership in Solomon Islands makes it harder for female candidates to gain the support of strong brokers.

In terms of what can be done to increase numbers of women MPs, efforts to date have focused on electoral quotas and candidate training. Having a quota law passed, which mandated a proportion of Solomons parliament be women, would be a very effective way of increasing numbers of female MPs; however, the domestic political economy provides few incentives for sitting MPs (who, except for one MP, are all men) to pass such legislation. Meanwhile, training, while being of potential use if well designed, is unlikely to significantly increase numbers of women MPs on its own.

Providing funding to women candidates is one potential means of increasing their chances of winning; however, given practicalities and sensitivities, it would be very difficult for external actors to do this effectively. Working over time to strengthen networks that link potential women candidates to voters, on the other hand, would be less problematic and, while not a magic bullet, given the nature of electoral competition in Solomon Islands and the need for local interlocutors, offers some promise of success.

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