Building Public Confidence in Elections in Fiji Through Civil Society Action
Professor Shaista Shameem
The University of Fiji
Increasing the number of women in parliament is only a small part of ensuring gender balance in political life. It is even more necessary to ensure that all of society is restructured to facilitate a feminized worldview to improve the lives of everyone in Fiji since the masculinized bias in politics, the economy and social policy has been disastrous for all but a small group.
This was said by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Fiji, Professor Shaista Shameem as the keynote speaker at the Dialogue Fiji Training for Women Election Candidates at the Holiday Inn on Tuesday July 26th.
Professor Shameem said that having more women in parliament would not solve the problems faced by Fijian society in the economy, education and infrastructure, for example roads and utilities. It would also not solve the problem of inequitable access to goods and services in society and of having insufficient national reserves to offset crises such as COVID-19 and Climate Change. As had been shown in many other countries increasing the number of women in parliament and public service did not create an improvement if the political and economic system remained exactly the same as before, she said.
What was needed was a radical change in the worldview of both men and women in all these areas of civic life. Taking the example of the economy, Professor Shameem said the economic system currently being propped up was riddled with holes like Swiss cheese and most people fell into the holes through no fault of their own. She said, similarly, the education system ignored young people’s aspirations by forcing them to qualify for jobs in unsustainable industries which could not withstand the shocks of a crisis. Turning to utilities, Professor Shameem said consumers were complaining daily about the constant interruptions in the supply of electricity, water and communications. She also said that plans for climate change mitigation were hardly ever passed on to industries and nations that caused global warming due to less than robust national avenues for climate justice. Instead the private sector was seen by policy makers as the answer to all our shortcomings but, in reality, the private sector had caused many of the problems faced by the world in the first place. It would be a fallacy to state that favouring the private sector would automatically result in benefits for all.
Professor Shameem said the solution to the crises in the economy, education, politics and social life was to be found in feminizing the concept of development and progress. The value of having more women in parliament was that they could help to eliminate the male bias in economic, political and educational policy in Fiji. At the same time, women candidates needed to be more knowledgeable and assertive about the ways in which the economy, politics and social policy could be organised differently.
Professor Shameem outlined a three-fold advisory plan for the women participants at the training workshop to take Fiji out of the doldrums. She said that, firstly, since women’s meaningful participation was lacking at the political table what was immediately needed was de-masculinization of leadership in politics since everyone had witnessed only a one-sided view of our political economy. Secondly, she said, counting women’s work in the home in housework, childcare, subsistence work and elder care was to be assessed as productive work and calculated as part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDPs). Thirdly, women’s place in ideology and propaganda regarding their worth in society had to be seriously reviewed as women’s lack of worth was the reason for such high incidences of violence against women, Professor Shameem said.
However, having more women in parliament did not mean that there would be a de-masculinization of politics, the economy and social policy, she said. The masculine view of the world did not include only men because it could be adopted by women also. We therefore have to accept that a feminized worldview can also be adopted by men, Professor Shameem said.
Men and women both had a duty to ensure diversity in perspective as the one-sided view had made our society dysfunctional. Moreover, everyone needed to transform politics into a more ethical practice and become aware of the requirements of trust. Without earning trust no one could be successful with the voting public and once trust was gone, it was gone forever, she said.
Professor Shameem said the participants at the training session needed to publicly ask a series of hard-hitting questions within their political parties if they wished to be considered seriously by voters. These questions were: how do we undo negative structures that harm people and the environment; how do we divert public finances to facilitate cooperation and not competition; how do we fund public spending for education, health and social welfare with a better funding formula than is currently being used; how do we, as a low income country, fund Sustainable Development Goals delivery; how do we deal with global tax evasion by multi-national companies which was calculated by the IMF in 2018 as being $US650 billion annually; how can Fiji keep inflation in check and ensure economic stability; how do we understand what money is and how it can create social and public value as a tool for goods and services; how do we guarantee a universal basic income for everyone so that no one lives in poverty; who controls money supply and the monetary system and is this control sufficiently democratic; how can we move away from a financial system that extracts wealth from local communities and, instead, builds community wealth; and how can we grow our eco-credit portfolio and establish energy efficient schemes faster?
The new feminized perspective is represented in these questions that women election candidates should ask all their political parties which are very male dominated in number and attitude in Fiji. The feminized perspective moves us away from extractive wealth individualization of the profit motive and a divisive and binary (male versus female) worldview to one that is consultative, built on cooperation and trust, less costly to implement and more sustainable in the long run.
Adopting a feminized perspective of the economy, politics and social policy is probably the only solution to our myriad problems, Professor Shameem said.