With all its diversity, the Pacific region has consistently held the lowest regional ranking of women in national parliaments since 2012. International support for gender equality expects increasing women’s political participation and leadership, fostering programmes primarily focused on electoral system change and individual empowerment for women political aspirants. These strategies have been effective in Western countries and in some parts of Africa and Latin America, but have largely failed to gain purchase in the Pacific. Interviews with women candidates reveal that women’s entry into parliament is a cause for deep-seated conflict in at least some countries in the region. Neo-institutional approaches assume that the hurdles women face can be overcome by better institutional design and targeted support for women. We argue that institutions tend to continue post-colonial patterns of domination and a deeper approach to transformation based on peace-building strategies is required. We sketch how an ‘elicitive’ conflict transformation approach might be relevant.