Vanuatu Daily Post – I gotta say I’m disappointed. While I do not align myself at all with the Vanuatu National Council of Women, I do respect women coming together, and think that it’s pretty sad that out of the 100 + women leaders (including women municipal councilors) who attended the 15th conference of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, ONLY ONE VOICE was projected across the front page. Seriously – was the only voice of value that of Minister Napuat? Couldn’t we find anyone else, perhaps a woman leader, who was present at this women’s conference, to speak on behalf of women and genuinely represent women?

Contrary to what Minister Napuat says, this is exactly why we need reserved seats. Even when women are PRESENT, the dominant voice continues to OVERPOWER. We MUST ACTIVELY claim spaces to ENSURE WOMEN’S VISIBILITY because if we don’t infiltrate these spaces, men will continue to dominate, no matter how well-meaning they may be. The power dynamics, social structures and gender stereotypes are so deeply engrained in our society and psyche, it is difficult to dismantle. The front page of yesterday’s newspaper is evidence enough that we still have a LONG WAY to go.

With all due respect, I don’t think it’s helpful to say that women can fill in half the seats in parliament if ‘we prove ourselves as leaders’ and if ‘women united and had one voice’, especially when you look at the disunity in the existing (all male) government. In fact, look at Vanuatu’s history of motion of no confidence. Actually, even better, just check out today’s front page about the Leader of Opposition calling for the Deputy Prime Minister not to enter the parliament house. Men have disunity between them too and yet women are held to a higher standard if there is disunity between them. It’s exhausting constantly trying to ‘prove’ ourselves in the face of hypocrisy.

That’s why I’m all for reserved seats – to eliminate these expectations of women to perform gender roles (ie, be quiet and nice and get along and don’t confront or challenge status quo as that’s not what ‘good women’ do).#NoGatTaem to explain that a nation thrives if there is gender equality. If we all just did our homework, look at the research and facts, we will see the most progressive countries are inclusive of women and other groups and the representation of ALL is imperative for the sustainable development of a country.

As a society we need to do better. The media – please share balanced views and encourage diverse journalism, the government – please provide space for women to talk and let them talk, don’t tell them what to do, and women – please claim your space strategically and organize in solidarity. Together we are stronger. Yours in power.

This was written by Yasmine Bjornum on her personal Facebook page and then re-printed in the Vanuatu Daily Post